Increasing the Size of My Soul: A Practice for Growing Relational Power

Increasing the Size of My Soul: A Practice for Growing Relational Power

What is the size of your soul? By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature.  -Bernard Loomer

Bernard Loomer, a twentieth century process theologian, speaks to how personal growth leads to an increased relational power that can change our world. The wounds to our planet and its people are dire and call for immediate action. Understanding the connected web of relationships, from individual to global, helps me know that all positive action is influencing the whole system toward health.

Today, one can listen to the news and believe that hate and greed are gaining ground, but we can also see evidence that more and more people are interested in a building a new way. 

The work of leading this change is to expand our sense of “We” so that it reaches beyond what is comfortable and easy. My identities, and the privilege embedded within many of them, allow me to work within the establishment. My responsibility in this system is to listen to marginalized voices and amplify their experience especially when it is is different than the experiences I am having. This requires me to see beyond my own perspective and find ways to be an accomplice to our collective liberation.

When we are willing to inhabit liminal space, I mean not just a whistle stop but really set up a home there, powerful change can occur. Strong emotional reactions are an opportunity to stop and slow down. We must make room for some new way to take shape. Creating this pause allows a generative force to exist and work in our relational systems so that they are loving enough and we can be honest enough to not only challenge each other, but remain in the uncertain, messy space once truth is spoken.

Choose to be extravagant with uncertainty. Traditional, mechanistic systems are built on the idea of closed systems with impenetrable boundaries and restricted supplies of resources. Part of creating a holistic society is disrupting the mindset of scarcity that governs us. We can increase our authentic relationships, trusting that there is enough hope, joy, and love for everyone growing all our power, so that no one is left behind as we build a holistic world.


 

The image is a close up of Bronze Fennel in my garden. It is a teacher of persistence and expansion. Leave a comment for whatever connections you draw to the text!

Souffle

Souffle: n. a low murmuring or blowing sound heard through a stethoscope.

Tonight we dine on eggs and cheese whipped up to a ridiculous tower of richness. It will be delicious. We will laugh together and share stories about our day. A rather idyllic snippet of family time, one that I cherish now that college and activities usually keep us apart for dinner.

And still-  with each soufflé created I am transported. Word associations send my mind flowing away from the present day to long ago sleepless nights holding an asthmatic baby, getting inadvertently speedy off the vaporized steroids held near a tiny, wheezy mouth. Alternatively, I am at the pediatrician, tentatively hopeful, asking if a heart murmur is still audible.

That’s what it is to be a parent or, really, what it is to care for others over an extended period of time. Our memories of worry and love are threaded in and among recipes for casseroles or fragments of songs. Smells and sounds attached to moments of intensity, we carry them around with us like burs in our coats.

It’s amazing how we caregivers can multitask this way. Experiencing past and present simultaneously, some senses are occupied with tasting cheese while others recall the phantom  weight of supporting an exhausted child struggling to breathe. Both felt senses are real. Perhaps a fold in dimensions allows me to be in multiple experiences at the same time? It delights me to think it could be so.

Whatever the explanation for the spontaneous arrival, when the memories show up I have learned to give them some time, maybe see if they tell me something new. What pieces are significant today? Where is my mind drawn? What feelings arise? Arise… Rise up magically like a soufflé.

P.S. I use Julia Child’s recipe which made me go looking for this gem:

Bring On The Hot Mess

Last week, I was lucky enough to be in conversation with many talented, creative, connected Religious Educators. The conversations flowed, and ideas sparked as we moved from naming problems to designing projects to meet the many needs of our world.

This is one of my favorite aspects of professional conferences- the time and space for trust to develop, friendships to bud, and just sit and talk or play together.

There was one especially fruitful conversation, where I was able to overcome my hesitance to share a new project idea with someone who is actually in the position to help make it a reality. I left the circle feeling hopeful and elated. So much so that when I later bumped into this person in passing, I shared my excitement: how energized I felt! That my brain was operating on all cylinders! That the collaboration we were beginning was going to be great because, “I like messes!”

