Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Bounce - Voices of Resilience

The Bounce 

Why do many people and organizations crumble in the face of difficulty, while others use adversity to bounce back even stronger? The experience of bounce can range from an uncanny feeling of levitation to a supreme tranquil relaxation. It is precisely when all seems lost that the opportunity exists to rewire your brain. It's often during life's most difficult times that we discover our most critical hidden strengths and that we forge our most important capabilities.

We all go through desperately awful times. When we can transform those experiences we are stronger. You may have heard of "crisistunites" or "Another bleeping learning experience." These experiences can make us angry and afraid. We all have these moments. The question is what we choose to do with them.

Are you in such a time right now? You may be working too many hours for too little pay, feeling drained and exhausted or ineffectual and frustrated. You might be on the soul journey that the Goddess Persephone took, into the underworld. It may feel like the journey that Jesus took, losing everything and resting in the tomb. Or maybe your dearest wish is to retreat into the womb or your safe and cozy clay pot of a regulated life. You may be speaking truth to power, hoping to make the world a better place, and feeling shut down and helpless. You may be desperately clinging to your life vest as you hurtle over the waterfall, through the underground river, heading toward rebirth in the vast ocean. These are the feelings that EVERY hero in EVERY story has: hanging over a precipice or facing an un-climb-able mountain or seven impossible tasks.
Sunrise at Lake Tahoe
Photo by Clint Sharp

Or maybe you feel, like I felt during one memorable season of my life, 6 months which I wish i could forget: Like I was standing lonely on a hill and life was sneaking up on me hitting me with bad news, wacking me with a stick, again and again and again.

Here’s the good news, the journey continues on: you don’t have to stay in the tomb, you don’t have to desperately cling to that life-vest forever. The season of despair passes. You can emerge, like a chick, bruised, and battered from the shell. And when that change comes, we get a gift. We deserve that gift. The gift of transformation. We owe it to ourselves, and our loved ones, to wrest all the transformation we can out of the jaws of those difficult times. No matter how messy it is, we deserve the richness and deepening of transformation. We can rise like the sun.

Five Voices

-Victor Hugo: "Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings."

- Attributed to Harriet Tubman : “if you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches, keep going. If you hear them shouting, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going."

- bell hooks : “Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen
Mountain Bluebird Flickr Creative Commons
suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands.”

- Howard Thurman : "I have never since lost sight of the far-flung mystery and redemption of the sacrament of pain. -- It is small wonder that so much is made in the Christian religion of the necessity of rebirths. There need not be only one single rebirth, but again and again a man may be reborn until at last there is nothing that remains between him and God."

Alice Walker:...”after the close of a magical marriage to an extraordinary man that ended in a less-than-magical divorce. I found myself unmoored, unmated, ungrounded in a way that challenged everything I'd ever thought about human relationships. Situated squarely in that terrifying paradise called freedom, precipitously out on so many emotional limbs, it was as if I had been born; and in fact I was being reborn as the woman I was to become."

Martin Luther King

Words from Coretta Scott King from the book "Standing in the Need of Prayer"
Martin Luther King, Photo credit Beacon Press

“Prayer was a wellspring of strength and inspiration during the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout the movement, we prayed for greater human understanding. We prayed for the safety of our compatriots in the freedom struggle. We prayed for victory in our nonviolent protests, for brotherhood and sisterhood among people of all races, for reconciliation and the fulfillment of the Beloved Community.

For my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on in even the darkest hours of our struggle.

I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the middle of that night, he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many we received throughout the movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.

After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God:

"Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone."

Later he told me, "At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: 'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.'" When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.”

Sing It

By Abbie Bettini, words from Victor Hugo:

By Libana, words adapted from Victor Hugo:

Live It

courtesy wikimedia commons
Every once in awhile as I'm swinging along on my trapeze bar of-the-moment I look out ahead of me into the distance and I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one. - Danaan Parry

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Guns, and terrorists, and harassment, Oh My!

