2900 Bridges St.| Morehead City, NC 28557 | 252-240-2283 | email@example.com
Those of you who joined our worship service on September 27 had a chance to see and hear our Pastoral Care team members share their reflections on coping in this time of turmoil. The depth and breadth of their experience; their openness and willingness to share equip them to see you, hear you, be with you in times of life crises or times when you need someone to listen, to witness what you are experiencing, to celebrate with, or to help you figure out what comes next.
Some of you may have been surprised – may not have known who our Pastoral Care Team members were, or even that we have such a team for you to call upon. This may be, in part, because of the Team’s care for confidentiality – what we call a caring but quiet ministry to individuals and families. What you discuss with a Pastoral listener stays with that listener. We will, of course, let you know when we hear evidence of danger to you or to another person, and help you to make a plan to keep everyone safe.
Each month, we will post a short “Pastoral Care Tip” in this newsletter, along with our contact information. We are here when you need us. Call on us. Call or email or text us. We will see you, hear you, be with you.
And if you feel called to serve as a member of the team, please contact me and we will talk.
Blessings on you.
Be safe, and be well.
“Life comes with singing and laughter, with tears and confiding, with a rising wave too great to be held in the mind and heart and body…” (Unitarian Universalist minister Kenneth Patton).
And when life brings us joy or sorrow, surprise or uncertainty too great to hold alone, we confide – bringing our individual experiences into the heart of community, so that others can hold them with us, and witness to the life that holds us all.
Cancer came into my life this summer. Non-invasive bladder cancer, with a very good prognosis. After minor surgery, I am cancer-free, and I am having immunotherapy and follow-up monitoring to head-off any recurrence. So far, it’s not slowing me down much, and I expect it won’t. But if you notice me dropping balls, I hope that you will let me know, so that, together, we can adjust. For this is how we witness, and how we hold one another.
As we continue worship virtually, we are making a place for Joys and Sorrows in our Zoom services. When something big comes into your life, letting our community know about it can make the hard things easier to bear, and amplify the joyful ones. I invite you to phone me or text me at 252-622-1978, so that we may talk about what life has brought to you, or to those near and dear to you. With permission, I will weave your sorrow or your joy into our Pastoral Prayer – and into the heart of our community. With permission, these joys and sorrows will be included in the newsletter. As we witness to our lives, and to the life that holds us all, we support one another. And we build community – strong and resilient enough to withstand all that life holds for every one of us.
Blessings on you.
Be safe, and be well.
and some of them we notice,
and we remember.
Moments of grace: the space of a breath, or a thought, when we feel entirely in harmony with life and the world around us. Moments of revelation – when all that we know about the world shifts, and we have to readjust everything. Moments of dedication – when we find ways of going on, even when the way forward is unclear and uncertain.
Eternal moments – a phrase I borrow from the poet Richard Blanco – are these “moments that change our lives, our stories, forever.”
Moments of ministry: moments of connection, of relationship, between you and another person, between you and the world around you, between you and the Great Mystery that holds and surrounds us all. On August 30, as we do each year on the last Sunday in August, we will dedicate our Sunday morning worship service to commemorating and to sharing moments of ministry that have touched you, touched your life, even in this time of not-touching.
As we embark on a new year of ministry together, a year filled with moments that matter, may your life be touched with grace, with revelation, with dedication, with eternity – with ministry.
Blessings on you. Be safe, and be well.
May 31, 2020
Here is the video of Rev. Sally delivering this reflection:
Our centering music this morning – the song “We Shall Be Known” – was created as part of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “UU the Vote” – a non-partisan faith initiative to engage, educate, and mobilize voters in this important election year. It depicts Unitarian Universalists across America showing up, in partnership, in love that can change the world. Surely now is a time when we need love and leadership that can change the world. “It is time now that we thrive,” it sings. “In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love.”
I believe this song depicts us. This Unitarian Coastal Fellowship. This time, and this place we find ourselves in. Possibilities that lie before us, and questions that we are facing, and we are living, now. What a time to be alive.
As communities around the world, across our country and our state work out ways to reopen our economy and our society in the midst of a pandemic that is not yet over; in the midst of a society that seems to be unraveling – or exploding – how do we build on what we are learning from these weeks and months of living differently? Can we reimagine our daily lives and our church community, for the near term and for the long term? Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
This congregation has a vision: “to be a visible presence in the community, growing a just world through spiritual enrichment, compassionate action, and free religious inquiry.” Hear that again: “to be a visible presence in the community, growing a just world through spiritual enrichment, compassionate action, and free religious inquiry.”
Just before Corona virus turned our lives inside-out and our world upside-down, we were beginning to imagine how we might grow our vision and grow into our vision in our new building. In a sermon way back on February 23 – back in what seems like a different lifetime – I invited members and friends to “dream with me. Dream big with me.”
Now, whether we like it or not, we are reimagining our lives. In this time of Corona virus – perhaps for months or even years to come, we cannot go everywhere, cannot do everything. In this time of outrage against racism, some are just realizing that people of color in America have never been able to go everywhere, do everything. In this time we are learning that when we cannot have everything, then focusing on the important things IS everything.
Corona virus is teaching us to focus on the important things – in our daily lives, in our planning, and in our dreaming. For a time, Corona virus is slowing us down, making us think, giving us the gift of time, of perspective, of setting priorities.
Even before Corona virus, even before the accelerating political and economic and cultural and climatic upheaval of recent decades, some who dream on a planetary scale have imagined a Great Turning, when – here, and there, and more and more across the Earth – values and practices and societies and economies will begin to break down under the weight of systems of exploitation; will begin to re-form as systems of collaboration and sustainability. Sprouting, says eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, “like green shoots pushing up through the rubble.” [http://www.joannamacy.net/thegreatturning/three-dimensions-of-the-great-turning.html].
