Sunday, September 24, 2017

Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Drumming

A Story

A story is told about a group of people who live close to nature. Originally folks said it came from "Africa" but I think that was a convenient way for the author to say "someone not like me" so we don't need that part. 

This is the story, and the story goes... [T]here is a village where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind. And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. When a child is born, the community gets together and they sing the child’s song. When the child begins it’s education, people get together and the child sings their own song. When they become an adult, the community gets together again to sing it. When it comes to your wedding, you hear your song. if that child, now grown, strays from the path of love, from their true self, the community gathers to sing their song and invite them back to themselves. Finally, when their soul is going from this world, family and friends come near and, like at their birth, sing their song to accompany them in the journey.

I am opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one. (Sufi)

We start with the one. Some might call it the downbeat, some might call it the heartbeat. The symphony conductor shows us the one with the conductor’s wand. You might be talking about the time signature or you might be asked to just feel it. When do we join the song? How do we come together?
One of my drum teachers, Ubaka Hill, calls the rhythms we do, drumsongs, and a group of us making drumsongs together, is a drum-orchestra. We are all a part of the drumsong orchestra.
In a drumsong orchestra each drum has a responsibility. The mama drum. That’s the songba, will you say it with me? Songba. The mama drum gets everyone to their appointments on time. It is the timekeeper. The baby drum is the kenkeni. Let’s say that together, kenkeni, that drum makes us laugh, it is always doing the new and different, and the rest of the drums have to keep the kenkeni safe while it does its own thing. The grandpa drum is the junjun, let me hear you, junjun. It passes along wisdom, sharing longer stories. And then, the djembe. Djembe. The first Djembe sings the main song. The bass djembe connects the song to the heartbeat. The lead djembe plays the signals to start and end the song. It is there to relate to the dancers, mimicking dance steps. The whole drum orchestra sings for the dancers so they have a rhythmic ground to dance upon.
No matter what unique song, each drum and each person brings to the symphony of life, we are all connecting through the one. We all must be faithful to the shared heartbeat. In your life, where is that which is larger than you? Where do you find the spirit of life? Where do you find that heartbeat that we all share?
Listen listen listen to my heart song (Pagan)

Each person has a unique song. You know it, you just have to remember it. In the drum song orchestra it works the same way. Your job in life is to remember your heart's song and to sing that song. Each person has their own drumsong. Each individual drumsong fits into the whole (by way of the One) to create the orchestra’s drumsong, the community’s drumsong. Each member of the orchestra has a job: Play your song.
It began because the drum teacher did not allow spectators. Now, after 30 years learning, performing, and teaching West African drum-song the insights, ecstasy, and depth of the tradition have inexorably changed my soul for the better.
Invite Amy to a Saturday workshop where we learn drum-songs "Oya-De", "Fanga" and "Lamba." Complete the journey with a Sunday service where we will perform these three pieces and I will share stories and lessons from my journey, from expressing joy and sorrow, to building community.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

"That's Primitive:" Sorting the Prerational/Transrational Fallacy

Is it "prerational", "rational", or "transrational"?

One of the most demoralizing moments in my preaching career was 15 years ago when a congregant responded to my Thanksgiving sermon (which quoted the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address) with the comment "That's primitive thinking." At the time, it floored me. I was ready to read the feminist, anti-colonialist riot act at him. (I did not.) Over time I realized I didn't have a complete response to his comment. The intensity of that moment helped me see the expression of an attitude that I have found shows up in all sorts of ways. Until I grappled with that feedback I couldn't recognize the "more rational than thou" attitude in others, and more disturbingly, in myself. Until I recognized the source of that prejudice I couldn't undo it.

The age of Modernism gave us the scientific method and near worship of the rational. The Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address begins "Greetings to the Natural World."  Susan Griffin, in the book "Woman and Nature" talks about the separation of the world into rational and irrational and the way that men, culture, and science are identified as rational (and rightful rulers) and women, spirituality, and nature as irrational (and dangerous). A cultural story of enlightened rationality saving the world from bestial nature permeates Western literature and religion.