A couple nights ago I watched a West Wing episode that addressed extremist Muslim terrorism and the tendency to blame all Muslims (one line from the show was "Extremist Muslim Terrorists are to Muslims as ___ is to the Christians." and the answer was "KKK".) (season 3 episode 3 I think) Tonight I am watching season 3 episode 6, about a church shooting and the gun debate. What is freaking me out is that WE'VE BEEN HAVING THESE CONVERSATIONS FOR YEARS AND THEY HAVEN'T CHANGED.

Is something changing? Not unless we take action! Here's some writings I found useful this week.

True Security

A colleague has a vision of what can be different, we can create true security:

Undoing the Doctrine...

Photo: Lynn Friedman, Creative Commons
A colleague, Reverend David Pyle, names one key source of pain and destruction that needs to be undone:
"I believe there is a "Doctrine of Original Sin" that is specifically about men. Call it the Doctrine of the Violent Man, for want of a better term. It is the belief that there is something inherently violent and abusive rooted at the core of maleness.
Of all the "Original" doctrines, I will admit this is probably the one there is the most evidence for. And some of the more ardent believers in this doctrine are violent and abusive men themselves, because of how it allows them to evade responsibility for their violent and abusive actions. And for the billions of people in history who have been subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of men, it is a rational extrapolation from personal experience.
I almost said "lived" personal experience, but that would be inaccurate. Too often people do not live through those experiences.
And yes, there are violent and abusive people who are not men, that is true... and does not affect the functioning of the Doctrine of the Violent Man in all of human society.
Photo: David Maiolo, Creative Commons
This Doctrine (this widely accepted and societally enforced belief about the nature of things) has many effects. I named one of them above, the belief by some men that it excuses violent and abusive behavior, because it is simply their nature. When combined with white supremacy it leads to profound excusal of white male violence while also creating deep fear of any black male as dangerously violent.
It leads to the belief that State Power must primarily rely on violence to maintain its power and authority, with expressions from offensive military power to a coercive incarceration based legal system.
It leads to "strength" being defined as capacity for violence. It leads to diplomacy that is based in coercion. It leads to young boys being celebrated for displaying capacity for violence, and humiliated for showing anything else.
Because, at its core, the Doctrine of the Violent Man says that men cannot help but be violent, because it is an inherent part of their being. It says to men who are violent and abusive that they cannot help being what they are. And so some revel in it, believing that violence and abuse makes them more of a man. To others, it centers them in their violence when they are feeling powerless or afraid.
And to those who are less naturally inclined to violence, the Doctrine of the Violent Man says that they are not really men. That they are something other than male.
The effect of this Doctrine on what it means to be a man is profound. It goes to the core of personal and societal assumptions about maleness. I am aware that I write this from a position of privelege... that of the male who "proved" his capacity for violence (through a state-approved means), and now restrains that violence and practices peace. But even this conception of male identity, celebrated though it is, has violence at its core.
The Doctrine of the Violent Man requires that almost every conception of male identity be measured by the relationship to and capacity for violence. It is a doctrine for which there is a lot of evidence, in society and even in my own heart. The reality of male violence will not change until we have deconstructed the doctrine that upholds it."

What about you? Why do you Protest?

A colleague, Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, asks the following question:
"People often ask me why I protest. And I want to say, I don't know, because I have a conscience, because I have a kid, because I have a sweetheart, because I have a church, because I have examples, because I have love, because I am half woke, because I am not a cynic, because I believe that my life is about more than myself, because I buy what Jesus said about the greatest commandment and the second like unto it, and because I was raised by Hawaiʻians who taught me aloha. I mean, these are the first reasons that come to mind.
What about you? Why do you protest?"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ancestors' Voice

“Samhain Blessing”

"colorwarp2-060207" by Ruth Temple
finally, the wheel turns and brings us to the darkness
and as we pause to remember the beloved dead
and honor the darkness,

let each of us know that to praise the ancestors,
known and unknown,
is to know that we have never been alone.
that we have not cried, loved, birthed or died alone,
they have been with us.

and each time we move forward,
we carry great sorrow for our losses,
sorrow that is a measure of their love,
into the known and the unknown future.

and so on this day, the past and the future
come together.
woven by the strands of love
and devotion.
weaving a never-ending web

that holds and supports us.

tonight, as the darkness waits for us to reach out
and touch this interconnected web,
may each of us be blessed by our journey into the cauldron of transformation,
the place of all possibilities.
the womb and the heart of Gaia....

blessings of all we hold holy,
and of the sacred darkness upon us all.

by bhakti andrea (adapted)

Falling Leaves

My best friend died when she was 39. We knew it was coming. I made the trip from New York to Oregon several times after her diagnosis. The call came, "She may not last the week." I flew again. Sitting on the plane, staring down at the colorful hillsides covered with autumn leaves, I thought about mortality. Each leaf, falling from the tree was dying, and yet it nourishes the tree it fell from. Contemplating the leaves gave me some comfort, but it didn't fill the hole in my heart.

