Poetry Sunday: Search for Meaning (text only)

Blue Ridge Identity
by Donna Lisle Burton

The minute I turn on to the exit
and curve up toward it
I am someone else.
This is another country.
And while I am a foreigner in it
It is really
My country and
I am who I knew
I was.

I am
A tunnel lover
A motorcyclist
A hiker
A wild flower taster
An October sky
with all fiery leaves.
A lover of blue berries
Shrouding and sudden fogs
Scary drop offs that
keep your eyes on the road
And vista as grandiose as
The Grand Canyon.

Another country,
Right in my own back yard.
Twenty minutes from home
I am someone else here;
My true self.

Summer Day
by Norris Orbach

When the wheel of seasons turns to sun
And day is long and slow in passing
Bugs murmur in flowering meadows
While families spread their lunches
On speckled blankets.
Tiny wisps of cloud and larger shapes
Pass overhead, while a disjoint chorus
Of children’s voices celebrate the temperature.
We talk softly about the news, about
Our upcoming vacation, about our friends.
The spaniel barks at a squirrel,
And eventually the sun glows red and sets.

by Frankie Schelly

The Moon lady
Beams luney tunes.
The Voice of Self
Back lit, under lit,
exposing secrets.
’Tis not muscle in the moon!
Nor gender genes,
But tides that gently push
Common human themes,
Harmony that scrubs and shines each Soul
Into One family.

The Last Fall
by Frankie Schelly

Death is vibrant in the fall
Swuuushing, whirling, plummeting
In full color and regalia,
Like some chanting primitive
In plumage, thumping the earth
In mask and ash-bottomed feet,
On stage dancing the dance of life,
In defiance before the moon!
(Soon enough we’ll know Who’s boss!)

A parliament of owls
by A. D. Reed

What do we see when we SEE what we see?

A shrewdness of apes and a whoop of gorillas
Are kinships we’re proud of, ’til, deep in the mists
of our past—or our mirrors—
Some of those cousins that everyone has
Appear—to remind us that pride is a sin:
Then we have to acknowledge our bloodlines include
A chattering of monkeys, and a congress of baboons.

What of our friends, our canine companions?
Do we name what we see, or imagine, or fear?
A kennel of dogs, and a litter of pups
A stable of hounds, but a cowardice of curs.
Pekinese are a pomp, wild foxes, a skulk.
Wolves come in a pack, and coyotes a rout.

Now the big and small cats—felidae—have two classes:
The felines—the cute ones—like house cats and lynxes,
Are kindles, as kittens, and clowders as cats.
Their more dangerous cousins, the pantherinae—
the lions and leopards and tigers, oh my!—
Form a pride, leap, or ambush, depending on species
And certain behavioral characteristics.

Plain old herds can be horses, or llamas, or moose;
Herds of ibexes, wildebeests, elands and yak!
Harts and hartebeests are herds, and chamois and cattle;
elephants, too, (though they’re also parades)
But Wombats and Wallabies always form mobs.

We refer to rhinoceroses as a clash;
To skunks as a surfeit, and elks as a gang.
A business of ferrets, a mischief of mice,
An army of frogs and a poor knot of toads.
Jellyfish are a smuck, and, well, goats—are a drip.

So what’s in a name? How human it is
To see characteristics resembling our own
Among all the animals, two- and four-legged, with
Fur, scales, or hide.
We attribute them attributes we humans abide.

But when we give titles to wild beasts that fly
Imagination, like them, soars higher than high.
The poor flock of turkeys is a dull name,
But descriptives can sometimes create gilded frames:

An unkindness of ravens, a gaggle of geese;
A stand of flamingos, a bevy of quail
An aerie of eagles, exaltation of larks
Tanks of swans, scolds of jays,
Herds of wrens, broods of hens,
peeps of chicks, clouds of bats…

Flights of butterflies truly depict what appears.
Does a squabble of seagulls sound right to your ears?
Goldfinches tremble, hummingbirds charm
While ostrich, like lions, gather in prides.

A chattering of starlings, a pitying of doves
A mutation of thrushes, a murder of crows—

Let’s ponder which group we prefer ’mongst the fowls:
A congregation of magpies, or a parliament of owls?

