Sunday
October 5

How Can I Keep From Singing?

By kmshultz

The hymn, How Can I Keep From Singing, is one of my favorite hymns of all time because it expresses something deep inside my soul that I can never explain on my own: No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

For me, singing is not something that I want to do; it’s something that I need to do. It’s a compulsion, an impulse, an obsession. Singing is the only way I can adequately express my prayers, my hopes, my doubts, my questions, and my joys to God. And when I sing, I feel the presence of the Spirit moving through and around me, listening and answering and lifting my prayers on its wings.

For me, a service has three parts: the Word to feed the mind, the Meal to feed the body, and the Music to feed the soul. And cutting out any of these pieces leaves a service feeling unbalanced and unfamiliar. Without the Word, we have no connection to God; without the meal we have no connection to Jesus; and without the music, we have no connection to the Holy Spirit. We think a lot about the Word and the Meal within a service, but less about the music even though music is an enormously important part of our prayer.

In my home congregation, we say ‘singing is a way of breathing our prayer to God’ and I believe that our singing is a way of praying everything we can’t express through words, all those things that need something more, that need to be carried away on a river of sound. The things we feel and don’t have a name for, the hopes and fears, the things we carry, and the things we drag behind us. They all emerge in our singing.

One of my choir directors told me once that singers have the hardest job of all musicians because they are the only ones who must rebuild their instrument with every breath. For me, this also reflects the constant confession and forgiveness of our lives. We are constantly tearing ourselves down and God is constantly building us back up. So when we sing, we are not merely singing praises to God; we are interacting and conversing with God. We breathe in the Spirit and exhale our praise and prayers in music. And that is something we don’t necessarily get anywhere else in the service.

Most importantly, music unifies us. No matter who we are or where we come from or what place in our lives we are, when we join our voices together in song, we truly are one body. We breathe as one and each voice adds its own character to create one sound of praise, prayer, and thanksgiving. In music, we are made one in the presence of the Spirit.

So how can we keep from singing?

Sunday
October 5

Thinking About Mistakes

By jdingus

At Sanctuary this week we talked about sin and repentance. Now for a group of UU leaning folks that was sort of a shocking topic. Sin and Repentance are words we don’t typically say in my tradition, words that are triggering and carry painful baggage for many of us. Still these were the themes that guided our worship. Jo, who reflected, shared one UU minister’s definition of sin, which really spoke to me. He said, “Sin is willfully acting against one’s own conscience.” When I heard this definition, I was startled and had to let it sink in a bit. When she read this definition, I could feel the flush appear on my face. This is something I know I’m guilty of. I know I’m a good person and that I understand right from wrong, but there are times when I hear my conscience telling me, “That is a terrible idea, STOP!” and I keep going any way.

In my one on one meetings with Soren, we have been talking a little bit about the choices I make and how they can and will affect me now and in my future as I pursue ministry. I know that at this time in my life it’s ok for me to branch out, try new things, and make some mistakes. But, I’m also realizing that I am an important moral resource for myself. That I know what choices are going to end up being positive and making me feel whole, and what choices are going to leave me feeling broken and alone. I know which are the better choices to make, so now I just have to work on actually making them.

This struggle to make healthy, life-affirming choices is an ongoing process. In our service on Wednesday we recognized that as people, sometimes we screw up. If you are comfortable with this language, sometimes we sin. And as we continue on our journeys, no matter how often we stumble, it’s important to forgive ourselves and try again. I am very aware that I fail sometimes, that I willingly disobey my conscience and make bad choices. But I’m also aware that I am important, and loved and filled with the divine. I am grateful for this reminder to always strive to be my best self, but to love myself even when I’m at my worst.

Friday
October 3

Lord, I Need You

By jlbishop

There’s a song that Chris Tomlin sings that is one of my favorite worship songs. It’s called “Lord, I Need You” and it goes something like this:

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Holiness is Christ in me. That line has always stuck with me. Something about it stirs something deep within my soul. I feel uneasy and yet at the same time I feel peace. Uneasy, because of its weight; Peace, because of its simplicity. I am called to holiness. And that’s huge. It makes me uncomfortable to think about how big of a call that is for my life. Me? Holy? Christ within me? That’s too hard!  I’m not ready for that!  The beautiful part, though, is how simple it is. Holiness does not come with a huge list of things to check off before you can say confidently “That’s it! I finished everything! I’m holy!” No one would ever be able to reach holiness because the list would be endless and every time you messed up you would have to start over. Humans aren’t perfect, and we never will be. Holiness seems like a lot of pressure, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s as simple as “Christ in me.”  What does that mean?