A few years later, my niece’s grandfather died suddenly. Without the preparation that aging or illness usually gives us, our family fumbled to cope. How could we help my niece understand death when we ourselves were at a loss? my sister and I (who share similar beliefs) struggled to find a way to communicate to a child, ideas formulated as adults. Suddenly my “back to the earth” imagery seemed cold and intellectual. We were unprepared to let go of Sierra’s grandpa. The idea that he could smile down on us from above was very appealing.

Rogue River (creative commons)
How do you explain that at one moment Grandpa was fly fishing on the Rogue river on a sunny beautiful day and in the next few moments his body lay motionless, near where the river flows into the sea. Each life is a wave on the sea. The wave has form, purpose, identity, but while it is powerful and deep, it is rushing toward shore. At the shore the wave breaks, the life ends, and what we once knew as a wave becomes, once again, part of the ocean. I’ve always related to a “fertilizer” aspect of death, but as we gathered as a family, I turned my attention to the effect our lost loved one had on the world. Each wave has brought sand and treasures from the sea, onto the shore. Every life changes the world. Every person makes a difference by being who they are, by singing their own song. Their memory, their works, the people who loved them: That is the afterlife. That is the way that a person can live on.

Personally I very much like the idea of becoming one with my divinity, for that is how I view the earth, the planet is both sacred and divine. The broccoli I had for dinner is a part of me, I have recycled dinosaur cells in me, more than that, I have stardust in me. Who knows what I will become! [wait for it… Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!] Knowing that we become flower food can be comforting, but it doesn’t make it easy.

How do we live with death and loss? Ironically, What we need is love. The very love that makes loss painful is also the way forward. Without love, there is no loss. We feel this when we lose a family member or friend, but even when strangers die: public figures, faceless thousands in a tragic event, or war, the love of our fellow human beings shocks us as we are reminded of our own mortality.

George Elliot wrote

Photo: Michael J. Bennett (Own work)
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, Photo User HORIZON
they ...

join the choir invisible

Of those immortal dead who live again
  In minds made better by their presence: live
    In pulses stirr’d to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
  For miserable aims that end with self,
    In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man’s search
To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven:

To make undying music in the world...

My mom died when she was 72, while the trees were just starting to leaf out, leaning into rebirth. As I look over the photos and writings from the months she was on hospice, I am reminded of my despair and loss. I am also reminded of the community doing ritual together, and the gifts of awe and wonder she gave within the process of her death. Gazing at the photos and mementos on my special shelf remind me of her many gifts. The song she sang with her life and her death continues to enrich my life. Each ancestor’s life, AND their death, created not just memories, but joy and sadness, love and wonder. Like the leaves giving life to the forest, each ancestor has given new life.

Leaf Walk

Take a walk today. Notice a leaf or two along the way, and reflect on an ancestor or loved one who has joined the "choir invisible." Perhaps this leaf is one to bring back to your altar at home.

"Breaths", by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Rev. Amy offered an "Ancestors' Voice" service to the Saltwater UU Congregation in DesMoines, WA October 29th. Next week: "Sixth Source: Earth Mystic Insights" at Westside UU in Seattle.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Worship Services: Top Ten Practices

Touring and Learning

I tour, preaching at congregations throughout the US, mostly West of the Rockies. In my touring I've run into some elements of worship that work so well that I've remembered them and try to offer them to other congregations. Below is a list of worship elements that I admire.
The author with her tiny home,
visiting the Sepulveda UU congregation

The worship service that works for me is all of a piece, with the hymns, performed music, readings, time for all ages, etc. all serving one message or theme for the service. Sometimes I think of the service as a necklace. I have many hand-made necklaces from my mom and sister. In shops I observed them carefully selecting different beads and baubles that worked together, each one adding to the overall look of the necklace. A religious service is made up of pieces that need to work together in the same way. Each one can be unique, but they all need to serve the main idea.