Imagine. Reimagine. Let the questions come…
Can we imagine this time of disruption and displacement as a time of turning – for the world around us, certainly, but also for this congregation? Our congregation strives to live Unitarian Universalist values and practices of collaboration and community-building, of creativity and connectedness, of showing up and speaking out and living out our deepest values. Can we imagine these values and practices as tools and strategies and gifts we can use for leading not just ourselves but our neighbors, our community into the well of renewal, of sustainability? Can we imagine ourselves learning and practicing and modeling for all the world ways to lead in love? Can we imagine ourselves thriving?
Can we imagine our congregation visible –known – in the community? Visible as a place of gathering, and of ministry. Known for action, and for grounding our action in our deepest, truest values? Known for showing up, speaking up, speaking out; known for reaching out, building partnerships and networks – known for the company we keep? Can we imagine being known for engaging in worship that enriches the spirit; for always inviting, always including one more, one more? Known for engaging in compassionate action that sustains one another within our congregation? For engaging in social action that shows up caring for our communities, shows up demanding justice, shows up so every voice is heard, so every life is honored? Known for engaging – and for engaging others – in free religious inquiry; in learning and teaching for children and adults that sows and reaps the seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth?
These are the questions we are living now – in this time of Turning, as we imagine and reimagine our church community. Our lived answers to these questions will shape our ministry – for the near term and for the long term – and they will shape the buildings and the community in which we practice that ministry. What sanctuary will ring with the sound of our worship? What partnerships – of creativity and of accountability – will sprout, like green shoots pushing up through the rubble, bringing new community to birth? What rooms will echo with learning; with laughter and tears; with love in action?
Now is the time, and we are the ones… to live the questions.
Now is the time, and we are the ones… to sow and to reap the answers.
Now is the time, and we are the ones …to change a world beset with inequity, and injustice, and fear – and fertile with the living seeds of hope.
Now is the time, and we are the ones…to learn to lead in love.
All of us together.
May it be so.
As I write, our nation and our state are engaged in a struggle over re-opening churches at this point in the corona virus pandemic. Various congregations in our county are beginning to hold in-person worship services. On the national level, church services have been declared “essential,” and a debate is raging over whether it is necessary or even appropriate to gather in-person to do the essential work of the church, or whether ministry to the spirit, the body, and the most vulnerable among us can happen virtually, or at a safe distance in places where there is desperate need. Meanwhile, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (“The UUA,” of which our Unitarian Coastal Fellowship is a member congregation) characterizes our ministry in this time as “Essential and Virtual.” She suggests that our congregations plan to offer our essential services through virtual channels for the next year – through May 2021. (You can read the text of her letter to congregational leaders at https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/message-uua-presidentupdated-guidance-gathering ). This guidance is offered as a suggestion, not an order or a decree. Her letter is grounded in science and in the most deeply-held moral values of our faith: care, compassion, and risk-reduction for the most vulnerable people in our congregations and in the communities in which we live and work and serve. This guidance is a suggestion that we plan for virtual worship; learning; leadership; pastoral care; and careful, respectful, inclusive decision making as we monitor our particular situation and the ever-changing reality of COVID-19 and the danger it poses. And – plans can change. If it becomes possible to gather safely for some or all church activities sooner, our congregation’s leadership will make a thoughtful, careful decision to do so. The UUA offers an extensive list of resources and questions to consider as we go forward. You can find them at https://www.uua.org/ safe/pandemics/gathering-guidance. Our church is not our building. Our church is our people, woven together in a tapestry of care, concern, and compassion. It is my privilege to serve in ministry – essential and virtual – with you.
Blessings on you.
May 17 – Be Gentle With Yourself
Here is a video of Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection:
There’s a hymn that sings “there is more love somewhere.” More love. More hope. More peace. More joy. “I’m gonna keep on, til I find it,” sings the hymn.
I wonder… are you feeling the love? The hope? The peace? The joy?
In the nine weeks since we first started “sheltering at home,” (nine weeks!) I’ve been reflecting on ways that people are learning to live with the new reality of corona virus. Gardening; jigsaw puzzles; calling old friends (and new friends!); neighborhood safaris and placing teddy bears in the windows; cooking, cleaning, reading, watching movies; resting and nesting and pacing yourself; spiritual practices that calm you and ground you.
They all boil down to “doing something.” To … keeping on till we find it: the love, hope, joy, peace; the vaccine or the cure; the other side of the curve.
Have you had days when you just couldn’t?
Couldn’t reach out. Couldn’t keep on. Couldn’t. Do. Anything. Getting up in the morning was about your limit. Maybe not even that – maybe just waking up. And then taking a nap.
Even as we are learning to live in a world that has changed around us overnight, something in us is grieving the loss of the old world. That world where we knew – more or less – what to expect, and didn’t have to think through every move with an eye to risk and danger. Where we could visit our neighbors and hug our friends and shake hands with strangers. Where we could go into a store or a restaurant, and not have to gauge the crowd or hold our breath or wear a mask. Where we could get a haircut, or a babysitter, or a paycheck. Where we could work out at the gym, or sing in the choir, or buy toilet paper! Where we thought we could plan for a future – weeks, months, maybe years ahead – with some degree of confidence. Now, we have to learn new ways. We have to make new plans – or no plans, until we get a sense of what the new normal will be.
Now … keeping on starts with acknowledging that so much has changed. As time passes, it begins to dawn on us that we will not be able to just pick up where we left off – not soon. Maybe not ever. There has been too much loss – of lives, of livelihoods, of trust. Our minds may tell us we can keep on keeping on – stay busy, help others, learn a new skill. But our bodies know better. Our bodies keep the toll of what we have lost. And some days, our bodies just rein us in. Just say stop. Stop.
When that happens, pay attention. Be gentle with yourself. Just…stop.
Grief is how we respond to loss. Grief touches our bodies, our feelings, our thoughts, our behaviors, and our spirits. Grief hurts. And grief heals. Grief takes us on a journey from the raw shock and pain of loss to accepting the reality of the loss in our life to finding meaning and a new relationship with that which we have lost. Whether what has been lost is a person, a relationship, a hope or a dream, a part of our own identity, or our faith in the world as a place of safety and stability.