Searching for Facts
by Ruth Beard

Question others, ask yourself, then compare
Whether a statement is partly true or not.
Is it meant as an opinion or is it a fact?
Is it only partly true or an individual’s act?
Religious leaders claim to know what’s true
As do most friends and politicians too.
When scientists prove that such is untrue.
Will your opinion change if given proof?

Holy Doggerel
by Paul Fleisig

This hallowed ground
Our Lord profound,
By decree divine,
This land is mine.

With force of might,
Our tribal right
Is guarded.
Just keep away,
Only we can stay!

So said the wolf
Pissing with glee
From tree to tree,
Ever so

by Paul Fleisig

Mushroom Clouds
You must agree,
Amid debris.

Clasped tight
Our hands will be,
Corpus free!

The Rapture!
Wails the banshee,
As we join
Our Lord,
With ecstasy.

The Others?
Earned their agony.
We’ve killed
Their heresy.

Search for Meaning
by Anita Fletcher

We sail the seas,
fly the skies,
sense in ancient places
man’s elusive
struggle for meaning,
in edifice, altar, art.

The feather on our doorstep,
a flower heroically springing
up through concrete,
sun and moon
dependably on the job.

Instructive, yes,
but how to capture it,
make sense of it all?

The heart sees a weaving,
not a potluck,
not a blended smoothie,
but distinctly separate threads
that have interlaced,
allowing respect for each strand,
yet woven together
to form the unique tapestry
that is ours alone,
as we journey toward our own
search for meaning.

In the Dark
by Joan Weiner

The stars are lit
again by the night,
reliable candles against the dark,
arranged as bears and dippers,
hunters and twins
across the sky
and back into the infinitude
of time too vast for my small mind
to grasp.
The panoply of lights
rekindles the old desires —
to fathom the source of this splendor,
to guess the reason for it,
to know the place for my miniature self
in this astronomy of life.

If I have urged a single flower
from the earth, shielded and nourished it,
is that enough to justify
the time and space I occupy?
I wonder if the stars sing
or maybe hum across the eons.
Do they sigh or wish to talk
to one another as we do,
long to be loved, to end the aloneness,
to gather, to shelter together
from the relentless cold?

I think they simply are.
But I am not a star.

by Michael Vavrek

I’ve spent a lifetime looking for meaning
Serious seminars, good-time gurus…disagreeing.
Hoping to win. Open to every swing.
Trying to be free and responsible again and again.

I was looking in all the wrong places.
Looking to prophetic people’s best-cases.
Searching their words and deeds, looking for traces
Of what I was dreaming of.

Hoping to find a way to be better-off.

Bless the day I discovered

Another looking for the unheard-of.

When I was with others, no meaning in sight
I did what I could given my plight.
Didn’t know where it started or if an end was in sight?

Trying to be free and responsible again and again.

I was looking in all the wrong places.
Looking to prophetic people’s best-cases.
Searching their words and deeds, looking for traces
Of what I was dreaming of.

Hoping to find a way to be better-off.

Bless the day I discovered

Another looking for the unheard-of.

Came a knock on my mind’s door.

It was what I’d been looking for.

No more looking in all the wrong places
Looking for meaning in too many bookcases
Searching words, looking for traces
Of what I was dreaming of.

Now that I’ve found what I’m sure of
Bless the day I discovered
My heart.

To my mind and heart I’ve taken a vow.
Their separation I disavow.
I am free and responsible now
Balanced by my heart.

The Smoke Filled Side
by Peter Olevnik

I entered the gingerbread-gabled depot
through a dark oak side door,
clutching my ticket
as if it might fly away.
My mother told me, this time,
I must take the train, alone,
to grandmother’s funeral.
(In May, nearly seventy years ago)

Handing it to the agent who,
sitting at an ancient desk behind
a brass-grilled window, stamped it
saying “she’d be running late today,
catching up on the way.”
I found a seat amidst two rows
of church-stiff benches. In the midday
depot silence, I waited.

Like a flock of grazing sheep,
stirred before a quake, the depot
must have felt the shake as the train
had just passed Clinton Street.
The depot master knew, sending us
to the platform there to see approaching
the massive iron, one-eyed face of
a steaming locomotive coming to rest.
Climbing the passenger car steps,
I heard the conductor say,
“Chicago to your left.”  I quickly found a seat,
would soon discover my view hampered,
as I had picked the engine’s smoke filled side.