Ten Excellent Ideas

In no particular order, here are ten ideas I treasure for religious services:

Children's book by author's mother
1) A "time for all ages" that isn't just a story. It is an interactive time that is specifically introducing the message of the day. It must be explicitly is relatable to all ages. Puppets, Q and A, acting it out, illustrations on a slideshow, inviting sound effects or participation from the whole congregation, rhythm play, and pretty much anything beyond a simple story are good. (OK, sometimes it can be a story but never simply reading from a storybook!) (Credit to my Religious Exploration colleagues in the Pacific NW)

2) Joys and Sorrows, not joys and concerns, followed by pastoral SONG and PRAYER. Including a pastoral song and a prayer drive home that this is sharing deep personal milestones in religious community. It is not speaker's bureau/group therapy/political soapbox... When a particular event is on everyone's minds (like "back to school" when doing joys and sorrows with kids at that time of year, or "the tragic shooting in Las Vegas" recently) it works well to begin joys and sorrows by naming that one thing. I make notes on the themes in the spoken joys and sorrows so that I can name them in the prayer afterward. I've borrowed from Reverend Dana Worsnop the phrases "We hold tenderly..." and "We hold joyfully..." to preface those references. In my Pagan and earth-relating practice the joys and sorrows portion of our time together usually is after the main working, after the central ritual. I'm curious how many congregations have done that? Have you put Joys and Sorrows after the sermon? How does it work for you?

3) MUSIC/Singing!!! I often sing the call to worship. A service will include a song of gathering (opening hymn), singing the young people out, a pastoral song, and a song of blessing (closing hymn). A pianist who is able to add gentle piano under joys and sorrows or a prayer, or particular reading is a gift. Including the ASL interpretation with the songs makes it a whole body experience that is accessible for more people. Singing together before the service... which helps with starting on time! (Credit to the many music directors I've had the honor to co-create with, Mark, Tom, Bert, !)

4) Announcements/news of the community outside of worship (before or after). Some congregations project the announcements before and after the service on a self-running slideshow. One congregation had the slideshow of news running in the fellowship hall during refreshments and conversation after the service. (Credit to UUC Salem, OR)

Necklace beaded by Anne Warren Smith (author's mother)
5) Symmetry - call to worship and benediction frame the service beginning and end, both by the same person (usually the minister). Chalice lighting and extinguishing are led by the same person (usually the service associate). On a related note: One congregation explicitly clarified which elements of the liturgy belonged to "the people" and which to "the minister." I found that useful in thinking about the service as a whole. The Joys and Sorrows, offering, and chalice lighting/extinguishing belong to the people and are the domain of the service associate. The call, benediction, and sermon are the domain of the minister. (Credit to Pagan and Earth-relating communities and CUUPS for the finely honed sense of ritual.) Tapestry of Faith images
6) Break up the wall of words. I often offer a sermon 'part 1' before the offertory (5 mins) and 'part 2' after the offertory (15 mins) Sometimes the sermon 'part 1' is a reading offered by lay folks. It can work very well to spread the sermon out across the whole service, by including 2-5 minute speaking before a hymn that illustrates the concept, or including a longer introduction to a reading or shared activity. Guided meditations, body prayers, singing fragments of song, silence, and ringing a bell all allow folks with different learning styles to connect to the message, and break up the deadening effect of a classic "20 minute sermon." (Gratitude to the congregations in Seattle, New Mexico, and Arizona for welcoming experimentation with this.)