Grief can heal us if we will allow it to do so. But if we push it away, or if we fight against it, grief can trap us and hold us in denial, in anger, in desperate bargaining, in depression. I see these manifestations of thwarted grief across America, in the angry demands to open up, to go back to work and school, to flout masks and tests and vaccines; to deny the new reality that represents the loss of so much that we thought we knew, thought we were.
When your body tells you to stop, pay attention. You can push through, you can keep on – you may have to for the time being – but the grief will wait within you, unresolved. Thwarted long enough, it will surface in restlessness, listlessness, anxiety, insomnia, digestive problems or other physical illnesses.
When grief overtakes you, and asks you to stop … if you are able, just…stop. And then, be gentle with yourself. Sleep, if you need to sleep. Do nothing, if that is what your body tells you to do. If there is sadness, feel the sadness. If there is anger, name it. If you can recognize what is happening as grief, can understand it as grief, then it will, with time, move through you, and it will heal you. You may feel as though you are falling apart – as though your old ways of being and doing are breaking down – and as scary as this sounds, this may actually be very good news. Our habits and customs are adaptations that protect us and keep us safe as we move through the world – like the shell that guards the soft body of a baby bird, or a sea creature, or an insect as it grows. Breaking that shell open – letting those old ways go – is the necessary prelude to moving into the next stage of growth. When your body asks you to stop … it is a signal that deep inside, you are beginning to be ready to meet the change. Your body knows. Be gentle with yourself.
Change is hard. Grief hurts. We are not made to weather this alone, to do this work alone. In this time of pandemic, we cannot meet – but we can gather here, in one strong body. We can talk and listen – one on one, or in small groups. We can hear one another, and reflect back what we hear, grounding fear and confusion in love, in hope, in peace, in joy. We can listen to each other’s questions, and offer – not answers, but rather new questions, loving questions that can help make meaning from what is happening all around and deep inside. Know that you are not alone. Know that we are here, with you.
And when your body says stop – just stop – be gentle with yourself. Listen. Your body knows.
Aria sings Voice Still and Small
May it be so.
May 3, 2020 – Paddling as Fast as I Can
Here is a video of Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection:
Consider the duck. Smoothly, gracefully, it moves across the surface of the water. Watching from the shore, we see calm, grace. We hold up the duck, and her cousin the swan, as icons of serenity.
Watching from the shore, we don’t see the webbed feet under the surface. But we know they are there, moving; moving the serene bird along. “Be like a duck,” we say. “Remain calm on the surface. And paddle like hell underneath.”
Lately, I’ve had days when this so-called “inspirational quote” seems to describe my life: trying to remain calm on the surface; paddling as fast as I can to keep from going under. Some days, life comes at me like a rising tide: one more new discovery about corona virus; one more new rule for navigating daily life; one more new thing to learn about virtual shopping, virtual meetings, virtual worship, virtual community – all in the service of creating and sustaining genuine relationships.
Here’s where the parable of the duck becomes a cautionary tale. I don’t want the water line – the boundary between what’s visible on the outside and what’s going on under the surface – to divide me from myself. Paddling like hell to stay afloat and pretending that I’m cool, calm, and collected takes constant vigilance and an awful lot of energy. And it’s not really healthy; it is an exercise in denying the truth of who I am: somebody who has to work at moving through this life. As do we all. As does the duck – who is floating effortlessly only in the imaginations of people who watch from the shore and wish they knew the secret to gliding along without actually having to swim.
Grace is what comes when we cultivate a genuine relationship between our insides and our outsides. Serenity is what we feel when the spirit that moves us and the ways we engage with the world around us are in harmony. Calm is what happens when we are at one with ourselves; when we acknowledge and embrace all the parts of ourselves. Even our frantically paddling feet. Even the worries that wake us in the middle of the night, or the quarantine fatigue that drags us into depression. Even our yearning to glide over the surface of life, unruffled.
When I get too far out of balance; when my insides are all churned up – no matter how I look from the outside – there are ways to calm my spirit. Spiritual practices are ways of being, of living, with attention to what is real and true within. Sometimes, we think of spiritual practices as ways of stepping out of our “real” life: strategies for turning off the worry for a while; ways of practicing a calm we do not yet feel, or faking it until we make it. But in truth, spiritual practices are invitations to notice and to honor whatever is really going on inside, and to let your energy flow outward into action rather than inward into anxiety, depression – or frantic paddling!
Exactly what might bring me back into balance varies with the day, with the energy, with the seasons of my life. Sometimes it’s walking, sometimes it’s contemplative reading, sometimes journaling, sometimes washing dishes. Sometimes it’s days or weeks of faithful practice, slowly working on me – in me – from the inside outward. UU Minister Erik Walker Wikstrom suggests eight types of spiritual practices ranging from personal practices done alone to communal worship, intellectual activities, body practices, creative pursuits, life practices that shape our interactions with others, and justice practices that work towards transforming the world. [https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/practice]. Each unique one of us will be drawn more strongly to some types of practices than to others. Trying new ones can stimulate spiritual growth, strengthening the ties between the spirit of our lives and the lives we live.
Asked to name a spiritual practice, meditation, tai chi, prayer, or yoga might come easily to mind. But what about writing letters to the editor, or emailing governmental representatives? Bath time with your kids? Cardio kickboxing? Saying “hello,” or “thank you” to cashiers and clerks? Pledging to the congregation, or serving on the Board? Studying astronomy, or learning about the universe? Grieving can be a spiritual practice. So can dancing.
We are living through a time of imbalance; a time of separation from familiar and beloved people and places and activities. This is a time of disorientation, for body and for spirit. We are apart, but we need not be alone. Dozens of us gather in Zoom worship on Sunday mornings in sight, in sound, in a virtual community that helps to sustain genuine relationships. Any two of us can connect by telephone, to practice the spiritual disciplines of listening, of speaking what we know to be true. Any few of us can meet by Zoom – and cook together, or paint together, or write thank-you cards (or letters to the editor!) together; to share jokes, or stories, or happy hour. Any one of you who feels alone, or overwhelmed, or scared – or elated with nobody to share it with – you can call on me any time, day or night. I am here for you.