Just passed Plymouth, suddenly,
the speeding train came to an unexpected stop.
Sitting the longest while, explanation not forthcoming,
I got off, walking to the front and saw
wrapped around the steaming engine face,
like an insect on a windshield splayed,
a car, two riders, surely dead.
I saw their startled, disbelieving faces,
then was told to get back on the train.
Stunned, I sat, my mind struggling
to find a place within its darkest chambers
for the tragedy to reside and routes
within to comprehend.

Hours later the tragic train
begun again its final destination
and I, forlorn, arrived at the station.
With relief I saw my mother who earlier left
to be at her dying mother’s side.
In the funeral home amidst muted conversations
and sentinelly placed bouquets, grandmother lay,
dressed in a pearl colored gown unlike
the faded housedress she had often worn.

When we children, in secret, gathered
in grandmother’s basement walk-in closet,
before, sharing our deepest secrets,
talk of death had meant the screams we heard
on Sunday night radio mystery shows,
where people died we would never know.
How short our span of time to understand.

How the “I’s” and the “C’s” Help Us See Our Vulnerability (text & audio)

Joy Christi Przestwor
Part 1 of Sermon

WOW…that was amazing! We’re filled with energy, laughter, smiles. Oh yes and since we’re diverse probably a little “this is over the top” critique going on too!  Oh my gosh, we may even have forgotten about ourselves for awhile in the enjoyment of the process blending these service elements.

But what happens to each one of us when we put our intellect in front of our heart; when we place our rational, thought-through ideas in front of our spontaneous intuitive feelings? Is life a happy song each day? Do I REALLY depend on you or you or you (go from person to person in the congregation) to rely on “being by my side”? How does compassion and caring propel me through my self-created maze of independence, interdependence and introspection?

You know, Bill, I’ve had many an occasion over this past year to think about those questions—to ask myself why do I continue to extend myself, to volunteer, to “lean-in” to life’s moments rather than allow my introverted self to just sit in the mountains or even run away from any engagement. How do I live into Pastoral Care in this community or receive Pastoral Care for myself? How do I develop an alive, collaborative dependence with you and other members of this congregation rather than the uncomfortable dependence on my fellow community travelers?

I just returned from a week on the Atlantic Ocean—one of those serene, very positive, deepening places on mother earth for my soul. I sat intentionally one evening, as the sun went down, along the lapping water’s edge and breathed in the lovely salt air AND jotted in my journal a list of all the major events that I moved through in 2012. (you know me a little—lists are part of me, no matter where I find myself!)

So Bill here’s the items that I wrote on my list: The first two months of 2012 I celebrated my 65 birthday, taught my last classes of my 40-year teaching career, and was honored at a retirement party on the final day of February. That was then followed by a 6-month intensive study in mystical, esoteric, theology—dotted with my mother-in-law’s death in CA in April, my niece’s wedding in May, and Justice General Assembly in Phoenix and culminating in my ordination as a Liberal Catholic priest at the end of July. I returned to my mountain home the first day of August and promptly was immersed in a half month travel trip each and every month from August through December supporting my mom and my dog Angel as each moved toward their respective deaths; Angel on the anniversary of Carla, my partner’s death and my Mom on Christmas Day. I closed 2012 with the actual closure of my mother’s internment box where my family celebrated her 90 years with song and awe. I was tired and emotionally drained when my pen left the 2012 listing page. My annual lists ALWAYS jar me as I deliberately embrace and take-in what appears in front of me. But my mind continued to race noting that the first six months of 2013 have begun with vigor and deep moments as well.

What was clear as I re-read that list, spattered with tears and supported with quiet nods and smiles as my eyes scanned over the page, is that every person in this congregation sitting right here in front of you and me, at this moment could also make such a list; a list of HIGHS and LOWS; a list that mimics the lapping of the waves on the shore where I sat. These moments TRULY are part of the ebb and flow of our human experience. They challenge us to redefine in day-to-day, nitty-gritty ways what we consider the concepts of independence, interdependence, and introspection to mean as we carry ourselves through the “front lines” of this exquisite journey of living. As we say in our Congregational mission: we journey “to nurture our individual search for meaning and work in community for freedom, justice and love.”

My work as part of our Pastoral Care team has taught me to appreciate that Pastoral Care is NOT confined to only moments of despair, or on-coming death or hospitalization. It’s about being present at ALL moments where need is expressed or abides; moments of enormous joy, gratitude, and delight or moments of uncertainty, confusion, and difficult decisions.