7) Slideshow - when possible include graphics and prompts and words of hymns. No need to print paper. Hymnals are for the folks who can read music. (I personally prefer singing songs that don't require music skills to make them sound good and be fun to sing.) The slide show can give credit for readings, hymns, and performed music so you don't take up verbal space to share that information. (Credit to the UUs of Honolulu, HI)

By Louise Docker from Sydney, Australia
(My heart in your hands)
[CC BY 2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
8) Offering BEFORE the sermon. This isn't a service that gets paid for, it is an experience of community. Contributions should come from the experience of community, not from the judgement of the worth of the speaker's message. When introducing the offering however you do it, I appreciate saying "give and receive" to remind people that they, too, are the community that receives the offering... (Credit to First U of Ithaca, NY)

9) Include! Notice who is up front representing the congregation. When the service associate and minister are both middle-aged white women, then perhaps seek out a young man of color to offer the reading. Explicitly name various identities and backgrounds in the greeting and welcome, pastoral prayer, sermon. Use the microphone, use slides, create wheelchair cutouts in the seating area, create and label an area that is scent-free seating and a space where people with service animals can be seated so that those with allergies can choose their seats an appropriate distance away. Provide "activity packs" for bored children. Actively appreciate the baby noises from the pulpit to help normalize inclusion of all ages. (Credit to First UU of Salem, OR)

10) Blocking... Processing in and out, saying the benediction from the floor, being seated up behind the pulpit so the preacher can see the assembled community, greeting people after the service at a main door they exit through... All about paying attention to where our bodies are. This includes reducing the 'upping and downing' and the long trips from pew to pulpit for board greeter, service associate, guest speakers, congregants during joys and sorrows, etc. As a safety note... The minister, who is positioned to see all the exits and all the congregants, should have a cell phone handy so that if there is an emergency they can dial 911 or take appropriate action. (Credit to Reverend Hope and UUC of Central Nassau, NY)

11) And a bonus idea: Plan the service on a Google document. That way the music person, minister, service associate, RE director, and office person can all contribute and see exactly what is in the service all the way up to the day of. Any last minute responses to world events? Put the extra candle-lighting words in the script and everyone has them. Avoid sending the order of service back and forth. Get the music director involved in the theme EARLY so that music can be prepared that supports the overall message. (Credit to First Unitarian of Portland, OR)

These are all things I've experienced great success with at various congregations and I try to carry them with me to other congregations. But always, we all benefit from the advice of Rev. Barbara Wells Ten Hove: We practice "Sacred Flexibility" during our worship, because we know the divine mystery has much to teach us from our surprises as well as our well orchestrated moments.

Just for Fun 

Here's a public Facebook post from Matt Meyer along the same theme. (I love all of these!)
Matt Meyer
Everything I need to know about worship leading, I learned from Lady Gaga last night:
-Honor the ancestors: She called in the women who preceded and paved the way for her.
-Have good visuals and invest in a good sound system.
-Invite people to sing along and show them how to clap on 2 and 4.
-Incorporate different styles of music: this show was like an eclectic tour of American pop through the ages.
-Attentiveness to use of metaphor: "I want to ride your disco stick"
-Make your theology explicit: "Everyone belongs in the arms of the sacred"
-More rehearsal is always better: Every transition was as tight as could be.
-Allow for the element of surprise: As exemplified in costume changes and/or fireworks.
-Explicitly welcome multiple identities and represent them in your leadership.
-Take instrumental breaks.
To book Reverend Amy at your congregation, religious gathering or civic group, contact by email at or look at her schedule on You can also find more information about religious services on the website.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Time to Love

I Am Good?

There are those who would set fire to the world, We are in danger. There is only time to work slowly. There is no time not to love.

I am told of a group of people who do the most beautiful thing. Maybe, if we pass along the story, some other communities will start doing it! When someone does something hurtful and wrong, they take the person to the center of town, and the entire community comes and surrounds him or her. For two days they tell the person every good thing he or she has ever done. These people believe that every human being comes into the world as GOOD, each of us desiring safety, love, peace, happiness. Sometimes in the pursuit of these things people make mistakes. The community sees misdeeds as a cry for help. They band together for the sake of their fellow human to hold him or her up, to reconnect her with her true Nature, to remind him who he really is, until she fully remembers the truth: "I AM GOOD". 

There are those, who would set fire to the world. 

