Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Importance of Science to Unitarian Universalism

This coming Sunday, I am working with D. to offer a service about how Science is foundational to Unitarian Universalism, another potential Source. He and I have traded ideas back and forth and I will publish at least part of that sermon here on Sunday.

But it's been an interesting journey, mind-stretching for me as I consider the effect Science has had on my thinking patterns and, therefore, on my spiritual journey. D. has put together a visual aid contrasting the methodology of Science with the methodologies of Unitarian Universalism and of traditional western religion, i.e., traditional Christianity, and he will do this part of the sermon.

My part of the sermon will consider what we UUs do with what we know about science as we seek to live out our individual spiritual journeys and the mission of our congregation.

Here's my introduction to the sermon:

During the past church year, here at UUCWI, we’ve been exploring the several Sources of Unitarian Universalism. As a pluralistic, or multi-faith religious tradition, we have several Sources from which we draw wisdom. If you are new to UUism, you’ll find these Sources listed on the back of your O/S. The ones you see there are the official, in-the-bylaws Sources.

But, being the freethinkers that we are, we here on Whidbey Island have added a couple more that we think are foundational to UUism. We have agreed that the Creative Arts are certainly one of our Sources and we considered their importance a couple of weeks ago.

Today we will consider the importance of Science’s influence on UUism. Some might say that our Fifth Source, Humanism, takes care of that little matter, because it mentions Science in its wording.

But D. and I think Science offers more than what the Fifth Source includes, that it is foundational to our thinking patterns, the very patterns that have led us to question supernaturalism and legends that are perhaps true, in a sense, but not factual, not reproducible.

We’re choosing today to offer our thoughts as if we are in a Science classroom of sorts. D. will be the Educator, presenting his thinking and experience as a skilled scientist; he even has a visual aid for you! And I will be the Counselor, the one to whom the student might go as he or she sorts out why it’s important that we study Science and understand how the world works.

So, if you will, Dr. C, we’re listening!

Stay tuned for the rest of the story!

Monday, May 26, 2008

It's that time of year...

and I'm tired. You would think that a 1/3 time preacher who is only in the pulpit officially twice a month would have lots of steam left, but you'd be wrong. I am tired.

I noticed it this morning. Because the gym is closed for Memorial Day, my normal routine was changed. I made a breakfast of scrambled eggs with mushrooms and peppers, plus a small piece of coffee cake which I'd gotten at the farmers' market, and a little OJ, instead of the normal cereal or toast breakfast I usually have on a weekday before heading over to the gym.

Sitting at the computer a bit later, I felt so sleepy that I decided to go take a nap. It was 8:30 a.m.! And I fell asleep with cats snuggled up. After lunch, I took another nap. And I have hardly felt like doing a blessed thing all day.

D, the rocket scientist who is my collaborator in this Sunday's sermon, needed some ideas for the newspaper blurb which always goes in Saturday's South Whidbey Record, but my brain wasn't working so hot. He was charitable about my efforts, but it was a challenge to think about Science and UUism this morning!

Now I've livened up a bit---two naps will help! But I'm still basically tired. Despite how well things have gone all year, with the building's progress, our growing membership, and a sense of heightened energy in the congregation, when it gets to be late May, I'm tired, no matter what good things have been happening!

Dan, over at Yet Another UU, mentioned it on his blog earlier this month and I was too tired even then to muster a comment of agreement.

I have two more sermons to write and preach, a congregational meeting with recognitions for incoming and outgoing board members and administrators, a joint board meeting, a newsletter deadline, a few social activites, and then it will be June 30 and I'm on break for awhile.

Yesterday, as we set up for the church service in our rented space, I mused that we may have only five more services in this rented space! We won't meet in July this year, though we probably will next year, but in August we always meet outdoors on our building site. I figure that, if necessary, we can continue to meet outdoors on the site up until the rains come in late October. The building committee is hoping that we'll be able to occupy the building in early fall, maybe by Ingathering time, and I'm hoping they're right.

But I want so badly to be out of this rented space! I'm tired of setting it up every Sunday, taking down the Lutheran stuff and putting up the UU stuff, setting out the hymnals, putting up the banners, moving the chairs around, re-configuring the RE space. It's really old, by now.