One day last semester, when I was praying, I was filled with a beautiful image. Christ was showing me my heart. It was ugly and covered in dirt and cement, so much so that it wasn’t even distinguishable as a heart. I imagined Christ telling me that this was my heart and the cement and dirt were my doubts, and hurt, and fears. Then He covered it with His other hand and squeezed gently. The cement crumbled to dust and a breeze blew it away. Then He held out His hand and showed me again. Sitting there was a small, withered heart. It looked so sad. He told me to stop worrying about trying so hard to be holy by loving like Him; that my heart was too small to hold that much love. Then He leaned down and kissed that little heart and told me that He would hold it tight and to focus on letting Him love me. I asked Him what I supposed to do now. And thats when He reached into His chest and took His beating heart and gave it to me. And He told me, “Let me love for you.”

Holiness is Christ in me. Holiness is letting God love you, and letting God love for you. Holiness does not require “doing.” There’s nothing you can do to be holy. Holiness is “letting.” When I allow Christ to love for me, all of the pressure is off me. All I have to do is step aside. I strive every day to allow God to love the world through me; to see the world through God’s beating heart. It is by no means easy, but it’s incredibly simple.

St. Paul says it perfectly in Galatians: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

And that, my friends, is holiness.

Sunday
September 28

The Cost of ‘Free’

By kmshultz

As a college student, I get a lot of free stuff—concert tickets, t-shirts, water bottles, pens, pizza, stickers, jackets, pennants, books, bike patching kits, samples, tote bags, and even a customized license BU license plate to hang on my wall. Granted, I have to sign up for email lists to get some of these items and others are probably paid for by my undergraduate student fee, but for all intents and purposes, these items are completely free for me in the moment. I don’t need any of these items, but when it’s offered with apparently no strings attached, I shrug and say, “I might as well—it’s free.”

The problem is, nothing is truly free. Yes, I don’t have to exchange tattered pieces of paper for these items, but they all have a cost. The materials to make all of these things were taken from the earth and shipped to a factory somewhere, probably on the other side of the world, where someone labored to create the item. Then, it was loaded into containers full of thousands of identical items and shipped all the way across the world where it was purchased and then given to me.

That pen I picked up off a table and slipped into my bag without a second thought cost me nothing, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t cost anything at all. It was paid for by the earth that relinquished the resources needed to make it, by the underpaid workers who assembled it, by all of us who will be affected by the greenhouse gases released in its transport, and by whoever actually purchased it in the hopes that it would attract some students to their organization or cause. All of this went into making a cheap plastic pen that I will use for a while until it runs out of ink or breaks and then it will go into the landfill where it will stay for the rest of eternity. It’s a very long-term cost for something that might be useful in the immediate future, but will not play a very significant role in my life.

This tendency to only see the short-term gain without any of the long-term implications also arises when I think about grace. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about the difference between “cheap” grace and “costly” grace. According to the idea of cheap grace, “the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.” In other words, we don’t have to think about all the hidden costs of that plastic pen—it’s already been paid for and we can take it now for free without thinking about any of the costs. On the other hand, costly grace recognizes that this grace, this amazing, beautiful gift of God that is completely free to us came at the great cost of the life of God’s son. We can never hope to truly pay the cost of this grace and God does not ask us to, but in gratitude for this grace, we can answer God’s call to follow. We may still take the pen, but when we use it, we remember exactly what this pen represents, we try to be conscious of what we throw away, to think about where everything comes from and where it ends up, to think about what we truly need.

