Monday
February 3

Ignite

By aclauhs

Today we had one of my favorite Marsh Associates’ meetings ever. Not to dismiss the stuff that we normally do in those meetings. But for this one, we sat on the floor on meditation cushions in the chapel. It was dark, and we lit a circle of candles, representing our own lights as well as the light of God. And then, at the end, Soren and Jen left us to sit there and meditate with the candles for as long as we wanted to.

Let me warn you now—I get emotional around candles. They move me. I was incredibly disappointed when, at Christmas mass this year, there were no candles to hold during the service (my mother informed me that the priest had decided they were a fire hazard). Since childhood, I had always associated that candle flame with Christmas—gripping that little white candle with the paper holder dripping hot wax down your hand, the little beacon of light held close to your face as you sang hymns of new hope in the dead of winter.

And in Italy, I loved the cathedrals filled with their banks of candles. I went through my euro coins like crazy, dropping them into the donation boxes and adding my candles to the long line of flickering prayers in every church I wandered into. As Italian grandmothers prayed to the saints and tourists shuffled by, I knelt before the candles and clasped my hands and teared up at the light and warmth that so many tiny flames gave off.

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I love how fire has a life to it. There’s a reason we have the cliche about “dancing” flames. Our little circle of candles on the floor at our meeting tonight reminded me of people—our communities, our families, the strangers we sit by on the subway. Each person, no matter how discouraged they are or what wrong they have done, has that divine light within them. They have the miracle of life—the gift of being alive—and it links them to all other beings. We are all dancing flames. Or, as Elton John would have it, candles in the wind.

I am disappointed that I cannot light candles in my dorm room. The Hindus have the ritual of aarti, part of the morning puja ceremony, where they start off the day by offering light to the divine. They do this by circling a lighted lamp on a plate around a deity, singing praise all the while.

Aarti plate

Aarti plate

I think this is incredibly beautiful. When I have my own place where I can burn things, I plan to start the day with a candle. A spark, a flame, a light. A reminder of the beautiful, the dancing, the alive, the sacred within each person—and within every being.

Monday
February 3

Circling Upwards and Sliding Backwards

By lucchesi

I have yet again put too much on my plate this semester. I have a chronic hoarding problem that affects my mentality when scheduling, so this semester, like so many semesters before, I find myself with too much to do and too little time. And I want to emphasize, THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE. This is why I have issues maintaining the two blogs I have had to keep up in the past, just like I do now, along with lots of other work.

This is a recurring problem. Heck, recurring problems are recurring problems, at this point. My philosophy has always been that in life, we circle upward in a spiral. We are constantly moving upwards, but we are circling, so that after every rotation, we return to a point at which we were before. We are higher up, but in the same position vertically. These points that we keep coming across are our various blocks, vices, and bad habits. In an upwards spiral, returning to them, however, means being higher up, meaning that we take a lesson (or more, hopefully), and apply it to the situation so we are better equipped every time we make that rotation.

However, one of my advisers at Marsh and I got into a full fledged yelling match (okay, not quite, just a discussion) about the issues of this model. She what is apparently a Wesleyan model that acknowledges that some people “slip”, and fall backwards on their journey. My initial impulse was to say that this was wrong, because it doesn’t take into account all of the experiences that we’ve had that supposedly would make us stronger. However, as evidenced by my schedule, we don’t always take into account our experiences when moving forward. As hesitant as I am to admit failure, I seem to be in the place of sliding back.

However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned from those previous experiences. I certainly am better prepared to deal with busy semesters like this one. One thing I certainly have learned is that sometimes, you just need to deal with it and go and do the work instead of indulging in how tough it is. So now, back to work.

Wednesday
January 29

Finding Importance

By jdingus

This week I was asked to reflect on my life and my values in order to figure out what is important to me. This seemed like a relatively easy question, and I did not have to hard of a time coming up with my list. Though maybe not all encompassing, I was certainly able to roughly catalog those things that I believe are important. The challenge then came in trying to order these important things.

In some ways attempting to order my list of important things made me pit my different selves against each other. The student in me was adamant that my academic performance was the most important. But my spiritual self countered, saying that in fact participating in Unitarian Universalist community was most important. The daughter in me of course, deflated both of these selves, certain that my family relationships were the most important. The different pieces of my identity: the religious educator, the best friend, the roommate, the intern, all wanted me to decide that their role was clearly the most important.

I figured out that my priorities fit into three basic categories: my spiritual life, my professional life, and my personal life.