And each of us has, inside and outside, all that we need. In the words of the Rev. Patrick O’Neill, “The things that are holy and sacred in this life are neither stored away on mountaintops nor locked away in arcane secrets of the saints. I doubt that any church has a monopoly on them either. What holiness there is in this world resides in the ordinary bonds between us and in whatever bonds we manage to create between ourselves and the divine.” [https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/adults/practice/workshop1/introduction].
May you be like the duck – calm on the surface, and calm all the way down.
May it be so.
May Reflections from Sally
As some around us are agitating and demonstrating to hurry along the process of “opening up” businesses, gathering spaces, sports events, schools – America’s ways of production and consumption and distraction and enculturation – I confess that something in me is saying “not yet…”
As Margaret (Marty) Newcomb said in the poem which she read in our service on April 26, “I’m not done thinking of you yet.”
I’m not done thinking of what I’m learning from producing less and consuming less; what I’m learning from living with fewer distractions. I’m not done thinking of how I will learn differently; how I can live differently. I’m not done thinking through this change that has been thrust upon me; upon all of us, upon the whole world. I’m not quite ready to think about going back to living and working and thinking the way I used to – just two months ago.
In truth, we cannot go back to what was before. We – all of us, and all of life – are changed with every day that passes. And so, we will emerge changed. We will open up to something new.
And if we move forward thoughtfully, we – ourselves, our society, our Unitarian Coastal Fellowship – we may open up wiser, stronger, freer, clearer.
Blessings on you in this time of Corona Virus.
(Marty’s poem is titled “Listening.” With permission of the poets, you can find the texts of this poem and the others that were shared in the service, at https://ucfnc.org/reflections-from-rev-sally/ under the title “Poetry of Our People.”
April 26, 2020
Rev. Sally’s introduction:
Sometimes, life just stops you in your tracks.
Sometimes, you see – hear – understand – the most ordinary moment with a clarity, a depth that just catches you. Holds you.
And then words begin to form. And then you cannot help but write.
Six members and friends of UCF – six of our people – bring us today the great gift of poetry they have written. One also brings us a poem by a former member (Ann Rivers), now gone from this life.
Together let us see – hear – understand.
A Beautiful Day
The sun is shining and beautiful today and I hope that you are taking advantage of this day, going for a walk and letting the sun shine on you as you walk through this day.
May you hear the birds singing their song of hope and happiness.
May you hear the silence that surrounds you.
May you create a new day for yourself that brings some self-reflection, writings in a journal of your journey today wherever it may be.
May you share what is true in your heart whether it is the confusion and uncertainty that is before you.
May you know that peacefulness will come back and we will all be connected.
May your love be in and around you.
May you be at peace for a moment in time.
In Spirit and Love,
Conversation with Earth
© 2020 Thomas R. Wentworth
We walked out to greet the dawn
In first-light air, so cool and fresh
The sky above oak leaves of green
Was perfect blue, beyond recall.
Why this gift, today, we asked
Knowing not that Earth might hear.
Then Mother-Goddess Gaia spoke
With stern yet gentle voice:
My funny, walking, talking apes,
You struggle with another now
A tiny one that makes you ill
And forces pause from daily ways
I cannot cure, but gave you means
To find your way from present pain –
But while you shelter, take this gift
Of blue and green, of hope and joy
Soon restless longings will return
To make and build, to buy and sell
But heed this sign of trees and sky
So clean and fresh this quiet day
Please find new means to work and play
Keep air so clean and trees so green
And this blue sky is yours to share
For all your days that do remain.
Soul searching for a new place
feet feeling for solid ground
eyes looking for farther views.
Are you with me?
Surer, greener place
moist and nourishing place
views that see forever.
Are you with me?
Let souls push out
let feet sink in
let vision clear
let life be born.
I wonder can you hear me,
I thought of you today,
For a long time.
Sometimes I come upon myself just standing,
still, not knowing what to do now.
Sometimes I find myself waiting.
Waiting for someone to tell me what to do.
I could paint, but I don’t want to.
Too much getting all that stuff out.
I could write but I don’t want to.
I’m not done thinking of you yet.
As if thinking of you long enough
Will solve some great mystery…
Perhaps I’ll ride my bike.
A slide appears on the screen
and I am there, inside. My feet brush through slick grass.
I gaze at the sky framed by rough stone.
For some a temple is ornate
with sculpted spires shining golden
against the dull dust of an ancient city. Spotlights
surround a mosque in night sky
and we are in awe of its richness.
But I am drawn to the outdoor temple. Simplicity
of color, texture, sound.
Sunlight, damp earth,
the midday breeze (my reverent sigh)
contained within these four
white limestone walls.
This poem has been accepted for publication by Duke’s Eno Magazine for the fall 2020 issue, and cannot be posted on our website. Poet Susan Schmidt has agreed to email an individual reader a copy upon request. Email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sunlight always slanted over
The gravel road’s tan, dusty hills,
Down edges of Vermont mountains,
And cold hung in the air, dampening.
The cows could stand through every hour.
In random spots of light, they stood
And stayed just warm with hide to wind.
My brother and I, though, could not
Just stand amidst the browning grass.
No, we explored, found kittens born
In antique hutches left in sheds
That had been closed for years, unknown;
We chased the light that cracked in from
A window at the far end of the barn,
Where cows in stalls were quiet, munching
Grass and being milked in rows,
Down which, with clodding boots, we ran,
Until we reached the cornfield maze,
The gardens, ditches, or the swing.
One day, we found the apple orchard
Where everywhere lay apples ripe.
We ran for boxes, dozens, just
To gather all the apples quick,
To hold the red within our hands,
The sunlight tinting red our hair
Before it once again forsook
Us to the dusk and then to dark.
April 19, 2020
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this reflection, here it is:
A reflection for the Sunday before Earth Day…
These days, as I ride my bike around my neighborhood, I notice way more squirrels than I usually see. (I pay close attention to squirrels when I ride my bike. I once ran into one. That squirrel ran off, seemingly unhurt, but it made an indelible impression on me.) So the other day, as I was trying to avoid hitting another one, it occurred to me that more squirrels this spring might be connected to fewer cars on the road – a consequence of the corona virus shutdown.