Ten years ago I thought I was fairly informed. I knew that I needed to try to live lightly on our overburdened earth and I knew that there are some nations, out there, where inhumanity had descended into atrocity. Since then corruption has been revealed in places I once thought were sacred, like the priesthood and boy scouts; I’ve seen the disintegration of our civic discourse; the fall of our economy; terrorism on our shores; the threat of nuclear war; War: unending, devastating, constant conflict in many countries, some started by my own government; a crumbling social safety net; a crumbling physical infrastructure. and terrifying global diseases… west nile, ebola, swine flu; not to mention erratic and dangerous weather which is only the beginning of global climate change... Feel like crawling under a pew and hiding? Like running screaming down the hill to find something to picket? I know!

Here we are, all together on a big ship—the earth ship. What’s the name of the ship? How about we name it the Titanic. We’re about to hit the iceberg. People who are in poorer, less powerful parts of the world—people in steerage—are going to go down with the ship. But so will all of us sooner or later. it’s going to be pretty hard to turn the ship before it hits the iceberg. 

Retreat is seductive. It is tantalizing to pretend that things aren’t as bad as they seem, or to become cynical and to give it all up as a lost cause. It is easy to point the finger of blame, to speak of evil and of emergency. To add your torch of anger to all the others. We will set fire to the world. Literally set fire to the world, if we surface all the fossil fuels that we have found so far and burn more than 20% of them. Not just cause global climate change, but create a real lake of fire, a real hell, right here on earth. Remember the pictures of the oil wells burning in Kuwait? The gulf of Mexico? Texas? … Coming to you, in your OWN back yard! 

Run Away! (There is no such thing as "away")

When I open my eyes to the statistics and data, when I open my ears to the groaning of the world, the cries of the children, I am overwhelmed again and again by painful emotions: Fear, Despair, Anger. Not fun emotions. I could retreat, but I’m learning that hiding is a lonely business, and it doesn’t work for long. I could yell and scream, but that just leads to a sore throat. The only way out is to go through… The way to turn the ship of planet earth around is through hearing, seeing, caring, acting… 

We are in danger 

Fear may overwhelm us, immobilize us. Anger may tempt us to take shortcuts, to demonize, to disregard. Exxon, Monsanto, Enron… when I hear those names I feel angry. I feel small and helpless. I sometimes feel like shaking my fist and hissing. My rational mind knows that booing when I hear a corporation’s name or hiding in my comfy house are not particularly helpful reactions. But, I need to forgive myself for my feelings. My feelings are about an urge to justice. The need for justice is a good thing. The challenge is choosing the right actions. 

Deep Breath

Oh beloved of the world, who comes to us as mercy, we honor you, we honor you, we honor you, we call on your name.

For all the tender loving hearts that are breaking. Whether your heart is pierced through for the climate chaos visiting devastation through fire, flood, earthquake, and hurricane. Whether your compassion is fatigued by witnessing hate and fear in politics and on the streets. Whether your resilience is tried by the small and large failures, losses, and pain in your community, friends, and family. We need each other. We need to lean on the spirit of life, divine love, luminous love light of the one, universe.

Oh great lover of the world who comes to us as compassion, we honor you, we honor you, we honor you, we call on your name.

We lift up and celebrate the joy and beauty in the world, the simple pleasures of good food eaten with loved ones, music, a rainbow, new babies, one mind turned toward peace, one pair of hands working for justice.

Oh beloved of the world, who comes to us as hope, we honor you, we honor you we honor you, we call on your name.

Amen, blessed be.
More on  *Time to Love is a song written and performed by Charlie Murphy and Jamie Sieber, based on words written by Deena Metzger. The first paragraph, above, is the words to that song.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

My Matron Saint: Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens
Introducing my Matron Saint, Teresa of Avila. She was many things, but above all, she was her whole self. She invites us to celebrate and live fully into all the sacred and diverse parts of our selves.
Teresa was born in 1515 in Avila, Spain, land of Flamenco and bull fights.
Teresa was an excellent administrator AND an insightful mystic; Proving that you can survive, even thrive, with one foot in the sublime and one in the here and now. This balance, this harmony between the mystical and the practical, is the work of every person of faith. We must integrate our holy experiences with our day-to-day tasks.