Summer will rejuvenate me and the excitement of being in our new building will carry me through another church year with a lot of energy. May it be so!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Conversations that are a spiritual experience...

have a variety of characteristics. Last night at the followup Conversation on "The Arts" as a possible Source for Unitarian Universalism, I remarked that I had had four wonderful and inspiring conversations in the past 30 hours or so.

The first was at the lectionary group on Friday morning, when I mentioned to our Quaker member that UUCWI was considering putting up a banner reading "Torture is a Moral Issue" on our sign on the highway. Our side discussion about this morphed into a general conversation about our responsibilities in a rural community where our congregants know each other, where we know each other well, and where the issues are close at hand, not as detached from daily life as they may be in other, larger congregations.

We were speculating on the causes of the world's troubles and G., our colleague at the more conservative end of the spectrum, theorized that there was a "gospel of rebellion". We were all interested in this idea and asked him to say more, which he did. Father R then chimed in with his disappointment in the secularization of American life and an approach to life which favors expedient solutions---abortion, divorce, gay marriage---all of which are against The Church's laws. This, of course, had the potential for becoming explosive----but it didn't. Instead, we were able to go beneath the political hot buttons and talk about the commonalities we share which, actually, lead us in different directions because of our own experiences.

This conversation was remarkable in that it did not devolve into argument but allowed us to converse at a deeper level than political/doctrinal differences.

The second conversation was with D, about our service on "Science as a Possible Source for UUism" on June 1. To talk with a congregant about our deeply held thoughts and knowings was a thrill, especially as it forms the foundation for this service. D is a rocket scientist, literally, and his understanding of the scientific method and how it informs his life without locking him into a "left brain only" mentality is inspirational. He too, like my local colleagues, is honest and straightforward about his way of seeing things and we talked about our different approaches to life (mine is more intuitive) without any sense that one way was better than another.

The third converstion was with C, a local candidate for UU ministry, who has a global ministry with her husband, teaching gender reconciliation in South Africa and India, where violence toward women and girls is a terrible problem. I was spellbound as I listened to her talk about the success they'd had, albeit on a small scale, and the changes she saw in human lives because of their work. This conversation had the effect of enlarging my horizons around ministry; C is not sure whether she will complete her journey toward ordination, as she finds this ministry consuming and not needing the validation of ordination for her to be truly a minister.

And the fourth conversation was last night with the six congregants who came to talk about the Arts and their spiritual lives. What a great bunch! And because I know them so well, our conversation was intimate as well as far-ranging. We talked about our own experiences with creativity, how music or art or interpersonal relationships, even cooking and other less-obvious arts, informs our spiritual life. Toward the end of the conversation, I asked "how can the Arts be a part of our congregation's ministry to the island?" Lots of ideas from people there and I hope we pursue some of them---film festivals, concerts on themes dear to our hearts, art shows on controversial themes, perhaps even the showing of art works on a moral issue such as torture or same sex marriage.

I hate chitchat. I'm no good at it. I love good conversation that includes themes that are important to me. And I love it best when it crops up unforced and unexpected. I'm still savoring all the good conversations of the past week. May there be more to come!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote...."

Found this on Cathy Edgett's "Heart Happy" blog. I'm working with a congregant, Dave, to present a service on June 1 about how Science has influenced UUism. I wish I could show this at that service.

The Ongoing Saga of Maxie the Meandering

As Ms. Theologian remarked awhile back, "Walkabout" turned out to be Maxwelton's M.O. and he has repeatedly gone over the edge (of the deck) and taken a walk in the wide wide world (for those who still remember the story of the Poky Little Puppy). The reason I'm not more anxious about this is that he always comes back, leaps up many vertical feet to access the deck again, and appears at the door meowing to come in. Sometimes this is fairly late in the evening; sometimes it's after only a few minutes. But so far he has always come back.

As the picture shows, however, he stays pretty close to home. I think something has startled him "out there" and he realizes that he may need to make a dash for it. So I can usually see him out there somewhere, a white flash on the green grass or under the huge Doug fir whose lowest branches create a shelter.

This is good practice for me as I hone my pastoral M.O. of non-anxious presence, the skill that says to the congregation "I'm not uptight about this, I am calm in the face of crisis, I will not go nuts on you over this crisis". And I find myself reassuring Lily and Loosy, who look both relieved and anxious when he disappears for awhile.