For me, the difference between cheap and costly grace is not in the actual cost, but in our perception of and reaction to it. God’s grace for us will always have the same cost, but when it is offered to us and we shrug, saying, “might as well—it’s free,” then we cheapen that grace. But when we truly understand everything that made it possible for this grace to be given to us and everything that this grace, this forgiveness, this salvation means for our lives, we cannot possibly accept it lightly. For Bonhoeffer, the only reaction to such a gift is to dedicate his life to following, to suffering for, and to loving God.

There are a lot of days where answering the call feels impossible, when I can’t figure out where I’m going or what I’m doing or how in the world I could ever be worthy of God’s love and grace. But the point is that I’m not worthy and God chose to pay the cost anyway. God looks down on our broken world, on the pain we cause each other, on the people we’ve forgotten, and on the messes we’ve made of everything we’ve been freely given and loves us anyway. When I think of that, I can’t shrug it away or tuck it away in the back of my desk drawer. No. With a love like that, with a gift like that, there’s truly nothing else I can do but try to give something back. There’s nothing I can do but follow.

Saturday
September 27

(Un)tangling Dinner

By iquillen

This past Monday, I spent an entire afternoon planning and preparing Marsh Community dinner. Every Monday evening, one or several people volunteer to plan and cook a meal for about 40 people. I had agreed to cook with someone I had met the week before. Neither of us had much experience doing this; this was her first time and my second. We decided to make the meal simple: spaghetti and tomato sauce, with green beans and bread on the side. Not entirely sure of what we were doing but optimistic that the meal would go well, we set off to a nearby Star Market at 2 o’clock, intending to have dinner ready by 6.

In the next several hours, my partner and I learned many valuable lessons. The first was that gluten-free spaghetti tends to clump together and make a very sticky substance when cooked. Something about our surprise at the discovery and spilling some pasta in the sink strengthened the friendship that we had already begun to form. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had bought gluten-free spaghetti because the information we were given suggested to include gluten-free and vegan options in the meal. My partner and I looked over food labels, trying to figure out what foods contained. A task as seemingly simple as grocery shopping became a basic lesson in awareness for other people’s needs. It also was a learning experience in how to buy in bulk. Of course, our purchase led to some unforeseen consequences like the pasta, which leads to the next lesson.

Even well thought-out ideas don’t go exactly as planned. This may sound cliché, but there is truth to it. Considering that we wrote out an ingredients list only a few hours before dinner time,  this was especially relevant to us. While shopping for food and cooking dinner,  our plans underwent adjustments and changes. An idea to try baking was eventually discarded, and in light of the pasta we decided to mix in the sauce instead of keeping it separate. With this kind of flexibility, I grew to trust my partner more, and after much running back and forth dinner was made.

In the end, I had a wonderful shared experience with my partner. We overcame obstacles, delegated tasks easily, and laughed afterward about our worries leading up to dinner. If you had asked me several months ago whether I could get to know someone easily in such a short period of time, I would probably have said no. Cooking community dinner, however, showed me that we could put aside our apprehension to create something shared, for the two of us and everyone who helped or came that night. For those moments, and for all the anxiety and joy they brought, I am truly grateful.

Sunday
September 21

Whole

By jdingus

So this summer has been a roller coaster for me. I had really wonderful experiences. Leading worship at General Assembly, going to different UU camps, spending quality time with my friends and family from home, getting to preach. And I had really difficult experiences. I had to navigate conflict with my family, I dealt with some relationship drama, and my grandfather passed away. One of the ways I keep myself together during these ups and downs is relying on the love of my community.

I’m not always great at articulating my theology, but one thing I know to be true for me is that I believe in the power of community. I believe being in community matters. And I feel the presence of the divine when I am in community with others.

As I mentioned over this summer I got to lead worship for the 2014 UUA General Assembly along with the leadership team from The Sanctuary Boston. We brought The Sanctuary’s special blend of music, prayer, and inspiration to a crowd of 5000 people in Providence Rhode Island. During the worship we had the crowd singing, and dancing, laughing and crying, cheering and listening. I have never been apart of a service with so much energy. I felt deeply connected to the people around me and to the divine as we worshiped together.

The point of our service was to pump everyone up before going to the WaterFire Witness event scheduled for that evening. We decided that to do that, we had to fill people up with the love of god and community. After a long week of GA, and in recognizing that people are coming to this GA with baggage and grief, with fears and shortcomings, we wanted them to know that the love in this community was theirs regardless of who they were. We sang a song called “Whole” as the culmination of the service. Not only has it become my go to singing in the shower song, but it has been my mantra all summer since I learned it. This is the chorus:

In my brokenness, Your love binds me up,

In my brokenness, I find I’m enough,

In you I am whole, In you I am whole.

I think the you/your is intentionally vague. To me it’s a prayer to our community and the divine love that flows through it and through me. I’ve been carrying these lines on my heart all summer and even though things have been hard, it’s continued to remind me that I am loved and I am enough.

Saturday
September 20

Presence without a Face

By iquillen

When you think of God, what images come to your mind? This past week, I was asked to draw a picture to answer this question.  When I stood back to examine my work, one thing immediately stood out to me: not a single person was in it.

This observation called me to reconsider how God is perceived. On the one hand, John 4:8 says that God is love, a quality that transcends humans and brings all living things together. On the other hand, Genesis 1:27 says that God created humankind in God’s own image. How can we reconcile these different characterizations?

Language, while useful, doesn’t always help resolve that question. The words we use to describe God can reflect a singular, exclusive image of the divine. For that reason, I tend to shy away from using pronouns, at the risk of sounding repetitive. And yet, there is a certain power in the numerous names of the spiritual presence that surrounds us. Our Mother, Father, Creator, Jehovah, the Word made flesh, Holy Spirit, Alpha and Omega–the names we have given to the divine all try to capture the breadth of its spirit.

There was a television series that aired several years ago called Joan of Arcadia. The premise was simple: the main character, Joan, encountered God in her everyday life, each time in the form of a different person. While I doubt the same will happen to me in the near future, the basic idea of the show resonated with me. It reminds me now that God is a presence without a single face, feature, or name. God can appear to us in any number of things, from nature to music to silence. As hard as it is to visualize the divine, we interact with it daily–we only have to recognize it.

 

 

 

Saturday
September 20

The Gentle Whisper

By jlbishop

1 Kings 19:11-13:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is a popular Bible verse and one that has always stuck with me. This is probably my favorite Bible verse although I never understood why. I guess there’s something so comforting in knowing that God  chose not to be in the powerful, violent, fearful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper. Throughout my life this verse took on different meanings. At the end of high school when I was discerning becoming a religious sister (I come from a Catholic tradition) this verse brought me a lot of comfort and even more frustration. At that time in my life, this verse told me that God was not going to yell out to me where I was being called. God was not going to announce it with an earthquake or a brilliant fire or an earth-shattering wind, but rather would reveal my vocation to me in a gentle whisper. One that required interior silence and even more prayer, two things I don’t have much patience for. After discerning that becoming a nun was not for me, throughout college this verse helped me with my everyday discernment of what path God wants me to take.

Now, I find myself thinking about this Bible verse in a whole different light. I’m currently finding myself discerning if Catholicism is right for me. Since coming out as gay and being in a same-sex relationship, coming from a conservative Catholic tradition I’m finding myself dealing with a lot of earthquakes, too many fires, and countless shattering winds. And all of them being defended as “of God.” A condemning homily, lost friends, glaring stares from said lost friends, being spoken to about my “sinful behavior” and the list goes on… Those who use the Bible or their faith teachings as earthquakes to break people, fires to burn them and winds to shatter their inherent dignity and worth.Yet this verse brings me peace. God is not in those. God is in the gentle whisper: a kind smile, a warm welcome, a safe space, an open church, unending love and support, a gentle word.

There’s two things I take away from this verse at this point in my life. First, there will be earthquakes, and winds, and fires. But then, there will be a whisper and God will be found.

Friday
September 19

The One We Can Never Shake Off

By kmshultz

There’s this saying that’s been rolling around in my head ever since Brittany, our chaplain for international students, used it in worship on Sunday. She prayed, “God, you are the homesickness we can never shake off.” It was the kind of phrase that makes my whole body pause for a moment and listen because it’s so unfamiliar and strangely beautiful.

In my life, homesickness is not necessarily something I seek out. It’s a gut wrenching feeling of loss and separation, a gaping hole deep in my chest that slowly fades to a dull throb but doesn’t feel like it will ever truly disappear. As an eight year old at church camp, it was the thing that left me sobbing into my pillow when everyone else was asleep and a few years later, at soccer camp, it was the thing that lurked in the silence and inactivity of free time, the thing that turned seconds into interminable hours and Tuesdays into a marathon of wishing it could be Friday already. Even later, at music camp, its specter loomed on the first day amidst bare walls and unfamiliar faces and as I approached my freshman year of college, it became the cliché that I was determined to conquer and transcend. Above all else, it was a sickness—something undesirable and toxic.

So why do Brittany’s words ring with truth? How could I agree so fully with a statement that put God on par with sickness, a statement that associated God with loneliness, sadness, pain, and despair?

Then at the beginning of the week, as I looked at the shrinking gaps in my schedule, I began to understand. Homesickness has always dwelt in my open spaces, the times when I’m untethered and drifting with nothing to do, the times when I’m lying awake at night or sitting in a silent dormitory or walking by myself. But when I wake up to the chatter of friends or return to the soccer field or lock myself in a practice room, the feelings fade away. They still lurk in the periphery, but I can keep them at bay for a little while, burying them beneath a flurry of activity.

The problem is, when I fill every hole in my day in order to keep out homesickness, I am also keeping out any meaning my life might have; I am also keeping out God. Because God, too, dwells in my open spaces, spilling in through the cracks in my life and breaking me open. But when I fill every crack, it becomes easier and easier to slip away from God, to close myself off, to live a life wholly focused on me.

And yet, God is the homesickness that we can never shake off. No matter how hard I try, no matter how busy I am, no matter how many cracks I fill, God will always find a way in. God is the homesickness I can’t ignore or bury or overcome; God is the one that cuts through everything—through my schedule, my preoccupations, my distractions, my fears, and my walls, the one who sees everything I am, right down to the core, and chooses to love me anyway.

God is not the homesickness that cripples me, that leaves me crumpled and gasping and alone. No. God is the homesickness that tethers me to a place—that unsettling feeling that reminds me that I am loved, that I belong, and that there’s nothing I can do about it.

God is the homesickness I can never shake off.

Monday
September 15

A New Beginning

By jlbishop

Hi!

My name is Jen, and I’m excited to begin my journey as an undergrad Marsh Associate! I’m from Orange, CT, and I’m not sure what class year to put myself in because I’m technically a senior since this is my fourth year, but I won’t be graduating until May of 2016. Either way, I’m a senior at heart! I’m studying Behavior and Health in Sargent and might possibly add a Deaf Studies minor since I’ve been taking American Sign Language classes here, and I love it! I used to think my path was set straight before me and without a doubt was going to become a Pastoral Counselor and go back to my small, Catholic high school and be the counselor there, but things have since changed. Thanks to this amazing university, the people, resources, and opportunities it offers, I now have no idea what’s going to happen after graduation, or what I even want to do with my life, because the paths I could take are endless! And praise God that I can say that because that’s an awesome struggle to have, and I welcome it with open arms (and few complaints)!

I’m excited to start this internship with Marsh not only to hopefully gain some insight and direction, but for friendship, faith and community. I’m at a place in my life filled with a lot of brokenness, and I say “brokenness” in a positive way, not negative. Brokenness in the sense of being filled with questions like “who am I?”, “where am I going?” “Who are my friends?” and the heaviest of them all, “Who is God?” and “What is faith?”  and then, “Why bother?”

Why, in the business and bustle of academic life in Boston am I even bothering to search for answers to  those questions of God and faith when there are papers to write, friends to see, places to go, jobs to do and grade deflation to fight? Because as St. Augustine says it best, “my heart is restless until it rests in God,” and no matter how much homework I do, how many outings I plan and how busy I become, nothing is enough to distract me from the constant ache of a deep thirst to know God.

That’s why I’m excited for this new beginning at Marsh. I don’t expect them to just give me the answers to my questions, but this internship will provide me that time and space that I need to actively search for my own answers. And that’s a gift I am blessed to be given.