As Brene’ Brown noted and Nancy read so well…these moments ENGAGE us—they cause us to either sink into a place where “having the world in the palm of your hand” isn’t even imaginable or reaching out that palm and choosing to dare greatly helps keep our hearts AND hands open.

The image of hands remaining open is a wonderful metaphor for our need for each other. It’s sometimes easier to keep our hands in our pockets or to clasp them together behind our backs or to ball them up into a fist; all ways of partially disengaging—NOT RISKING any moments of sweaty palms or trembling fingers or awkward thumbs. Perhaps the intertwining of my hand with yours calls me to be more compassionate with myself, more caring in my outreach both to you as well as myself.

Perhaps being vulnerable with you, letting you in and “being all in” myself to all the moments we share opens me to that mysterious miracle we strive to achieve that Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community. Eleanor Roosevelt put it another way, “Yesterday is History, tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift”.

Just perhaps being vulnerable calls me and you into daring to touch one another in the deepest recesses of our spiritual presence with and for each other…perhaps we CAN be vulnerable and see more completely who we can become through facing our challenges of independence, interdependence, and introspection.

Bill Williamson Sermon
Part 1 July 14, 2013

When Joy Christi and I began to talk about vulnerability what jumped to mind were my high school years. In 2007, two people very close to me were very sick. My father had bile duct cancer that would end up killing him in 2008. Simultaneously my best friend, William, who had been a healthy state-ranked wrestling champion, had contracted Crohn’s disease had progressed to the point that he was living with a feeding tube for nutrition.

Luckily after a year with his life in the balance, William was returned to full health, playing rugby with gusto at Chapel Hill and once again able to whoop me at wrestling.  But during a time when most kids were focusing on getting cars and dates and then getting those dates into cars, I watched two of the most important people in my life literally waste away.

I also saw the Is and Cs that Joy Christi began sharing with us this morning. I became much more introspective. When faced with the specter of the grim reaper as a young high schooler I spent a lot of time thinking about the big questions. Not surprisingly I had many conversations about these big questions with both my friend William and my dad. These conversations deepened my relationships with both people in immeasurable ways. When I reflected on how my dad and William handled their illnesses and how those around them responded, I realized the type of man that I wanted to be.

To borrow Joy Christi’s imagery I wanted to be a man with open hands. I wanted to risk engagement and be deepened by it. I clearly remember debating whether or not to go visit my friend one day when he was sick. He was frightening, creepy-looking, and foreign. His skin was wrinkled and crinkled from extreme weight loss and had a pale blue/green tint. This was not the person I had been on sports teams with, had played in band with, had camped with on Boy Scout trips. Watching his decline was scary.  By seeing his vulnerability… while living daily with my dad’s situation of declining health, I was doubly reminded of my own fragility. However, I went for a visit and I think that visit was far more important for me than for him. When I arrived we played chess, and laughed, and we made fun of each other. And the most meaningful thing for me was that my frightening and foreign looking friend, skin and bones, pale as paper, with a plastic tube coming from his nose, asked how I was dealing with my dad. My friend who looked like death warmed over wanted to make sure I was ok. It was then that I realized that my “I’s” were out of balance. And that, although independence is wonderful and self-sufficiency is a virtue I prize highly,  I was not giving interdependence the respect it deserved. I thought that I was going to play chess to cheer my friend up but he helped me far more than I helped him.

Another person who inspired me during this time was my neighbor, Mark Gauger. When my dad got sick, lots of people offered condolences and in true southern fashion, food; lots and lots of food. Many also offered to help in any way they could.  However, this man, unlike the others who said “anyway they could” as a polite, rather than a true action-oriented statement, meant it. He described what he meant; he said to call him to help when dad became bed ridden, to call him at 1 am, to call him to help clean up bodily messes, or to lift Dad when he fell or basically, to call him for any reason.

The overriding lesson I learned from this time was that in the moments of great vulnerability, you will receive community care. However after my dad died and William got better, I realized that like Joy Christi said– community care has a place not just in moments of great vulnerability but also in moments of enormous joy, gratitude, or moments of uncertainty and confusion. In that spirit I have tried to be there for my friends and members of my community during daily life just as my community was there during my life changing events.