It’s not a far-fetched idea. National Public Radio aired a story on Tuesday titled “Wildlife Take Advantage of Fewer People Out and About.” Steve Inskeep led off, saying “As millions of Americans follow stay-at-home orders, some residents of this country are taking their place on the streets. People spotted coyotes in downtown San Francisco and wild turkeys in Boston. In Myrtle Beach, an alligator cruised a shopping center.” [https://www.npr.org/2020/04/14/833876048/wildlife-take-advantage-of-fewer-people-out-and-about].
Maybe you’ve see the videos of deer grazing on lawns in East London (England); wild goats running through the streets in Llandudno, Wales (the country in the United Kingdom); whales (the marine mammals) swimming in the Mediterranean off the south coast of France. [https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-wild-animals-wales-goats-barcelona-boars-brazil-turtles/2020/04/14/30057b2c-7a71-11ea-b6ff-597f170df8f8_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most]. (The stories of dolphins in the canals of Venice, and drunken elephants passing out in a tea garden in China turn out to be fake news, though).
What is happening all over this locked-down world is not that the animals are moving into human spaces, but rather that we humans have increasingly moved our homes, businesses, cars, noise, and light into spaces where animals have made their homes for centuries. Marion Larson, who works for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, told NPR “the wildlife has been there all along. …. It’s just that it’s more noticeable because people are spending time at home in their neighborhoods and seeing wild neighbors that they never thought were around.” [ [https://www.npr.org/2020/04/14/833876048/wildlife-take-advantage-of-fewer-people-out-and-about].
Like the corona virus pandemic; like social distancing, and sheltering at home, and the dramatic shutdown of whole sectors of society and of the economy; it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen.
Literally. A couple of weeks ago, photographs appeared of the snow-capped Himalayas, clearly visible from northern Indian cities more than 100 miles distant Some residents say they have not seen the mountains like this in decades; some never in their lifetimes. [https://www.sbs.com.au/language/english/audio/himalayas-visible-for-first-time-in-30-years-as-pollution-levels-in-india-drop?fbclid=IwAR3VubBZVqYXarJPJ_xsdfgQqsL5vt3vwFp6VcymYYwdH6x1cV8JoOo7a54].
In the midst of corona virus, the world is unwittingly engaged in what one atmospheric scientist calls “the largest ever global air pollution experiment. Over a relatively short period of time, we’re turning off major air pollutant sources in industry and transport. … If there is something positive to take from this terrible crisis,” he continues, “it could be that it’s offered a taste of the air we might breathe in a low-carbon future.” https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-lockdowns-effect-on-air-pollution-provides-rare-glimpse-of-low-carbon-future-134685. Satellite data from NASA and the European space agency shows dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases and fine airborne particles that irritate the lungs. https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/coronavirus-shutdowns-have-unintended-climate-benefits-n1161921. The differences are visible in satellite images of India, China, Italy, Spain, and major cities in the US. The research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo speculates that if the shutdown continues, the United States could even meet the goals for emission reduction laid out in the 2016 Paris Climate agreement! [https://www.ft.com/content/052923d2-78c2-11ea-af44-daa3def9ae03].
Climate change activists have been advocating carbon cutbacks for decades. A global economic shut-down is not the way to achieve that goal. These cutbacks, and this improvement in air quality, are transient, and will reverse as societies and economies re-open. The pain of the shut-down, like the pain of the virus, falls harder on the poor, on the already-hungry, the already-sick, the elderly, the disempowered ones the world over. [https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10032020/coronavirus-climate-change-economy-emissions]. India’s cleaner air comes at the price of subsistence workers who were beaten by police for being out on the roads as they traveled hundreds of miles from where they worked to their homes to ride out the lockdown.
The corona virus pandemic shows us how the future might look with less air pollution. And at the same time it shows us the scale of the challenge ahead. As cities and states and countries lock down and flatten the curve of infection, we can see that the consequences of our collective actions can be significant, and they can be faster than we might have thought. The InsideClimate News newsletter pointed out in March that, “the response to COVID-19 is demonstrating that in the face of a large and imminent threat, it is possible to get people to change their behavior—something climate change activists have been trying to do for decades. Some of those changes—an increase in telecommuting, for example—have climate benefits that could last beyond the current crisis.” [https://insideclimatenews.org/news/10032020/coronavirus-climate-change-economy-emissions].
This week we will observe the fiftieth Earth Day. What better time to ask ourselves what we will keep and what we will let go of, as we move through and move out of the crisis phase of this pandemic. How we answer this question – as individuals and as societies, will make all the difference to the future of humanity, and to the future of the earth.
I leave you with this true story, from this week’s Washington Post.
“… in recent days, environmentalist Herbert Andrade has watched hundreds of baby turtles mosey their way toward the water along Brazil’s northeast coast, unmolested by people or pets, unencumbered by anxiety. The beach is empty. People, fearful of catching and spreading the coronavirus, are inside. But outside, Andrade sees a natural world blooming.
It’s not easy being a baby sea turtle, hatching into a human’s world. Curious children, leashless dogs, oblivious joggers: The dangers are many. Some never complete their postnatal dash to the ocean.
‘The whole world is under risk,’ said Andrade, environmental manager for the city of Paulista. ‘But this was a moment of happiness. It was a feeling that nature was transforming itself.’”
For years, he has tried to teach people about the fragility of baby sea turtles — an ongoing effort he compared to a boxing match. He has erected protective areas around their nests. He has held events to show children why they’re special. Life was getting better, safer for turtles. But nothing compared to this: an empty beach.
For him, the beauty of it ached.
“It was a surreal sensation,” he said. “You see nature living out its role in this way. . . . Things fit together. We saw nature birthed without human interaction.”
May it be so.
April 12, 2020
You can watch Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection by watching here:
A reflection for Easter, 2020.