Spiritual Professional Personal
UU Community Academics Family
Working with Children Chapel Internship College Friends
Health/Wellness Conferences and Networking Home Friends

From this list I’ve sort of decided that the best way to organize these things is not to list them as a hierarchy, but to keep them in a balance. As tempting as it seems, spending all my time goofing off an ordering pizza with my roommates is not the best use of my time, but its still important to build and maintain relationships with the people around me. In the same way, I could spend every day at Mugar studying, but if I graduated college with perfect grades, but no friends or professional connections I wouldn’t be on the right path either.

This exercise has taught me to look critically at my values and set priorities based on those beliefs. After looking through my priorities, it is clear to me that none of these priorities is enough on its own, but a balance of them is the way to authentically live my values.

Tuesday
January 28

Well Hello Again

By aclauhs

It’s 2014, and I’m back–back to Boston, back to classes, back to the bustle of BU.

It’s funny, because when I looked back on my journal that I keep at my apartment here, I had some pretty grim entries from right before I left for Christmas break. I was feeling pretty down, for a variety of reasons.

Luckily, I had a fulfilling Christmas break with my family and now, from here, life looks good from where I’m standing. I’ve submitted all my grad school applications. I’m looking at a bright new semester of creative writing and graphic design and more freedom than I’ve ever had in a semester here.

So yes, life is good. It is well with my soul. I’ve put up new art in my apartment, and put up some inspirational Post-Its on my desk (don’t underestimate the value of a good inspirational Post-It). They read:

Life is not a duty–it is a miracle.

To build the Beloved Community, meet people as equals.

All will be as it should be; all will be as it needs to be.

These are various phrases that have come to me while I’m journaling, and I like to think that one way the Divine communicates to us is through our own writing and reflection. Not that these Post-Its are holding the Word of God–but that the divine spark within us can sometimes nudge our pen, or give us a whisper of a thought that we take and put form to ourselves. These thoughts have come to me in prayer and theological reflection, and I think they’re good for me to look at in the mornings.

Better than my Facebook feed, at any rate.

Wednesday
January 22

Hail the Great Winds Urging Me On

By jdingus

Though in general my faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism, lacks a formal creed, our congregations center their beliefs around a set of Seven Principles and Six Sources. As I sat in service at Marsh Chapel this week, which honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I was reminded of our second source:

“Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

To me this source means that, a substantial part of my religious ideology and more important the actions I take in service of this ideology are directly influenced by the life and testimony of the ministers, activists, and other prophetic figures who came before me.

As I continued to think about this second source, I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ware lecture that he delivered to the 1966 UUA General Assembly. His lecture entitled Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution, commanded and encouraged UUs to be active passionate members of the fight for Civil Rights. He voiced loudly that the struggle for racial justice was ongoing and that semblances of progress were no excuse to lessen the fight. As was his inspiring way, Dr. King encouraged non-violent action as the only way to truly destroy the systems of oppression that were so prominent and continue to be relevant in society. His wisdom and visionary influence are a source that I draw on as I attempt to understand my faith and my ministry.

In the beginning of his speech he stated, “that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of all reality.” This idea struck me as the ultimate motivation for justice work. By hearkening to the 7th UU Principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part,” Dr. King reminds us that we are not completely independent beings, and that I cannot be truly whole without working so that others can achieve wholeness. In some ways the idea is so simple, yet in practice this idea is world changing. As I continue to try to be mindful of the injustices and hardships that others face, I am reminded of the lyrics to one of my favorite hymns which states:

“When we trust the wisdom in each of us, Every color every creed and kind, And we see our faces in each other’s eyes, Then our heart is in a holy place.”

Monday
December 9

Biological Anthropology Theology

By aclauhs

This semester, I’ve been taking biological anthropology, learning all about australopithecines, Homo habilis, Neanderthals, and our other hairy hominid ancestors. Now, you have to understand—this is a big deal for me.

lucy-recon-big

I come from a Bible Belt public school upbringing, where my science teachers always prefaced the unit on evolution with, “Now, remember, this is just a theory…” and my middle school science teacher even went so far as to tell us, “I just want you to know, I don’t actually believe this. But they still force us to teach it to you.”

So you can imagine what kind of positive influence that had on our budding hunger to learn about human origins (none, exactly).

So this class has been wonderful. Yes, I had known the pop culture elements—Lucy’s fossils, the caveman art, the dawn of early man. I had visited the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian and cocked my head at the wax figure of the tiny Ardipithecus. But in this class, I’ve been learning about specifics. The evolution of bipedalism. How we lost space in our guts in order to evolve bigger brains that used up more energy (making cooking food to make it more digestible an essential element of human evolution—sorry, Paleo diet people).