Bill Williamson Sermon
Part 2 July 14, 2013

All faith communities have an obligation to cultivate community bonds but as UUs this obligation is even stronger for each of us. We do not offer our members eternal salvation, we do not offer rituals like ‘priestly confessionals’ that will mitigate transgressions, and we most certainly do not offer certain answers. What we do offer is covenantal community. We offer a welcoming space shaped by our principles in which a community of questioners can grow and learn from each other.

To quote James Luther Adams, a former professor at Harvard Divinity and an UU theologian, “A free church brings the individual…into a caring, trusting fellowship that protects and nourishes his or her integrity and spiritual freedom”.  If we agree with this, and I think I can say we do, since this statement so closely mirrors our fourth principle guaranteeing a free search for truth and meaning, we need to nurture this search. To do this we need to open ourselves up. We need to expose our own vulnerabilities to invite others to expose theirs. Once we do this we can engage more fully with members of our communities.

One of the biggest challenges to opening up is today’s ever-present electronically-driven universe, full of IPads, IPods, IPhones, and Facebook Friends. It’s too easy to flee from the intimate settings where people can form truly close friendships. When everyone has a device on their hip, it is hard to fully engage with one person at a time because we are trying to constantly engage with everyone all the time. We spread ourselves too thin and end up not fully engaging with anyone.

My high school Latin is pretty rusty but I know the word commune and the word communicate are related in some etymological way. The Webster online dictionary describes commune as ‘bonding or intimately relating’ with someone. It also describes it as a transitive verb that is obsolete.

This past winter my girlfriend broke her phone and it was one of the best things that has happened to me. Without a means of instant communication we had to face the horror of making plans in person and then sticking to them. This meant that more often than not one of us would show up at a place we were supposed to meet slightly before the other and shoot the breeze with whomever we would run into. I loved it! Without a constant technological connection I was able to make personal connections.  To remain open to being vulnerable in our day-to-day life, connection is required.

Rebecca Adams, a professor at UNCG says that sociologists consider three conditions crucial to making close friends, proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down. That last one is important for our service today. In order to make close friends you need be where you and others and can open up. To truly build intimacy, a crucial part of community, you must be vulnerable and allow others to be vulnerable as well.

Our congregation is the perfect place for these three conditions to occur, two of them are guaranteed: we have proximity and repeated interactions. The only condition we need to work on is having people let their guard down. We need to not only open our doors when we welcome people but open ourselves in all that we do.

We might get hurt and we may get burned and certainly will uncover uncomfortable differences, but by engaging and connecting with others at a deeper level we will be rewarded. I recommend always being willing to take off your electronic and emotional armor and be willing to make connections wherever you find yourself.

Joy Christi Przestwor
Part 2 of Sermon

You are truly amazing Bill…you certainly help me realize, just by being with you, that opportunities seem to abound when we stretch out our hands and hearts.

One of the memorable moments that transpired in the first six months of 2013 has been a RE Adult Ed class called Healthy Living. Nancy Bragg, who shared one of the readings today, was one of its facilitators. (A commercial side bar, if any of you see this class advertised as happening here or at Reuters’ Center take advantage of a spectacular opportunity to grow) During that class we made lists, lots of them, they covered every wall space we had in our meeting room. The lists weren’t the critical element but they aided our process of remaining vulnerable with each other. They provided the backdrop for explaining how we were working to remain open, discovering  OUR healthy ways of being, and growing individually and collectively. At the final class we went back to the first list we wrote of WHY we had come to this class and what our hopes were for our participation; we discovered, in laughter and tears, that a transformation in each person in that classroom had taken place by supporting each other in achieving what we wanted to gain from our time together. As Bill so wonderfully noted, we found out that when we engage and connect with one another amazing things can and do happen; changes and insights happened that we couldn’t even imagine!

Today everyone here has taken four minutes out of this new day (that’s 2 hundredths of a percent of a full 24 hour day for those mathematically interested) to share a hope and a promise with one other member of this, OUR beloved community. I ask you then during the rest of this day and in the weeks ahead to intentionally focus on that sharing. To engage in this congregation, to be all you can become by remaining open to the moments of vulnerability that are here…moments found in an RE classrooms, moments in Sandburg Hall, moments as you find familiar or unexpected opportunities to share at Moral Monday bus stops or Equality Now rallies or SUUSI or as you sit in your favorite spot at home or go to our congregational retreat in November or attend District workshops. I ask you to cherish each moment for those moments propel us deeper, provide us with better visions, and offer us the incredibly, wondrous delights of living wide open.