Easter may look like bunnies and baby chicks, or the springtime profusion of Flower Communion. It may smell like the heady perfume of Easter lilies; may taste like chocolate candy and jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps, or like the bounty of a family holiday dinner. For some, it looks like the empty cross and the empty tomb. For some, it sounds like ‘Hallelujah.’
On Easter we celebrate life that transcends death, spring that transcends winter, hope that transcends despair.
For new life always emerges. The interdependent web of all existence holds us, but the wheel of life turns – and turns us with it – in spite of our despair; in the wake of the coldest winter; in the midst of the cruelest death.
Except for this Easter, in this time of Corona Virus.
Oh, certainly winter is gone. The flowers of spring are glorious – what a flower communion we could have had today, if we could have come together!
But somehow it feels as though Corona Virus has jammed the turning wheel of life, suspending us in this endless moment of staying at home and staying apart. Many who work are unable to go to work, and working from home blurs the difference between “on” time and “off” time. Students of all ages are learning at home, and this shifts – maybe dissolves – the boundaries between home and school for kids, for parents, and for teachers. For essential workers – in health care and public health and medical research; in emergency services; in sanitation; in food production; in distribution and transportation; in education, in Internet technology that keeps the phones and the Internet and the Zoom gatherings running. For all these and other heroes, the days are longer, harder, more dangerous, more draining.
Many of us are having trouble keeping track of the passing days – whether empty of our usual activities, or filled and frantic from waking up to falling into bed. And always the invisible threats of sickness, of death, of loved ones at risk, hover at the edges of our consciousness. This time is like nothing we have ever known – a time of not-knowing what lies ahead, of not being able to anticipate or to plan.
I spent some time the other day looking for an Easter meditation, or prayer, or affirmation, to reconnect us to the turning wheel. But the invitations to awaken to the power of life resurgent, to sing in joyful thanksgiving, to free our spirits to rise up in joy – for me, these did not fit the reality of this day, when illness and the threat of illness and the unimaginable toll of death and disruption have reshaped our days and nights, our comings and our goings, our consciousness, our society, our world.
And then I found this poem, on Brother Richard Hendrick’s blog [http://brorichardblog.blogspot.com/]. Brother Richard is the Irish priest whose earlier poem, Lockdown, I shared with you in a reflection on March 23. This new poem, he calls Nesting Season.
There is always
Perhaps in these
it is a simple one;
to dwell on
what has been taken away
or to dwell
in what we have been given;
to build our nests anew
weaving safe and soft
a chance to breathe,
with all the terrible
possibility that brings;
to sit anew
in the secret depths
of those actions
of holy ordinariness;
Taking the time
to watch the earth
reset and heal,
to allow our inner
sky to clear of
all our worry weather,
often as grey
one thing necessary
and we see
the present moment,
as a blackbird’s egg,
in the heart,
the brambled hedge
of our thorn tangled
awaiting the stillness
of a spring morning
when we grant ourselves
awaiting the sunbeam
of divine attention
to warm it to life,
to hatch within us
a new way.
Brother Richard wrote this on Mar 30th 2020
I know – for I have lived it – that sometimes, when what has been taken away seems like everything, sometimes in the stillness of simply being, something dormant deep within begins to stir, to take shape, to break forth into a new way.
In the stillness of your life this Easter day, what is the hope that transcends despair? In your heart, what is the life that transcends death?
May a new way emerge within you.
April 8, 2020
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this reflection, click HERE.
Today is Wednesday, April 8, 2020. This is the 24th day of our shutdown at the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship, in response to Corona Virus. I hope that you and yours are safe, and well.
In times of chaos or confusion, my go-to coping strategy is finding ways to restore order – even if it’s just in one small corner of my life. On the morning of 9-11, I washed dishes at the kitchen sink while I listened to the terrible news on the radio and tears rolled down my cheeks. The world might be falling apart, but my dishes and my kitchen would be clean, and neat. These days, I play a lot of Spider Solitaire on my tablet or my computer while I listen to the news. Somehow, it calms me to place card on card, to clear the board. (I am glad for the “undo” function, and I’ve thought a lot about how almost any hard problem can be solved if you go back to the beginning enough times, and if you don’t get too attached to one particular approach to the solution. But that’s a meditation for another day…)
Last Sunday morning, as I listened to the news and played Spider Solitaire, I heard that lots of people in this time of chaos and confusion are turning to jigsaw puzzles. I’ve heard that from some of you, and from a Facebook friend who periodically posts pictures of the puzzles she’s working on.
The story on NPR (A World In Need Of Peaceful Distraction Spurs A Jigsaw Puzzle Renaissance; https://www.npr.org/2020/04/05/827582544/a-world-in-need-of-peaceful-distraction-spurs-a-jigsaw-puzzle-renaissance ) quotes the CEO of Ravensburger Games North America, who says his company’s sales are up 370% compared to last year. In Britain, sales of games – including puzzles – were up 240% last week. The last time puzzles were this popular was the Great Depression. In those days, some people used jigsaws to make their own puzzles. Sometimes, you could make a little money selling or renting those puzzles to friends and neighbors.
In these days, some people find comfort, or escape, or a feeling of safety in the beauty or the coziness of the images on jigsaw puzzles. Some people find meditative peace in focusing on the details in a jumble of candy wrappers, or dogs, or Christmas decorations. Some people – maybe you – loathe puzzles. Kelly Conaboy, who writes for New York Magazine, calls doing puzzles “unpaid labor for no one’s benefit.” To Conaboy, doing a puzzle seems like a chore – or a punishment.
I’ve got seven jigsaw puzzles in the sideboard in my dining room. I haven’t broken one out – yet. But sooner or later, I probably will. As reporter Lulu Garcia-Navarro suggests at the end of her story: “For those who do love puzzles – and we know not everyone does – in a time of deep global uncertainty, what better way to bring order out of chaos than fitting one piece into another over and over again?” My sentiments exactly!
May you find peaceful distraction when the chaos and the uncertainty get to be too much.
PS – if you are reading this (rather than watching), check out this article in the New York Times online edition at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/business/coronavirus-jigsaw-puzzles.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage. Titled “Here’s How Those Hot Jigsaw Puzzles Are Made,” it shows (with lots of pictures) how Ravensburger makes their puzzles!