It’s filled me with wonder—the fact that over millions of years, we evolved from ape-like animals to humans. Theologically, I know that pains some people. They want the security of knowing God created us special. But I think there’s an innate and enormous glory in our human story.

I was thinking about it while listening to Bach at Marsh Chapel yesterday. The soaring sopranos, the brassy trumpets, the deep and dark bass strings plucked pizzicato. The sheer transcendent beauty that one human composer brought to life, and that the performers create out of thin air with their voices and instruments.

In the same vein, at Interfaith Shabbat this past Friday, Brittany (our keynote speaker) talked about religion and art, and asked us to share an example of when art caused us to have a religious experience. I talked about visiting the cathedral of Siena this summer in Italy, moved to tears by the soaring ceilings painted deep blue with stars, mirroring celestial reality. The huge dimensions and echoing chanting and the weight of centuries of people’s prayers and hopes hanging over the space stirred something deep within me. I cried because humans, with their simple and mortal hands, had created something so beautiful and lasting and moving.

SienaCathedralInterior

We are so, so incredibly lucky that we have music and art and a connection to God.

For me, my theology goes something like this: the universe is a vast interconnected web—and God is what knits that web together. That divine spark is what ties living beings to each other; it is what makes stars burn and black holes explode and everything dance together in a cosmic symphony.

However, most animals don’t have the gift of being able to realize it. Much as we admire the grace of the tiger or the intelligence of the elephant, the truth is that their lives are more concerned with survival than cosmology.

But we, as humans, that race that struggled to stand on two feet, that slowly grew brains large enough to start looking up at the stars and thinking bigger—we are so blessed. And yes, I think that God nudged us in that direction, awakened that spark already inherent within us. It was what made Neanderthals start burying their dead with flowers. It was what made ancient humans start carving sacred objects. It was made us start to think deeper.

And with that deeper thought—that realization that the universe is a grander thing than just our struggle for survival, and that the world is an interconnected place—I think we have a duty to love. As such an advanced species, we have the ability to appreciate the glory of the universe and to honor the divinity within each being (human and otherwise). It takes our human interpretation to see that God is love, and that we should act in love.

This is what makes us different. Biological anthropologists see it, too—the moment when early hominids started taking care of their old and feeding the sick, instead of letting them die. When we started to value the other, and not just the self. When love became a concept we recognized.

Yes, humanity is flawed. It does horrible and evil things. It stumbles. But in the end, we are still so blessed, because we have the chance to know God—and to worship God—in a sacred and unique way among all beings.

Monday
December 9

Lessons and Children

By jdingus

In honor of Thanksgiving, today during my children’s ministry program instead of a traditional check-in, I asked each child to share what they were thankful for. The answers that the kids gave brought me inspiration throughout my day. Most children were thankful for their parents, their brothers and sisters, and their friends. Obviously very important people to be thankful for. Afterall these are some of the most important people in our lives, and they are the ones that love and nurture us. I thought the most interesting answers came from a little boy in my class. He spoke his name, and then quietly said he was thankful for god. I continued with my class, but I was pretty blown away by his response.

When I shared what I was thankful for with my family this year, I came up with a myriad of responses. I’m thankful for my family, my friends, the chance to study at BU, my job at Marsh Chapel, my fellow Unitarian Universalists who love and support me, and even my cats. I came up with people, and moments, and opportunities that overwhelmed me with gratitude, but I didn’t think to be thankful for god. Looking at it in a round about way, the gratitude I expressed for the people, places and communities that hold me is sort of being thankful for god, because I believe that the spark of the divine, the spirit of life is within and among those people and communites. However, it surprised me that a little child could so easily come up with an answer that didn’t ever cross my mind.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about my changing god beliefs. I’m beginning to become more comfortable with the idea of a loving, divine force in the universe that resides within and around all things. Even with my new understandings of god, being thankful for god is a bit of a foreign concept. I’ve been pondering what a thankfulness for god could actually look like. My current ideas are that this kind of thankfulness might require more prayer and more service. Both are good, and are things I want to incorporate into my daily life, but neither of them were things I thought would stem from gratitude. Prayer seemed to me like something people did when they needed things, not when they were thankful. And service is something I do, because I care about other people. I look forward to practicing both of these as an extension of thankfulness for god. The words of a tiny little boy in my children’s ministry class have given me an entirely new prospective on gratitude, and that’s something to be thankful for.