Wait…. What?

mess

“I like messes.” As soon as I walked away, I felt really silly. The person would certainly rethink the wisdom of working with me, an inarticulate moron. The demons of insecurity, never far from me, leapt in like hyenas on a wildebeest carcass.

But after some reflection, and a generous reframe from a close friend who heard my story, I am able to see that exclamation as an asset. I do like messes. Messes are a huge part of any complex project. My work as a Religious Educator involves sorting through innumerable messes, both physical, systemic, and emotional.

I am experienced with untangling mess. I can hold many parts of project at once. I attend to strong personalities in a working group without running away or being intimidated. Complexity and contradictions intrigue me. I am not really thwarted easily. A gift of stubbornness, I guess.

I write this not to pat myself on the shoulder, but to lift up that sometimes we need to see the blessing in the odd parts of our functioning. Also that sometimes, when our thinky brains are busy working on big thoughts, bits of pure heart truth can slip out of our mouth. “I like messes” was a piece of my heart’s truth.

Hearing and understanding this message is helping me discern what sort of work is next for me. While I am not yet ready to proclaim a next move, I do now know that it will be something that uses my gifts – all of them. I will embrace messes with the confidence that I enjoy making order from chaos, finding commonalities in groups of people, and seeing the hope in complicated situations.

And there are plenty of messes for me to work on in this world.

Ease On Down The Road

keysToday is the day. Today I drop off the keys to the building, leave the welcome letter for the person taking over, get in my car, and leave behind this place that has been so much my center for over a decade.
And I won’t come back.
Professional guidelines dictate a two year period of separation, which allows the congregation to connect with a new Religious Educator. It will also allow me to find my new path. Intellectually, I know this is good practice. Even in my emotions, I know that I and the congregation need a break from each other. But it is still really hard.

Perhaps because I came out of the congregation, I am feeling this departure so strongly. I remember the absolute joy of finding a church, a right fit after many years searching. I had visited several congregations before finding one that had everything I needed: lovely people, a great minister, a beautiful sanctuary, and engagement in the world. Finding this safe place allowed me to plant the seeds of my heart and begin an amazing journey of personal growth.
SO not only am I grieving the loss of a job and relationships with some terrific people, but I am losing my first spiritual home. This is the part which is incomprehensible when taking the leap from congregant to staff person. This is only one of the sound reasons to not hire from within. Thankfully, I listened to the advice of colleagues early on and cultivated other places of spiritual sustenance over the years. I will not be left adrift, but I am still grieving this loss.

Especially today.

Send-Off Party

Happy Things and Lots of Exclamation Points!!!!!!

Yeah, I, too, have noticed that the communications from people in my line of work often contain a humorous number of exclamation points, smiley faces, and generally excited messages. We are a people passionate about our work- enthusiastic about the truly beautiful opportunities for connection and grace in our programs. Sometimes, it can get a bit out of hand, so today I offer a slightly different tone. Yes, I still want to communicate the amazing, transformative energy of our program, but maybe with more question marks.

muddy-road

Living a faith-full life is challenging. Navigating the decisions of every day amid distractions and disappointments is hard work. Paradoxically, developing our hearts and minds calls us to stay open. Whether we are adults, youth, or children, the complicated business of getting through a day with an intact soul takes all the energy we’ve got. Can our church be not merely a place of refuge, but one of recharge, re-forming, and respect?

Our Unitarian Universalism wants to connect us with the power of Love. Our Unitarian Universalism wants us to build Beloved Community. Connecting with the power takes energy. Building anything stable takes solid materials and tools. What happens when we do not possess these resources? How can we make sure everyone has access to the healing, creative force that our church community can give?

All our congregations are experiencing declines in attendance and membership. Why are we losing ground? Why are the numbers dwindling? Partly it is the culture that surrounds us. Perhaps you have been following the series on NPR about the growth of the “nones” – the people without religious affiliation.  Could it be that we are focused on only one type of growth- numbers? What about developing other kinds of growth in the faith formation of the folks who are already in the pews (or even our members who are staying home on Sunday!)