I ask you, as we walk among and along side one another, that we share these deepening moments of growth, that we stretch forth our entire being not knowing what we may touch but truly knowing we can grow from just the process of stretching out an open palm, opening wide a loving heart, and attuning closely a listening ear. I can guarantee, from my personal lived experience in this community of cherished friends, that if each of us lives with this level of intentional vulnerability in all our daily moments, living will be mystical and magical. Living this way will allow our sight to become clearer and our light to shine brightly for all to see! And so I ask that together and intentionally we may make it so!

UU Mysticism Then and Now (text & audio)


Some months ago our lead minister, Mark Ward, and the worship associates started scheduling the summer services. I agreed to lead a service on the topic of mysticism. I came to this tradition and congregation just about four years ago; so I am not as knowledgeable about the history of Unitarian Universalism as many of you are. So when I talked to Mark again two months ago about this service, I expressed my desire to relate today’s sermon to how mysticism has been expressed over time in the UU tradition. He directed me to the book by Leigh Eric Schmidt titled Restless Souls, The Making of American Spirituality. It is a very well written book on the history of the liberal, religious tradition in America, of which we are an integral part. Although I have not finished reading it yet, I highly recommend the book.

I have walked the path of a mystic almost my entire adult life. In the summer of 2007, I read a book by Brother Wayne Teasdale, which brought into clear focus my understanding of mysticism. That book is The Mystic Heart, Discovering A Universal Spirituality In The World’s Religions. Teasdale coined a new term of Interspirituality as the concept that there is a common, mystical core across all the religious traditions. Also, Elizabeth Lesser in her book, The Seeker’s Guide, Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, describes a highly individualist choosing of one’s beliefs from multiple traditions, a pluralistic framework, as a recent development. But after reading Schmidt’s book, I realize that Interspirituality is very close to the vision of the Transcendentalist movement that started in the early part of the nineteenth century. I have to guess that if such people as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Henry David Thoreau, and Sarah Farmer were alive today, they would probably be viewed as being SBNR (spiritual, but not religious).

There is something else that I need to mention; back in April when we had a service with the topic of Reimagining Jesus, I stated that from my perspective we are a congregation of shared values rather than shared beliefs. At the General Assembly in the exhibition hall, there were a variety of booths set up; some of which strongly enforced that opinion. There were tables for Humanists, Buddhists, Christians, Pagans, Jewish Awareness and Mystics in Community. I doubt if you would ever find such a varied collection of traditions at one location, unless it was at an interfaith event. I spent several hours helping out at the table for mystics. What I learned during that time is that there is a great deal of variance in our understanding of mysticism as well.

I call this sermon UU Mysticism Then and Now in my desire to explore how the mysticism of the nineteen and early twentieth century would relate to us who are at the beginning of the twenty-first century. These are my own personal opinions, so you should perhaps regard this talk as an extended version of a This I Believe.

I will tackle of one the big questions first. Does one need a belief in God, Source, Divine Mystery or whatever else you could call it, in order to be a mystic? My response would be ‘No’. I believe that a person who calls themselves an atheist or agnostic can be a mystic.

Now, I admit it is the conventional understanding of mysticism to be primarily about one’s relationship with the Divine, but I believe there other avenues, which are equally valid, that a person can follow as a path of a mystic in the post-modern world. I will briefly describe three alternatives later.

Now the Transcendentalists often wrote and spoke of God; although quite often it was not a traditional interpretation, especially for their time period. Whitman in his Song of Myself, the reading this morning, shows that he was very ecumenical in his approach to faith. Emerson described himself as the ‘transparent eye-ball’ looking upon God’s creation. But today, UUs do not often address their founding doctrines of the denial of the Christian Trinity and of universal salvation. It is a daunting task to create a spirituality that leaves up to each individual the answer on the issue of a deity. It is a challenge for both for us as individuals and as a community. As long as we approach each other with open minds and caring hearts, I am positive that we can continue to make this house of worship our collective home.