What thrills me about Teresa was her Duende. Duende can be translated as Authenticity or as Soul, as in “you’ve got Soul.” Teresa had Duende.
Like all young women of her day and class, she was raised to be a Lady, and a wife. Teresa could have married anyone she desired. She was renowned for her fiery wit, her humor, and for her shapely legs. She heard a different call, and she acted. Against her father’s wishes, she quite literally climbed over the wall.
Some time after Teresa became the reverend mother of a new order of nuns, a group of junior nuns found Teresa voraciously devouring a roasted partridge. “What are you doing?” They cried, scandalized. “I’m eating a partridge,” She answered, “When I fast, I FAST, and when I eat partridge, I EAT partridge.
Over the years I’ve chosen heroes, goddesses, saints and teachers, to learn from. I chose Teresa because she was real… Teresa was human. She doubted herself sometimes, she struggled, she failed, and she kept on 
learning and growing and forging her path. Joseph Campbell says “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take.” Rev Holly Lux-Sullivan added a corollary: “Even though you will stumble and fall, it is still your path.” I summarize this as “I’m choosing to ‘FAIL FORWARD’.”
Living life fully and authentically, doing what you are led to do, without apology? That’s who we are when we are in flow with godself, when we are sourcing to sacred. That is who I am when I am at the bedside of a dying person, while his wife and I are singing Amazing Grace. That is who I am when I am standing across the street from Fred Phelps, holding a sign that says “Celebrating on the side of love.”


Teresa’s prayers were graphic, (the sun), physical (the bird cradled in gods hands), and earthy (The bride who finally receives the bridegroom’s kiss). Of course she was earthy! She loved perfume and wore bright orange. (I favor purple.)
Teresa knew prayer was earthy because God, too, was earthy. “Lord, you are on the earth and clothed with it.” the best prayer involves all of our five senses: Touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste. She called prayer ‘a sweet fragrance’. and sin? It’s “a foul-smelling stench”.
My thealogy is “Earth-relating”. This is what I mean when I say that… I am grounded in the senses. I am rooted in the sacred earth.
The reformed movement that St. Teresa co-founded is called the Discalced Carmelites. Discalced or “shoeless” is meant to represent austerity, and humility. The choice to go without shoes was also a connection with the earth. Barefoot, or sandal-foot, you feel everything in the ground you stand upon. As God instructed Moses at the burning bush, ‘take off your sandals in this Holy Place’. Going shoeless is an affirmation that every place is holy, every place is sacred.
Ah, now I know why I feel compelled to remove my shoes during ritual, or when at home, or when connecting deeply with someone during spiritual direction.
Now I understand the term “being grounded”.

Humor, music, and Fun

Flamenco Flow by Ricardo Garcia
Many years of living in college towns and attending or working in universities gave me a tendency to be Terribly Serious. Teresa had little patience for too much piousness: “God deliver us from sour-faced saints.” She wrote. When I remember that I am enough, and don’t have to take myself SO seriously: I can be fully my genuine self and I connect with the divine and those around me. Life with the fire of Duende, life sourced from the sacred, is a lot more fun. AND contagious.


Pierced by a flaming arrow. sculpture by Bernini
Teresa had moments of communion with the divine that were exquisitely painful. So intense they hurt. some of the pain she experienced, looked at through modern eyes, was probably medical. She describes one of those moments as being ‘Pierced by a flaming arrow through the heart’. We all have moments, even days or weeks, when our compassion, our awareness, our connection to others, causes us deep pain, grief, and even despair. This pain is the source of social justice work. And we all have times when we have to surrender to the frailties of our human bodies.
The awareness of suffering breaks our hearts. And creates the fire of energy. Energy to speak truth and take action, Energy to show up, to listen, to care, to give, and to receive. Just as the Buddha taught: With true compassion, you become aware that all life is suffering, so you must respond.

Reverend Amy Beltaine preached about St. Teresa of Avila at the UU Congregation at Willamette Falls on Sunday, August 6 in Oregon City, Oregon. Check out her preaching schedule and spiritual accompaniment opportunities at

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Living Like a Tree

The Song

(Living) like a tree 
Photo Credit: veeterzy

with my roots dug down
My branches wide and open
Come down the rain
Come down the sun
Come down the fruit 
to a heart that is open
to be...
(by Betsy Rose)

My spiritual practices almost always contain song and motion. Living Like a Tree is one of my go-to songs. When I'm feeling like my heart and spirit are not getting nourished, I turn my attention to my roots. When I feel disconnected from my life-mission I turn my attention to opening my heart and my spiritual branches. When I am feeling like the rain is coming too fast or the sun light is too strong, I remember the season and the constant change that a tree goes through.