April 7, 2020
Our Board President Tom Cullison has written and recorded today’s reflection! If YOU have been reflecting on this time of corona virus, and on lessons you are learning, please consider sharing your reflection here! We can even talk you through recording it, if you want to do that. Contact Rev. Sally at email@example.com with your ideas or questions.
If you would like to see a video of Tom Cullison delivering this reflection, click HERE.
This Spring is Different.
We observe time in different ways.
Teachers know the academic calendar by heart.
Churches celebrate liturgical events: Lent, Easter, Passover, Flower Sunday.
Others have their own ways.
The circadian rhythm of American sports buffs-
Superbowl, Daytona 500, March Madness,
Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May
and The Indy 500 on Memorial Day.
Then it’s summer.
This spring is different.
Our time posts are gone.
We are more isolated.
Physical safety requires social distancing.
Speaking with someone’s image on a screen
is just not the same as being in their presence.
Yet we’ve had more conversations with friends and family
than before COVID interrupted our lives.
We are learning to slow down and adapt.
Moon phases seem more appropriate than clocks.
We live in a place where natural beauty
and seasonal rhythms of fish, fowl and flower comfort us.
We delight in the annual floral parade of Bradford pear, redbud, cherry, azalea and dogwood.
Even oak pollen seems welcome this time around.
Nature’s transition is more apparent this year.
Osprey fish from our skies.
Geese are mating-
soon fluffy yellow goslings will swim between protective parents….
just as our fellowship provides the support to keep us going.
April 3, 2020
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this reflection, click HERE.
Today is Friday, April 3, 2020. This is the 19th day of our shutdown at the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship, in response to Corona Virus. I hope that you and yours are well.
On Sunday March 15, we held a small worship service in our sanctuary. When the service ended, we wiped down the pews and the pulpit and the door handles, turned off the lights, and locked the doors. Since then, the building sits empty and silent most of the time. Once or twice a week, someone checks the mail, checks that all is well in the building. Once or twice a week, I go in and check my email, and water the plants.
I am learning to work from home. It is an honor and a privilege to have such good work – ministry with this good congregation that we can do together – on the phone, on my computer, by email, in an online meeting.
I am learning that working from home is NOT EASY.
For the first week, I started right in the minute I booted up my computer in the morning, and I kept at it until I powered the computer down at night. Every email added another “to-do” to my list. Because we weren’t gathering – for meetings, for classes, for services – there were no casual conversations that happened in passing. I am learning to be intentional about communicating: make a phone call, send an email. Our website team designed new web pages; I am learning to write these reflections and record these videos for Barb and Hilary to post on those new pages. I opened a Zoom account for the congregation, and many of us are getting pretty good at videoconference meetings. All these things are new ways of doing familiar things. What a learning curve! By the end of the day, my brain was overloaded. I was exhausted!
Now, I am learning I have to pace myself.
Not everything has to be done right now, or even today. We’re going to be living this way for at least another month, if we are careful (longer, if we are not). There will be other days, if we are lucky. At 5pm, I turn off my email. What comes in after that, I will read after dinner. Or in the morning. What doesn’t get done today goes on tomorrow’s to-do list. This way, I make time to rest and recharge my brain. This way, I am able to be present to you when you call, or text. This way, I can be here if you need me.
Staying safe and staying well mean balancing good work with time for not-working: time for relaxation; for exercise; for healthy meals; for rest, and sleep; time for laughter and – sometimes – time for tears. Good work is grounding and steadying – when it is part of the rhythm of a life that is grounded in what you value most.
Some of you know this already. Some of you have worked from home for a while – or for years. Some of you have retired from jobs and have learned to live a new rhythm that is centered on home. Some of you are suddenly working from home, or suddenly not working at all for the time being, and you are learning this with me.
May this time of corona virus be, for us all, a time of learning to pace ourselves. The rhythm of our lives, the rhythm that keeps us safe and well, is ours to keep.
May you be safe, and may you be well.
March 31, 2020
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection, Click HERE
Today is Tuesday, March 31, 2020. This is the 16th day of our shutdown at the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship, in response to Corona Virus. I hope that you and yours are well.
In recent days, I’ve been calling to check in with church members and friends, with old friends and relatives far and near. In our conversations, I’ve noticed that many people are spending time working in their gardens. It’s a good way to get outside when you can’t leave home. And the recent run of warm, sunny, breezy days we’ve had here makes it hard to resist going out for a few minutes – or a few hours.
It may be that everybody I’ve talked with always plants a garden, and this is certainly the time to give your garden some attention. Maybe I’ve just never asked before, or maybe I haven’t listened. But I’ve heard so many gardening stories that I turned to the Internet – handy source of all wisdom – to see whether more people are gardening in these days of enforced staying-at-home.
And there it was, in the New York Times. “Panic Buying Comes for the Seeds” wrote Kendra Pierre-Louis in the Style section on Saturday. [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/style/seed-panic-buying-coronavirus.html?algo=top_conversion&fellback=false&imp_id=703695771&imp_id=833226714&action=click&module=trending&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer]. Her piece, subtitled “I’m clearly not the only one who is desperate to garden,” describes her recent decision to start a garden. She wrote, “I knew firsthand how calming gardening can be, especially when you’re not dependent on the food for your immediate survival. Time slows down a little, thoughts meander, and a feeling of flow can arrive, even when the land you’re cultivating is a tiny patch in earshot of a bus stop.” But, it turns out seeds are not so easy to find these days. She quoted Mike Dunton, the founder of The Victory Seed Company, a small seed company focused on horticultural biodiversity, who emailed her because he was too busy filling orders to come to the phone: “It feels like we are selling toilet paper.”
And then I found another article, also in Saturday’s Style section. “America Stress-Bought All the Baby Chickens,” wrote Tove Danovich [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/28/style/chicken-eggs-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=moreIn&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer&action=click&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Article®ion=Footer&contentCollection=At%20Home]. Turns out, you can’t get baby chicks, either. Lines form outside Tractor Supply Company stores on the morning of a chick delivery. One hatchery in Iowa is almost completely out of chicks for the next four weeks. “People are panic-buying chickens like they did toilet paper,” said Tom Watkins, the vice president of the hatchery.