This big hot mess we are living is you, me, them, and even those folks over there. All of us. When our conversations see the whole crowd and considers each voice as important, then I know our intentions have become reality.

When the experience of the child is considered wisdom for the Board table, then I know that our Principles are more than words.

When the door is held open for the parent, not for a tip, but to give respite from a world of fear and pain, then I see our compassion.

When we learn how to trust from Youth and give them cause to respect us, then I know we understand the chicken and the egg.

How might we imagine a better way? How might we support our people, even if it means we have to make changes? Can we honestly face the reality that changes need to happen, and be ready for something good to be just over the horizon?

This is the part where it helps to have faith. While I don’t know where we are headed or how we will get there, I do believe that the power of Love expands beyond our wildest imaginings. I know that when we tune into the frequency of connection, of caring, of creativity, then it is a tremendous force for life. And I know I don’t want to miss it happening. Woyaya. We are going.

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.

486760_478451178855007_1725822610_n

 

Thank you to UU Media Collaborative Works for these images.

The Day After (They Are Watching)

It’s the day after, and which ever people you supported in the elections, we have a bit of calm after that big storm of ads, debates, predictions, and hype. (Can I get an “Amen” ?)

Now for the real work.

Our children are with us, watching and listening, seeing how we act in these crucial first days after the election. Do we gloat about our candidates winning? Do we bash the winners and tear apart their characters? Do we show the grace and good “sportsmanship” that we wish our children to have. Are we modeling how to build bridges with our former opponents, working toward a better future?

Olympic cyclists put rivalries aside

Our congregation is made up of very diverse people, with divergent theological ideas and also a multitude of political ideas. It is easy for us to begin to think that we are all alike in our politics, but let’s refrain from generalizations about the election results. Take care to be radically inclusive in our words and actions this week- and all weeks.

Unitarian Universalists come in different shapes and sizes, with many theological beliefs and political leanings. Our strength comes from the love and understanding we seek together. Each of us has a piece of truth to offer.

There is a saying, ” We have two ears and one mouth, because we should listen twice as much as we speak.” Let’s listen to each other. Let’s hear the great ideas all of us have to lead the country on a path of love and justice.

This week our Chalice Circle worship will focus on our fifth principle, which in simple language says,

“We believe everyone deserves a say about the things that concern them.”

We will discuss why democracy is important to Unitarian Universalists. We will think about the elections and being considerate of diverse political beliefs. Come, let us worship together!

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)

 

Making It Up As We Go Along?

Continuing our theme of Creativity, our Chalice Circle last week focused on creative storytelling. It was a simple lesson, but one with much laughter! Using improvisational storytelling, each person in the circle added a few lines to a spontaneous story, making it up as we went along. What began with a girl and her stamp collection, soon turned to exploding pickles and alligators and all sorts of wild elements with two endings.

The concepts I hoped the children took away from this were:

  • connection to their bubbling creativity
  • thinking about storytelling as connected to faith (these two classes are using Bible based curricula this year and learning about Jewish and Christian stories)
  • connection to each other
  • a feeling of safety, as our church is a place to experiment and stretch our ideas together

Did I tell the children that these were my goals? No.

Do I worry that they didn’t “get” the lesson I had in mind? No way!

The circle I was lucky to be a part of last week was totally embodying all these concepts and more! That is the beauty of our Religious Education program. The children, youth and adults are doing church with each interaction, each caring conversation, each ribbon glued, coin collected or bulb planted. Our groups are in constant relationship, interchanging ideas, information and personalities which gives practice for responding to the world as Unitarian Universalists.

SO even when is seems that over in RE, we are just laughing and being silly, there is a whole lot more going on. And it is good.

Breathe In Breathe Out

HI Folks,

I am writing a reflection for this week’s service about breath, and I remembered this song (Uh-Huh by Holly Near.)  This song makes me happy and calm, so I thought I would share it with you all in this season of rushing about, and finishing.
Uh- Huh is track #14

There is a lot of wisdom in remembering to Breathe In, Breathe Out.

Hope to see you Sunday, Amy and I will give our last service together.

Breathe In

Breathe Out