Sunday
December 8

The Water in the Glass with the Coaster upside down on the Table

By lucchesi

I want to start by admitting something: this blog terrifies me. Blogging in general terrifies me. I am not much of a writer, and putting my thoughts down onto paper (generally putting my thoughts into words) is something I am very actively working on because I don’t like doing it. I have had to blog in the past for a class as well as for a previous job in addition to the one I hold at Marsh, and it drives me up the wall each time. Blogging forces me to process the information I receive in my life in a way that is unnatural for me, and for that reason, blogging is good. Blogging is like exercise, and like exercise, I don’t do it enough (or in reference to exercise, I don’t do it at all), and the more I do it, the more adept I become at it, making it (a bit) less painful and (a bit) more enjoyable.

That being said, I still don’t like it (both blogging and exercise). The experience of writing for me is like that prank where you put a coaster on a glass filled with water, flip it over, place it on a table, and slip the coaster out so that if someone picks the glass up, all the water spills everywhere, effectively making the table impossible to clear. My feelings, reflections, and thoughts about things are the water, and my body is the glass. I am good at personal reflection and discernment, and I like to keep it to myself, which is what the coaster does; it keeps the water within the glass, even when it is tipped over and placed on a table. However, the act of asking me to write out those feelings is like pulling out that coaster, and when I write, I lift the glass off the table and the water pours out everywhere, creating a mess and making me cry.

Writing for me is not a container. For some people, the best way to process outside stimuli is by putting it into words; words are their container. However, my container is my body. Myers-Briggs tells me I am an ENFP, and although I hate labels, I am a textbook ENFP, especially in regards to how I Perceive things, iNtuit them, and discern my Feeling from them. I know something because I feel it in my gut, and I am good at recognizing and processing those gut feelings. But I don’t do it intellectually; I process things by acting in the sense that I perform an action: I worship, I perform, I sculpt, I do, because to act is to do, and it is in the doing that I start to understand things. It can be a long, arduous, and frustratingly slow process, but it is what I have spent the last three-and-a-half years honing in my theatre training. I am not necessarily awful at writing. I am actually proud of my individual voice when I write. I like to think that, for people who know me, they read what I write in my distinct dulcet baritone voice. I have blogged in the past, and I have written papers, and each time I do it, I get better at it. But it is still hard, trying, and exhausting. Going back to the cup/water/coaster/table metaphor, I am still ashamed of the mess that I make when I lift up that glass and water pours everywhere.

I don’t mind cleaning up that mess, however, because water (for the most part) won’t cause permanent damage; water doesn’t leave a stain or a stench. Well, with blogging, lets say the liquid in the glass is milk. Blogging is inherently public. I am assuming someone else will read this blog and because this is the internet, the baggage that it carries is immense; people years from now will read this and I will still be held responsible for what is said here. My last blog post, I wrote about a scripture reading I would be preaching on for Marsh’s vespers service later that week. I made some inferences and intuitions about the Gospel lesson, and came to a conclusion. That conclusion was one that I didn’t necessarily think all the way through to its completion, and in follow-up discussions, realized it didn’t really reflect my theology, or any theology with widespread acceptance. There probably won’t be any problems with that blog post in the future, so I am not deleting it; I doubt a future employer is going to fire me because of the biblical exegesis I attempted as an undergrad.

But what if I said something really risky? What if I really pushed my boundary and wrote about something where I was really uncomfortable? Because this whole putting-ideas-to-words thing is not my strongest suit, I run the very real risk of writing something that a) doesn’t  say what I intended it to say, and/or b) ruffles feathers that I didn’t intend to ruffle. I don’t know exactly where I want to be in five or six years, but wherever I end up, I will be responsible for what I have previously put out into the world. Writing about theology is exceptionally sensitive because it deals with the parts of our lives where we are exceptionally vulnerable, and I am just not comfortable enough with how I translate my thoughts onto paper to commit to putting more complex ideas out into the world. That blog post, and the sermons that I wrote, were just the tip of the iceberg; they were relatively safe, and I tip-toed around a deeper theological reflection because I simply don’t think I am capable of standing by what I say.

So much of my process in this internship here at Marsh has been about identifying how I process things theologically and how I express that. Like I said earlier in the container bit, I am a body know-er, and if I want to continue my theological education and go into ministry, I need to learn how to translate that body knowing into other forms. This blog is good for that. In fact, this blog is great for that, because I don’t like doing it. If blogging is exercise, then I am going to the gym, fighting through the sweat, blood, and tears so that I can get better at it. And only if I am hard-pressed will I admit that I have gotten a lot better at this style of reflection. In fact, I feel like this is possibly the best I have done in expressing my feelings in a blog post.