History tells us that there’s a run on chicks and on seeds in times of crisis or anxiety: wars, stock market downturns, presidential election years – and, apparently, pandemics. On one hand, a backyard garden or a backyard flock of laying hens feels like some insurance when the food supply – or the supply chain – seems uncertain. And, too, these can be home-grown science projects for students suddenly learning at home – and for their parents.
But I think seeds and baby chicks also call to us on another, deeper level. Germinating seedlings, forming flowers, developing fruits, cheeping babies growing larger by the day – these are affirmations of life and of hope in a time when the threat of disease and the specter of death lurk at the edges of every day. Tending the garden, caring for the chicks – these speak to a need in us to nurture life; to be needed. They get us up out of bed in the morning. They make each new day a time of discovery. And weaving living, growing things into our lives reminds us that we, ourselves, are inextricably woven into that interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. In hard times and in good times. In sickness and in health.
May you be well.
Just before Corona Virus turned our lives inside-out and our world upside-down, this congregation was beginning to imagine how we might grow our vision and grow into our vision as “a visible presence in the community, growing a just world through spiritual enrichment, compassionate action, and free religious inquiry.”
In a sermon on February 23, I invited members and friends to “dream with me. Dream big with me.”
Now, whether we like it or not, our lives are being simplified. In this time of Corona Virus, we cannot go everywhere, cannot do everything. We are re-learning that, when the sky is not the limit, when we cannot have everything, then focusing on the important things IS everything.
Corona Virus is teaching us to focus on the important things – in our daily lives, in our planning, and in our dreaming. For a time, Corona Virus is slowing us down, making us think, giving us the gift of time, of perspective, of setting priorities.
And when the crisis passes – as it will – and when the restrictions lift – as they will – then our dreams will be all the more powerful. Because they will be focused on the important things. And that is everything.
Blessings on you in this time of Corona Virus.
March 29, 2020
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection, Click HERE
Today is Sunday, March 29, 2020. This is the 14th day of our shutdown at the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship, in response to Corona Virus. I hope that you and yours are well.
Have you seen the teddy bears in the windows?
On my walk yesterday, I noticed one in the window of a neighbor. This morning, I took a bike ride – and noticed several teddy bears. Turns out, teddy bears in the window is a thing.
I found an article in Time Magazine online. Megan McCluskey wrote, “With families around the world abiding by social distancing guidelines recommended by health experts and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials to curb the further spread of coronavirus, neighborhood ‘bear hunts’ are becoming all the rage in some areas.” [https://time.com/5809613/bear-hunts-coronavirus/]. The article includes pictures and videos from Tennessee, South Carolina, and London.
Even when we are social distancing, it’s still ok to go outside for a walk, or a bike ride, or a car ride. So families with children (and ministers who live alone) set out on bear hunts, or safaris (because you may see other animals, and you may find them in windows, on porches, in yards, or …anywhere!) Apparently, some people take binoculars; and note pads and pencils, to write down or tally all the bears they see. It can be a counting game for a child, or a way to connect with neighbors – even those you don’t know. In some neighborhoods, bear hunts are leading to other community social-distancing events: drawing bear paws on the sidewalks in front of homes where bears have been sighted. Writing inspiring messages or drawing pictures on your sidewalk (this makes me think about Bert in the Mary Poppins movie – and wish I could draw!). One neighborhood in Tennessee is organizing a senior walk for the high school seniors – when neighbors can come outside and cheer for them – and a visit from a local food truck – to support local restaurants so they stay in business.
We are all in this together. And, to quote one bear-hunt organizer, ““Just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we have to socially isolate. We’re trying to come together as a community but still be six feet apart.” I’ve got a teddy bear. I’m going to put him in my front window.
We’re all in this together. Who knew we could make that fun?!
Go in peace, return in love.
March 27, 2020
My colleague the Rev. Lynn Ungar characterizes herself as “a minister, a dog trainer, a poet, a contra dancer, and a singer.” She is the minister for lifespan learning at the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist (https://www.questformeaning.org/clfuu/; https://www.questformeaning.org/spiritual-themes/resources-for-living-december-2012-2/).
On March 16, the UU World magazine online published Lynn’s poem Pandemic (https://www.uuworld.org/articles/poem-pandemic). With her permission, I offer this poem to you today. May this poem – may the small, still space that it creates – be blessings on you, this day.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
If you would like to see a video of Rev. Sally delivering this Reflection, Click HERE
Corona Virus is everywhere!
I’m not just talking about the danger of catching the virus – though that danger is real, and being careful can be a matter of life and death, and that absolutely means moving through the world as though the virus itself is everywhere. And so we maintain social distance, we “stay safe, stay at home,” we wash our hands, we disinfect, we monitor ourselves for fever, cough, shortness of breath [https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html].
But it goes far beyond these physical manifestations. Every time I look at a newspaper, turn on the radio, turn on the television – Corona Virus is the lead story. We are inundated with information, opinion, and speculation.
We need information to stay safe in this time of Corona Virus.
And we need inspiration to stay healthy. Our spirits need to be able to breathe deeply of beauty, silence, possibility.
I used to be an early-morning walker. These days, I am getting back to that – getting outside in the growing light. Listening to birds. Taking in the sight and breathing in the scent of azaleas, wisteria, jasmine.
Where are you finding inspiration in these days of self-isolation? Are you reading? Watching movies? Listening to music – or making music? Are you meditating, journaling, doing puzzles, making art? Are you reaching out to hear the voices of friends or loved ones? Are you working outside, walking outside, bird-watching through the window? Is there a pet who feeds your spirit?
I invite you to share with our UCF community what keeps you going. Post to the email Round Robin – tell us what inspires you – and keeps you healthy.
And I urge you to take time and make space for inspiration in your days and in your life.
Archived Reflections from 2020