We see this division in colonialism - as Western culture infantilized and feminized the conquered peoples while exploiting them. We see it in my sermon critic's dismissal of Native American religion as "primitive." We see it in the reactions of many hard atheists or old-style humanists to the use of religious language in our UU congregations.

This division of the world is a brokenness that needs to be healed.

We need language of reverence. We need a relationship to a sacred earth. We need mystery. We need the gifts of insight and intuition commonly associated with women. We need embodied, body-positive, diverse, and community-oriented ways of being.

And it is right to be curious about irresponsible superstition and unthinking credulity.

Ken Wilbur responds to these two categories with the observation that all things that don't fit into the modernist world view get lumped into the "irrational' category. He then separates that second category out into two: pre-rational and trans-rational.

He also grants that all the cautions that men of science have issued about the "irrational" state are appropriate to the pre-rational state, but not the trans-rational state. Using God to justify a system of "haves" and "have-nots", like the prosperity gospel does, is pre-rational. Unthinking belief in scripture or a literal belief in a God which results in wars, intolerance and hate are pre-rational. Superstition and unthinking credulity are the domain of the pre-rational.

When I read cultural anthropology books in the 80's the anthropologists mostly assumed that the native people they were studying were pre-rational. I picked up an anthropology book recently, however, and was pleased and surprised to read that the scientist recognized that the people he was studying had an excellent grasp of scientific concepts, cause and effect, and the nature of the natural world AT THE SAME TIME they spoke about these things in terms of story and myth. These "primitive" people were able to have nimble enough minds to understand reality on two levels at once: the mythical and the rational. Wouldn't it be grand if we modern Westerners had such skill?

The Thinking Mind... And?

On Sunday morning, many Unitarian Universalist children chant a welcoming song that expresses pride that they are part of a church that welcomes the thinking mind. It has been a point of pride for many that our religious communities don't ask folks to follow prescribed beliefs. Many identify as "religious humanists" or "religious naturalists." Indeed, many of the most brilliant scientific minds of our age are very religious and speak about their scientific observations with mystical, mythical, poetry.

"Trans-rational" living encompasses the rational, plus goes beyond it. This is spirituality that does not conflict with science. So, I say to my sermon critic of 15 years ago, "free yourself from the pre-rational/trans-rational fallacy! Open yourself to the gifts of trans-rational spiritual insight. I invite you to listen to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address again. This time without fearing that your rational mind is under threat. Bring your thinking brain, and join it with your feeling heart and spirit."


As an earth-relating person I spend a lot of time in the Pagan community where I've experienced many who suffer from the opposite aspect of the pre/trans fallacy. To them I send an earnest request: please bring your rational brain. We do not need to toss it out in order to experience the gifts of the trans-rational. And when we take an "anti-rational' attitude we throw out all the gifts of the modern era. As we move into post-modernism, we need to build, not tear down.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg wrote about the stages of moral development. In them we move from an undifferentiated "might makes right" to a differentiated "rules tell me what is right" to a relational "ethics tell me what is right". My experience with human beings is that we move through these stages over and over, in a spiral pattern, each time learning them more deeply.


I believe that spiritual development is very similar, moving from the undifferentiated "I'm a believer" to the differentiated "scientific proof arbitrates reality" and on to the relational "both/and of rational mind in a dance with spiritual insight".
I invite you to dance in the transrational with me!
My colleague Catharine Clarenbach also has written on the transrational.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Fool's Magic

"Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."
Victor Borge 
“Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach,
but it must do both if it would live forever.”
Mark Twain 
"Humour is the weapon of unarmed people: it helps people who are oppressed
 to smile at the situation that pains them.”
Simon Wiesenthal 
"If you can’t cry you might as well laugh."
My Spouse

Almost everyone, all over the world, grew up with trickster stories: Myths and folklore about a deity, spirit, human hero or human-like animal who plays pranks or disobeys normal rules and conventional behaviour. Tricksters have many names: Raven, Coyote, Anansi-the-Spider, Eshu-the-Orisha and the Fool.

I've been studying Tarot cards since I was 15 years old and was given a deck as a gift. At Lewis and Clark College, where I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree my senior thesis presentation was on the Tarot. One of my favorite cards is the Fool card. In the 1454 Visconti-Sforza deck that card is portrayed as a destitute vagabond. In the 1465 Mantegna deck the fool is labeled "the miserable". In these early decks the fools is often shown with feathers in the hair, which probably symbolizes a lightness of mind. The tarot fool is the one who is unconcerned with the misery of life, the embarrassment of inadequate clothing and the weight of possessions.

The fool has transformed into the joker in our current card decks and is often depicted as a court jester. In many decks there is a small dog nipping at the fools heels, which traditionally represented the rule-enforcement driving the "otherness" of the fool away from polite society. The wild energy of the trickster creates little ‘air-pockets’ in which rules can be bent, maybe even broken, and in which we can let our sense of self breathe a little differently. In doing so, we energize the world.

The child is often the sacred clown. When I learned West African Drumming I learned the three bass drums. They are referred to as the Songba or Mama drum that keeps everyone on time, the Djun Djun or Grandfather drum that occasionally jumps in with something interesting or wise to say, and the Kenkeni or Baby drum who creates a rhythm that skips joyfully across the other rhythms, and is what actually makes the whole thing interesting! When I play those rhythms it tickles my brain and soul and stretches my ability to hear and feel.

Perhaps the quiet challenge now is to invest aspects of our lives with the fluid thinking of the trickster figure, the baby drum, the child, or the sacred clown.

Vicki Noble, in her book "Motherpeace," describes the fool card as "Trusting one's elf." It can be read as trusting "oneself" or as trusting "one's elf." The fool can hold multiple meanings at once!

In the Tarot deck, the number of the Fool card is zero. It is usually a picture of a young person, with a small pack on their back, eyes on the open space before them, about to step off a cliff.

In a Tarot reading, the Fool invites us to consider foolish, impetuous aspects, to boldly travel on the journey of life, our own fool’s journey. The fool embodies our confrontation with the big questions that we must face in our lives.

Tarot of the Cloisters - Fool Card
The fool asks questions: What am I supposed to be doing? What is the most important thing? Can I trust my heart's messages?

It is scary taking a new road, it is scary flipping our perceptions upside down, and it is scary to admit that we don’t really have it all together. In the Harry Potter movies Harry and his friends learned a spell to deal with something scary. The spell’s name is “Riddikulus”. For instance a boy who is afraid of spiders imagines the spider trying to balance on roller skates. It’s a “trick” that results in bravery.

The fool can make us brave, the fool can trick us into seeing new perspectives, the fool can open our minds... even open our minds to the answers we seek.

And that feeling of your mind opening? That is magic!

Interested in a Tarot Card Reading?

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Rise and Shine

Rise and shine and give God the glory glory, Children of the World.*
I sang this in Sunday school when I attended the First Congregational Church of Corvallis Oregon as a grade-schooler.

Its a cute song. But I did wonder about a God who would send a flood to kill almost everyone off.

Now that I'm a Unitarian Universalist I know that the divine love that I hold holy would never do such a thing. But this week I was reminded of the song, and the feeling of forces beyond our control causing loss and pain. It was a sort of ironic counter-melody running through my head as I read the news about hurricane Harvey.

Global climate change is an unforgiving "God". One we have created or helped create. But it is not important to know who to blame. It is important to know how to respond. All of us are in this boat together.

Get those children, out of the muddy muddy
Yes, hurricanes and storms and floods are causing far more damage and loss of life than ever before. Scientists agree that the storms are getting somewhat worse, but the effects of the storms, due to population, construction, and more, are more serious.

They aren't just in Houston and New Orleans (the 12 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was August 29), but Japan, India, and Caribbean islands have been hit by extreme weather disasters as well. Not to mention the competition for resources that has resulted in death and suffering for millions in Yemen, Sudan, and similar countries. And then there's the heat and drought... from California to Turkey. Then, right here in my backyard in Oregon and Montana... fires...

In recent weeks we've encountered other kinds of storms. The white-supremacist culture that has grown interwoven with the history of America is another kind of storm. It too kills, damages, creates loss and pain. It, too, is predictable for those who are watching. It too, shows up in small, ignore-able forms and large, dangerous forms. From changing rainfall patterns, to killer hurricanes. From micro-aggressions to neo-Nazis.

God said to Noah build me an arky arky...
The image of the young man (looking at the photo he looks maybe 11 years old) in his kayak ferrying bedraggled dogs across the flood in Houston reminded me of Noah. Noah, saving the animals.

And who is Noah today, ushering each being in need onto the boat? Remember what Mr. Rogers has said about responding to crises? "Look for the helpers." Yes, look for the folks on the boats, helping others. Yes, look for the folks showing up to say "No" to tiki-torch-waving fascists.
There is a picture going around of several hundred people standing in line in the rain on Tuesday, to get into the George R Brown Convention Center in Houston. What is this line is for? Water? Food? Housing? No! These people are waiting in line to VOLUNTEER!

Who is My Neighbor?
And I remembered the conversations I had with a tenant many years ago. Ranjeet was from India. He was asking hard questions of me. I was describing my fascination with a future space station. He described the sick and dying and malnourished and oppressed people who were his neighbors back home.

Since then I've become aware of the sick and dying and malnourished and oppressed people who are MY neighbors here at home. The people who are hardest hit when a natural disaster occurs. the people living in the buildings with the least compliance with building codes, closest to the factories and dumps full of toxins, the people without the resources to pay for insurance, or access to a car to drive to a safe hotel.

Water Communion
Traditionally, congregations in my movement celebrate a ceremony of coming back together in September. We call it the "Water Communion" ceremony and we mingle the waters from our summers, and our individual lives, into one container during the worship service.

What is important to me about this ceremony is that it is a reminder that we are all connected in community. It takes all of us to make the sacred water. It takes us coming together with intention to create the community that will sustain us through the year.

Each one of us contributes our part. Each one of us needs to shine our own light. Each one needs to show up in our own way. When we do that the way is made easier. When we do that we can clean up a mess like the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, or global climate change, or racism. Showing up to shine may mean donating dollars. Showing up to shine may mean creating symbolic rituals that inspire others and create community feeling. Showing up to shine may be pulling out a lifeboat and paddling to rescue an exhausted puppy. When we are looking for the helpers, sometimes we are the ones getting helped, and always, we are the helpers. We are the ones we are waiting for. We can rise and shine. We can give all our glory.

*I tend to look for a substitute for the word "lord" in songs when I can.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Spiritual Director or Minister? Which do I need?

In my tradition, much of the training for spiritual directors and for parish ministers is very similar. There are parish ministers who do spiritual direction and spiritual directors who preach or consult with religious communities. But the work of a parish minister and the work of a spiritual director can be very different. How do you know who to turn to for spiritual wellness and growth?

It is like your primary care provider and a specialist. Your General Practitioner (the doctor you go to for everything) can help you manage your care, but can't be all things for you. They need to refer you for needs that require more specific care. The same is true for your GP for spiritual care. Your rabbi, pastor, high priestess, parish minister, the preacher or leader for your religious community, can help you for many things, and when it is time to seek your spiritual direction in a focused way, you find someone specifically qualified to accompany you.

Below I've listed five situations you might be in, then I answer whether you need to find a parish minister or a spiritual director.

1) I feel isolated and need a community. You need to find a congregation. You'll know if you've found the right congregation by talking with the religious leader, attending some worship services, and getting to know the people and the work that the congregation is doing together.

2) I need someone to officiate a wedding, memorial service, child blessing or other rite of passage. Ideally you'll have a religious community to celebrate with you and that community's leader will conduct the rite of passage in consultation with you. Otherwise, find a celebrant who fits the rite of passage you need.

3) I'm part of a congregation and am having a crisis (of faith, of marriage, of X). Your religious leader is the first person to go to. As your minister that person will usually make time to see you for a short series of visits to deal with your crisis. If you would like to go deeper or do more work your religious leader will refer you to a pastoral counselor, a therapist or a spiritual director.

4) I'm not connected to any particular faith or congregation and have questions about my purpose, about God or about life. Find a spiritual director. That person will work with you to find your spiritual direction. At some point that may include finding a religious community and a parish minister. For a Unitarian Universalist Spiritual Director go to, looking beyond UU? go to

5) I've been doing the faith formation classes offered at my congregation but I want to explore more. Find a spiritual director. Your parish minister is a great source for a referral.

As you discover who is on your wellness team, you may choose a physician, a yoga teacher, a massage therapist, and a counselor. Remember to include spiritual wellness as well as physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Find a religious community, and find a spiritual director!

In my tradition (Unitarian Universalist) many spiritual directors, but not all, are fully trained ministers who chose to serve our movement as spiritual directors, rather than as leaders in congregations. In the Methodist tradition the term minister is reserved for those who serve the congregation and ministers out in the community are called deacons. Unitarian Universalism also has folks who have different training who are credentialed community ministers. These folks are not eligible for ordination but do important ministries, including the ministry of spiritual direction. In either case, spiritual directors have had specific training and credentialing as spiritual directors, in addition to their other training. Whoever you choose to work with, check their credentials and make sure they are a "right fit" for the work you wish to do.
Reverend Amy Beltaine is a credentialed spiritual director and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister who works over video-chat or in person to help seekers tune in to their heart song.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

When is Self-Care not Self-Care?

For all the conversations we have about "self care" I see people consistently pushing themselves, giving to the point of depletion, and engaging in a culture of "busy". How are you taking care of yourself? What do you do for self care? These questions seem to show up a lot, especially among my community of Ministers and Spiritual Directors.

I'm not an exception.

In May I noticed that I was fielding over 100 emails a day, spending hours combing Facebook for a way to make sense of our political situation, cursing at traffic on my way to appointments and going to bed each night feeling like I'd gotten nothing important done. It got worse in June and by the end of July I was experiencing life as a giant game of "Whack-A-Mole." Crises, messes, anxiety, and "Very Important Things" kept popping up without any lead time to handle them in a calm and thorough manner. Guilt was a constant companion. I couldn't give quality attention to my family, my ministry, my volunteer work, my activism, my friends, my home or my self. When a trip to the ocean didn't help, I knew I had hit the wall.

I asked for help.

My doctor, my Spiritual Director, my spouse, and mentors all heard from me and helped me discern what is the most important thing. I practiced the spiritual practice of saying "no". I resigned from the two boards I was serving on.

I did not abandon the work that I must do. But I took a realistic look at the way things are in the NOW. Not how I wished they were, not how they were in the past, but how they actually are. I re-assessed where I could best do my work, given how things have changed over the years.

Often self-care is defined as "getting a massage" or "visiting the ocean" or "a nice dinner out". These are good and wonderful things, but when getting the massage means carving out time in your schedule and fighting traffic, or a visit to the ocean means driving around trying to find a live wifi spot, or a nice dinner out means worrying about how much money is in the bank, it is not self care! When self-care is another "mole" in the game of wack-a-mole it is a sign that something else needs to change.

So, it starts with asking for help. It continues with saying "no". But ultimately, the question is: "What is the most important thing?"

The Most Important Thing

Leo Tolstoy asks this question in three parts. A wonderful children's book based on Tolstoy's work illustrates them well. The book is titled "The Three Questions". The three questions are:
1. When is the best time to do things?
2. Who is the most important one?
3. What is the right thing to do?

The answers to these questions are:
1. Now.
2. The one you are with.
3. To do good for the one you are with.

Good questions. The first one asks you to understand what is true right now.
The second one asks: Who is my neighbor? Who am I accountable to?
The third one invites further questions: What is my work? It doesn't ask you to do someone else's work, but to learn what the good thing is that you, and possibly only you, can do.

So, I invite you, with me, to ask yourself: "Right now, what is the most important thing for me to do?"


Today, when I woke up with this story ringing in my ears, the most important thing for me was to write this blog. Yesterday, I was invited to go to the museum with my 82-year-old dad who is visiting from out of country. Being with him was the most important thing.  A friend of mine told me the story of a day when she was getting many things done but had a persistent feeling that she wasn't doing something important. Finally, she stopped and asked herself what that important thing was. Turns out, she needed to sit and sip tea while looking at the majestic tree beside her porch. After spending time doing that, she was able to return to her day feeling calm and focused. Another friend described the day she realized that the most important thing was to build the relationship with some cousins who were struggling with removal of confederate statues. As she connected with these family members she was able to also invite them to see the importance of removing these symbols of White-Supremacy.


When you are faced with a tiki-torch carrying, Nazi flag waving, hate-spewing person, the most important thing might be to show up, to speak up, to hold your ground. Or the most important thing might be to care for someone else who is being terrorized by this person. Or the most important thing might be to care for the person who showed up.

Only you know what the good thing is that you can do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Panentheist Response to Charlottesville

The last 8 months have been full of change, strong feelings and many words. Our Nation and world have seen changes of power, and decisions which trouble us.

On July 4th we marked the celebration of the beginning of a brand new country... doing an experiment of a union of states practicing democracy. Many of us have complicated feelings about this holiday and our republic right now. Our own UU religious movement has engaged conversations about white-supremacy, able-ism, and accountability that challenge us and sometimes scare us. Responses and reactions have ranged from tearing down to building up.

Last weekend we witnessed, and many of us counter-protested, an alt-right, white-supremacist rally that included violence and tragic injury and death. I want to lift up the good work being done in the Norse, Asatru, Kindred communities to fight the white supremacy being perpetrated by folks claiming your same religious heritage. Like the many loving and good-hearted Christians who have to fight to separate from the Christianity of Fred Phelps, it is a frustrating but important task to claim the work of love in the face of hate. In many ways your work can help lead other Deities-relating and Earth-centered folks on our quest to create a better world.

These changes and transitions on the global, national, and local level can be unsettling. Each of us seeking more love in the world, working against fascism and intolerance, or doing our best to listen to the song of our hearts and to move forward in love don't do it perfectly. It is often a process of what I call 'failing forward.'
Tibetan Monk prostrate, photo copyright Guido Dingemans

Perhaps it feels like we are being failed or that we are failing. Perhaps we worry that we are doing it wrong or we have been wronged. Perhaps the intolerant language and alt-right terrorism that we see on social media and on the news causes us to worry that our non-mainstream spiritual paths will be attacked with persecution and marginalization.

Fear has been an underlying theme - fear about safety, about health, about values.
In a context of fear it is harder to make room for mistakes (or as a friend of mine calls it "humanity.") I know I feel it. I question what I do and worry how it will impact others. That's turning the fear on myself. Other times I'm impatient and doubt the motives of others. That's turning the fear on others.

Yet, I must take action in service of love, in service of the divine which I see in the eyes of every person and indeed all of the earth. My work, as a relatively privileged White woman is to speak with my family and friends who voted for Trump or are uneasy about taking down Confederate statues. My work, as a spiritual director is to support those who are out in the public square putting bodies and words between hate and the vulnerable. My work, as a person, is to stay connected to the divine love within so that I am not derailed by fear or anger. My spiritual practice helps me turn my fear over to the universe instead.

Breath with me?

In this time, in this place, I call upon the ground of being, the spirit that breathes through us, the voice that speaks within us, to hold us all and remind us that we are love, yes, even now, in this place, in this time, we are loved. May you feel the wings of mercy wrap around you as you call upon what and who you hold holy:

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

Breath it in.

Let us forgive ourselves for the ways we have failed and return to our source.

We are grateful for this community of love which gives us the strength to carry our love out into the hurting world where we do the work to build the world we dream of.
Photography Prints

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

Amen, blessed be.

May you feel that embrace of the holy and be able to breath it in, when you most need it. And then go out into the world to serve divine love in the way you are called to serve.

In faith,
Learn more about the work Norse communities are doing to combat white-supremacy at
You can support Norse, Heathen, Kindred and related communities doing the work of anti-racism by connecting with the work at and especially support Declaration 127 at