So I wrote this post for a number of reasons. I want to ask all of you to not permanently hold me to what I said in the last post, because although it was a creation of my intuition, it is not a whole summation of what I believe about Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (a contrition for the proliferation of the utilization of words ending in -tion). I also wanted to see if I could actually put to words my insecurity in putting ideas to words, because there is a way to avoid spilling the water all over the place when you lift up the glass (you have to slide the glass to the edge of the table and have a pitcher to catch the liquid as you slide the glass off the edge; it leaves a bit of a trail, but cleanup is minimal compared to the alternative). And at the end of the day, learning how to do this blogging thing is building up my arsenal of sponges so that if I make a mess, I will know how to clean it up. And finally, I wrote this blog post so that I could wrap up this metaphor by saying that I will no longer cry over spilt milk.

Saturday
November 30

Empty Boat

By aclauhs

In this period of upcoming finals and long nights and cold weather, I’ve been having a bit of trouble with taking things personally. A couple weeks ago, those were the twin themes of Rev. Kim’s sermon (the minister at the UU church I attend)–”quit taking it personally” and “empty boat.”

“Empty boat” refers to Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s story, which I will share with you here:

A man was rowing his boat upstream on a very misty morning. Suddenly, he saw another boat coming downstream, not trying to avoid him. It was coming straight at him. He shouted, “Be careful! Be careful!” but the boat came right into him, and his boat was almost sunk. The man became very angry, and began to shout at the other person, to give him a piece of his mind. But when he looked closely, he saw that there was no one in the other boat. It turned out that the boat just got loose and went downstream. All his anger vanished, and he laughed and he laughed.

And so I’ve tried to think, “Empty boat.” But it’s hard. I get sensitive when someone snaps at me. I get miffed with people who annoy me. People with whom I disagree sometimes bother me.

And so I know I need to try harder. I need to not let anger or hurt come easily.

Because, really, to quit taking it personally and to keep thinking “empty boat” is to be compassionate. It is to realize that everyone is not out to intentionally hurt you or make your life harder. It is to realize that each person is going through things that are harming and bothering them, and that their actions are a manifestation of that, not direct malice toward you.

It is seeing things from their perspective. It is assuming the best. It is loving them.

Loving one person much harder to do than abstractly loving all of humanity. It is much harder to love your roommates when they’re grumpy or to love the students who are shouting in the library while you’re trying to study.

But you have to start with those exercises of mindfulness, those exercises of love. If you want to cultivate a compassionate world, it has to start with these small acts.

And so I am trying to carry a compassionate heart. Attempting to be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and intentional in breathing.

Empty boat. Empty boat. Empty boat. Full and welcoming heart.

Thursday
November 21

A Serious Undertaking

By djwalker

It has been about two months since I first started my ministry outreach project for Marsh Chapel, the Thurman Group and I must say that I am fairy pleased with how it is going, at least for the most part. A regular group has started to emerge, people feel more comfortable expressing themselves to each other, people feel more comfortable inviting friends, and with each passing week I can feel that we collectively and individually are growing more in love with the sound of the genuine.

But as we move more deeply into the works of Thurman I have to pause and acknowledge that searching for the sound of the genuine is fraught with dangerous uncertainty. Thurman’s meditations beg that the individual asks what is authentic , in the self and in the world. For one who claims the intellect as his or her ground of exploration it can lead to radical doubt of the flavor of Descartes or the dangerous egotism of Mr. Robespierre. For those who find there home more in the realm of the ethereal Thurman’s approach can leave one weaponless in a struggle against the demons that lurk just below the surface of the constructed personality.

At the outset of this project I feared that I would have to confront such an issue at some point, coming into contact with Thurman in the last year lead me to my own set of existential crisis, actively questioning the foundations of not only my Christian faith but also of my very self. The question of authenticity is not a light one, and when an individual finally starts to confront it one must also acknowledge that life is a serious undertaking, to paraphrase Thurman.

Such a realization, is beginning to dawn over various members of our newly found community. Both within the context of the group and outside of the group I find members wrestling with existence of God and the meaning of life which was the intent of this community but I must also be aware that such exploration comes with real consequences. A 2am call from a friend who has lost their reverence for life, a midnight conversation with a Catholic who realizes God has never been real to them, an afternoon stroll with a friend who can no longer see the virtue in morality.

Now, I am not claiming that this group or Thurman’s words alone are responsible for a radical overnight transformation of model citizens, but I can clearly see the impact that this exploration is having on those who convene every Friday evening in the basement of Marsh Chapel to explore the unknown. Much like life, the more time passes, the more I realize that what we are doing is a serious undertaking.