Chapter two from Restless Souls is titled “Solitude.” Emerson wrote of his solitary walks in the woods, Thoreau spent time in a hermitage beside Walden Pond, and Emily Dickenson was a recluse most of her life. I doubt if it is necessary to go live in a cabin in the wilderness for a couple of years or to restrict our social life to our family and a few close friends, in order for us to become mystics. But taking time for silence and to be alone as Emerson was on his walks in the woods is perhaps a key component of being a mystic in this day and age. It is good to turn off the television and the radio, to walk away from the computer screen, to put down the tablet and e-readers and simply be present to each moment without the distractions of the world. In comparison to the nineteenth century, we are now ever more addicted to doing, getting something accomplished, getting someplace other than where we are. Taking time for us to just be in the world is essential for our wholeness. I feel this is especially true for those of you who are an activist in the world.

I am reminded of a quote by Thomas Merton:

“There is a pervasive form of modern violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by non-violent methods most easily succumbs: activism and over-work.

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his/her work for peace.

It destroys the fruitfulness of his/her own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom, which makes work fruitful.”

I found it interesting that Schmidt repeatedly mentions the significance of the World’s Parliament of Religions which happened in Chicago in September of 1893. This event was significant because it brought together most of the religious traditions to dialogue with each other.

Brother Teasdale was one of the main conveners of the second Parliament of World Religions, one hundred years later, 1993, again in Chicago. In his book, The Mystic Heart, which was published in 1998, he identifies nine elements that he understood as being found in the mystics across all traditions. It is unfortunate, that Wayne died of cancer in 2004.

But he left a rich legacy that is now carried forward by an organization created in January of 2009 from his vision. It is called the Community of the Mystic Heart. I am one of its charter members. We took those nine elements and rewrote them as vows. I do not feel that there is anything particularly religious about them; I think that many UUs could easily live by most of them. They are:

I vow to actualize and live according to my full moral and ethical capacity.
I vow to live in solidarity with the cosmos and all living beings.
I vow to live in nonviolence.
I vow to live in humility.
I vow to embrace a daily spiritual practice.
I vow to cultivate mature self-knowledge.
I vow to live a life of simplicity.
I vow to live a life of selfless service and compassionate action.
I vow to express the deepest realization of my inner practice through the prophetic call to work for justice, compassion and world transformation.

The three alternative paths to being a mystic in the post-modern world, that I mentioned earlier, are through nature and the cosmos, through service to humanity and the world, and by our exploration of human consciousness through meditation and shadow work.

I feel that the Transcendentalists were quite correct that our connection with our natural world and studies of such sciences as biology and cosmology are a completely valid path of mysticism. It was the case for me that my knowledge of cosmology that first brought me a mystical framework. I also believe that it does not require a belief in a creator; for the universe is mysterious, wondrous, and sacred in and of itself alone. There are many modern authors that write on our profound interconnection with the natural world. Some writers like Father Thomas Berry, do include a creator, and while other authors, such as Bill Plotkin, leave it mostly unanswered.

Being of service to humanity and the world is a noble path. I strongly hold that mysticism is not about sitting on a cushion so that one experiences states of ecstasy and falling deaf to the world’s cries of pain and suffering. I see that it is vital for anyone who would call themselves a mystic to be engaged in the everyday world. For me, the isolation and separation of a monastic life behind a wall belongs to a form of mysticism that is best left in the past. I love the fact that Unitarian Universalism is a champion of social and ecological justice issues. But I also know from my own experiences that one can get more done with the help of a community than one can by oneself and each person needs a set of practices to renew their spirit and give them courage to face their daily challenges.

That brings me to the third alternative path for a twenty-first century mystic. Closely tied to solitude is the need for reflection, contemplation and self-knowledge. I use several different contemplative practices from a variety of traditions in order to fulfill several of the vows that I took as a member of the Community of the Mystic Heart. For the last seven years, I have a counselor who helps me delve into those aspects of myself that otherwise might stay hidden.

As part of the call to form Small Group Ministries, a few of us are now meeting on Monday evenings from 4:30 to 6:30 downstairs in the Religious Education area. We are the UU Contemplatives. We have a silent meditation for forty-five minutes, some personal sharing and time for a reflection on a reading. We each take turns to be responsible for our activities. If anyone here feels an interest in this form of spirituality, you are welcome to join us

I hope that UU Contemplatives will be the first of several Small Group Ministries that will be created here at UUCA so members can find connection with other people within the congregation with whom they share a common set of beliefs. I hold that this will be a powerful way to experience our diversity within our overall knowledge of our community.

Photo credit: ViaMoi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND