When Hope Is Hard To Find

Last Friday the world came to a stop. Too many children’s and adults’ lives ended senselessly. We are stunned, scared, and sad. For days we have cycled between tears and rage, bewilderment and determination for change. All of these feelings are right, and normal, and need to be felt. It may be a while before we find our balance, before we can turn to the lawmakers for action, before turn to each other for a shift in our culture of violence. Before we look to how our own community is punctuated with similar, yet smaller scale, events nearly daily.

(Look here for resources on grief and talking to children about tragic events.)

Yes, the past few days have been hard. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that we have so many good people in the world. We gathered on Sunday to look into each others eyes and see the spark of light that resides in us. We sang together and lit candles and hugged. We gathered online to share messages of love and caring, comforting our grief and shock. These are the days when we rely on our strength together to hold each other up. As the Carolyn Dade hymn says:

10561_484476871585771_634101886_nI am grateful for every one of you who lives your generous and outrageously loving life – you who share that life and love with the world. It makes a difference. We are building a world of peace. We commit ourselves to this hard work, of facing fear and anger and sadness because we have hope. We have hope because we have  love. May love guide us as we heal our grief and work for change.

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Thank you to UU Media Collaborative Works for these images.

In Just Spring

When I was a little girl I would often walk the yard with my mother. As soon as it was warm enough to be outside without a coat, we would slowly walk around the yard, noting the progress of the bulbs and other flowers. She with a coffee cup in hand, me trailing along beside her.

We would walk a few steps, stop, admire….she’d tell me the latin names for whatever plant we were near…we would walk a couple more steps, and stop…she would gesture with her hands how tall some shrub would eventually be in 2 or 3 years time and how this nearby evergreen would some day fill in the fence and hide the neighbor’s ugly electric meter…then we would walk a bit farther and my Mom would be still and silent. I could see from her familiar drifty gaze that she was envisioning a carpet of blue tiny flowers that would spread from the few plants now showing. My role was to say, “Ooh! ….Ahh!” at the appropriate times.

From my earliest memories it was like this, sometimes I walked around and tried to take in the information she was sharing…but the greatest gift I got from these walks was a religious education. It was entrancing to be with her, to learn the vision of a gardener.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us:

“In April, we cannot see sunflowers in France, so we might say the sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds, and when they look at the bare hills, they may be able to see the sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain and July. Just because we cannot see them does not mean that they do not exist.”

Gardeners are perhaps the most successful optimists in the world. Gardeners are people of faith, ones who see beauty and hope where none currently exists. It is easy for most of us to lose sight of the warmer, more plentiful times of year in the fall, when plants are dying back and the sun is retreating. Through the grey and icy winter- how do we keep hope alive? Gardeners do it by securing a promise of bright days under the soil.

As we mark the beginning of Spring- the bulbs we planted in our fall gardens are coming up now- some are even blooming. We are turning the soil in our vegetable patches, preparing to plant for the future. Sure the ground seems bare, but there is great potential and a renewal of what we know is good, and that hope carries us through until colorful blooms and plentiful harvests fill our senses.

The stories of resurrection make a lot of sense in the spring. People have found ways to pass along the wisdom of knowing that even in the darkest of times, there is hope for the future. Hope that we all carry around inside, just like a seed carries all the potential of a sunflower.

(A message delivered to Channing Memorial Church on March 25, 2012. By Halcyon Westall)

 

What is OWL?  These two young women do a great job describing:

“In OWL you are exploring what goes on in relationships…which is really important at our age… and we learned about all the things that go along with the actual physical what goes on…”

 

 

Life Is Unfinished Business

A friend of mine sent me this poem, and I thought perhaps, in this busy time, you might like to read it, too!

Life Is Unfinished Business

written by Richard S. Gilbert

In the midst of the whirling day,

In the hectic rush to be doing,

In the frantic pace of life,

Pause here for a moment.

Catch your breath;

Relax your body;

Loosen your grip on life.

Consider that our lives are always unfinished business;

Imagine that the picture of our being is never complete;

Allow yourself to be a work in progress.

Do not hurry to mold the masterpiece;

Do not rush to finish the picture;

Do not be impatient to complete the drawing.

From beckoning birth to dawning death we are in process,

And always there is more to be done.

Do not let the incompleteness weigh on your spirit;

Do not despair that imperfection marks your every day;

Do not fear that we are still in the making.

Let us instead be grateful that the world is still to be created;

Let us give thanks that we can be more than we are;

Let us celebrate the power of the incomplete;

For life is always unfinished business.

What do I say?

This Sunday, we will celebrate the annual Flower Service, a beloved tradition which combines beauty, hope and diversity. It is a wonderful celebration of life and the goodness we all bring and share together.

 

This service was first created by Czechoslovakian Unitarian minister, Norbert Capek.  During the service this year, we will learn more about Capek’s life, including information that he was arrested, imprisoned and killed by Nazi’s during World War II.  While we will not go into detail about Nazi German practices, there may be questions that come up for children after thinking about Capek’s story.

 

I thought parents might appreciate some tips on talking to children about the Holocaust, and other challenging topics. Most educators suggest that children are not able to understand the historical context of the Holocaust until they reach adolescence. This doesn’t mean that younger children wont have questions.  How often are we surprised by questions from the back seat of the car? I think it’s a good idea to prepare some responses ahead of time. The excerpt below, written by Rabbi Sarah Reines, has good strategies of ways to give accurate yet sensitive replies in a developmentally appropriate way to this and many other topics. link to full article

 

“We cannot hide children from the harsh realities of life. They live with dangers beyond our control, but with consistency, concern and nourishing love we can help them feel safe and secure, even in an unpredictable world. I suggest this as an underlying principle to guide us in helping our children face some of life’s darkest truths, including the Holocaust. Here are some other suggestions about how to manage this issue:

Have faith in children’s resiliency

Most educators agree that the Holocaust should not be formally taught until middle school. However, many children are introduced to it at young ages through societal reference, like a mention of Hitler, or personal circumstance, such as tattooed numbers on an elderly neighbor’s arm. This exposure is not dangerous or damaging. Shrouding difficult topics in secrecy may engender fear, while gently addressing them often helps maintain a sense of perspective. Little ones quickly learn to recognize good and evil. However, they focus most on their immediate and personal reality.

Start slowly

As with most challenging subjects, it is best to respond to children’s inquiries with brevity. Follow your children’s lead. They will direct you as to how much information they are prepared to receive.

Respond and reassure

Children’s linguistic limitations may prevent them from clearly articulating their thoughts. For example, if they ask, “Why did the Holocaust happen?” they probably are not curious about history, but could be wondering “Can the Holocaust happen here?” A short, honest and comforting answer could be, “The Holocaust happened a long time ago where people were allowed to be mean to other people. That was different from where we live, because we have rules and people, like police officers and judges, who protect us and keep us safe.”

Teach tolerance

Holocaust education is not academic; it has practical implications. Part of teaching about the Holocaust is raising children to respect other people and to expect that other people respect them. Little ones soak up what we say and do; commenting on people who we consider different conveys a dangerous message, while acceptance models behavior that helps foster understanding.

Follow your parental instincts

Each child is unique in temperament, sensitivity, and maturity. No one knows your child better than you do. Do not hesitate to reach out to others for advice, but remember that you are the ultimate guide regarding how and when you choose to share difficult information.

 

Our children did not inherit a world free from danger or fear. But we can use the lessons of the past to help them create a world that is safer, kinder, and more loving. Our sages remind us that when we teach our children we teach more than just those children–we teach our children, our children’s children and so on until the last generation. By tenderly educating our daughters and sons, we help ensure the well-being of all our descendents.”