Living Like a Tree

Wind-blown tree Ka Lae Hawaii
I learned it as "standing" like a tree. Then listened to beloved people in my life who could not "stand" when doing spiritual practice, and some who cannot even sit. There is no reason to exclude anyone with our language if we can change it, so it was an easy change. Using "living" instead of "standing" allows someone in a hospital bed to fully enter into an experience of the imagery of roots and branches. As I sing this line, I imagine my spine as a tree trunk. I focus on my core strength and the energy running through me.

With My Roots Dug Down

What nurtures you? Usually when I offer a tarot card reading I use a layout that includes a tree metaphor. One card is the roots, one card is the fruits. When you look at your life, what nourishes you? What gives you energy and a reason to get out of bed in the morning? Who supports you? Where do you go to renew and rejuvenate? The roots are what you take in. The fruits are what you give to the world. As I sing this line I imagine roots sunk into the earth. Sometimes I take the time to imagine the roots going down all the way to the center of the earth where my spirit-roots are not harmed by the molten core of the earth that is pure raw energy. Often I wiggle my toes against whatever surface supports me. This works better without shoes on.

My Branches Wide and Open

Did you know that Aspen trees are not individuals? They grow as a group and share resources. The human community needs each other - our spiritual branches intertwine - and we rely on the community to exist and to flourish. As I sing this line I raise my hands to the air. I feel the breath that was once breathed by dinosaurs, that came from plants, that has been a part of animals all over the world. I imagine my branches connecting with the branches of other people in a forest of humanity that calmly sways together in peace and mutual support.

Come down the Rain, Come down the Sun

Our lives are full of unexpected (and expected) gifts and struggles. Physical health, relationships, compassion for others, getting one's needs met, and the daily accidents of life can delight us and plunge us into despair. The sun can be nourishing and it can burn. Rain can fill you with needed sustenance or can overwhelm. These are the conditions of our lives. They can weigh us down, and without help, they can destroy us. They can also lift us up, and be magnified by sharing. The seasons of birth, of love, of productivity, of loss, of wisdom, and finally transformation into something beyond human pass over, and through, us. Nature continues on, even as we human beings emerge and disappear.
As I sing this line I move my hands into the shape of the sun above my head, then twinkle my fingers down like rain drops.

Come down the fruit 

The fruit can come from the community, from the divine, from the universe and all we hold holy. The fruit can come from the sacred within you. As the poet Judy Grahn says "My heart is an apple." What we offer to the world is nourishment for others, and is sourced from the ground of being through our own essence, our own hearts. What are the gifts that your heart years to offer? How do you make the world a better place? How do you live your best self? How do you serve the spirit of love? As I sing this line I hold my hands out to offer the imaginary fruit held in them.

To a Heart that is Open

Whole-hearted living is only possible if your heart is open. You must be open to giving and receiving love, and with that, you must be open to the loss and grieving and pain that comes with being truly open to life. This tender-hearted path is not for the faint-of-heart. It takes great courage and fortitude to be open-hearted. It takes failing, again and again, and trying again and again. It takes self-compassion and the willingness to ask for the support and nourishment you need. It takes risks. You must risk offering the fruit that you are called to give. As I sing this I bring my hands, which just had the imaginary fruit in them, to my heart, and then open them wide to hug the whole world.

To Be...

The song circles around. There is no beginning, there is no end. We are constantly in this present moment, learning to BE and not rely on the identity of "do"ing. This still point is just as important as the roots, the fruit, and the changes of the season. Just be. Breathing into your whole, sacred, self.

Blessed be.
Graphic Art Credit:
Video of the song being sung by a gradeschool class. Green Chalice, is a 3 hour retreat where you drink from the cup of nature, discovering your holy source of spiritual connections so that you can return to the work of healing the world, renewed and re-energized. Sign up for Amy's mailing list at