As our new building progresses, I find that I am thinking about what to expect when we throw open our new doors and welcome the community in. Am I up to the challenge of preaching UUism to a growing congregation? Will I remember all those new faces and names? What will it be like to be in a spanking new space? Will we succeed in growing rapidly and integrating many new people? Will our planning ahead be sufficient or will situations pop up that we have not considered?

I have confidence that we will rise to all the challenges and be successful, but there's also an uncertainty that I can't dispell, despite our success so far. So Max is contributing to my ability to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of challenge and new growth. Thank you, Maxie, for teaching me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Photos of UUCWI's growing building

We were so pleased to have members of both the Woodinville UU Congregation and the Quimper UU Fellowship come over to help us with this exciting project. Thanks to our friends across the water!

The sign was designed and created by John, a member of the congregation, and handpainted by him and his wife Camille.

The painting is just about done, outside, and the white truck belongs to the guys who are painting the inside for us, professionally.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An "Unread Book" meme snitched from Earthbound Spirit

The bolded titles are books I have read. As I clicked my way down the list and thought about how some of these books changed or didn't change my thinking, I realized that it depends on what kind of openness we have to new ideas at the time we read the book.

I was fortunate to do much of my youthful reading in a very open environment (college) where I had been given permission to think about things I wasn't supposed to think about in my conservative, though loving, home. I was hungry for new perspectives and my reading gave me the opportunity to consider new ideas without feeling guilty that I would betray my parents.

I am surprised by the combination of books on this list. I'll have to go to the site where it came from and see if I can find out why these books appear on the list. I didn't mark any book I wasn't sure about, so I may have missed some. If I didn't remember it, it probably didn't do much to change my thinking, I guess!

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

UPDATE: This meme came from LibraryThing and is a list of books most often clicked as "unread". Okay.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grieving for Ted Kennedy

He isn't dead yet, he may well postpone the inevitable far beyond what the prognosticators and his enemies predict, and I admire the indomitable courage that propels men like him. But I am grieving for Ted Kennedy today.

He's a deeply flawed man who betrayed a wife and a companion by his misdeeds and lack of courage, when what he did mattered immensely and cost a young woman her life. There is no excusing that behavior nor glossing over it.

And yet, if reconciliation and redemption are truly the salvific events of life that we as religious people proclaim them to be, Ted Kennedy has done what he can to redeem himself and to make amends, however inadequate those amends might be for a loss of life. I suspect he has experienced the deep regret and shame of that loss of life ever since that fateful day. In fact, it may be the driving force behind his political career as a progressive Senator.

From that deeply flawed, party animal of a young man, emerged a lion of social justice. He continued to be flawed, yet his newfound courage gave him the impetus to stick his neck out for causes of equality, of justice, of safety and health. He saw that there was a higher power than "the Church" and he chose that higher power, though he did not leave his family faith.

He has been roundly condemned by those who disagree with his political and social views, yet nobody, I suspect, would wish this kind of challenge upon him. It's a shame that others who can't forget his youthful behavior do not see that all the rest of his life he has atoned for that youthful behavior by championing difficult and contentious causes, in order that others might have life and might have it more abundantly.

He was born into wealth and privilege; he used that wealth and privilege in bad ways and good. May he have the strength and courage that wealth and privilege do not provide but which come from within, and when he dies, may he have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that he chose a path of justice and compassion.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Reflections on the Creative Experience and Spirituality

The following is an "homilito" which wrapped up our service this afternoon, coming after three artists in the congregation had shared their experiences as a folk artist, a writer/poet, and a musician. This is my reflection on creativity and spirituality.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 18, 2008

I have never thought of myself as artistic. I’m one of those people who has always figured if I couldn’t draw a straight line, I wasn’t artistic. My sister and mother, now, they could draw pretty well. They were artistic. I wasn’t.

I did like to sing and play the piano but I was mostly a workhorse, able to do a decent job but not particularly talented, just adequate. Oh sure, once in awhile I’d get a chance to sing by myself, mostly because I knew all the words to the old folk songs, especially the raunchy ones, and sometimes people said I sounded pretty good.

But there were moments when something happened to me, in the music. Maybe it would be feeling myself caught up in the harmonies of the choir around me. Maybe it would be the experience of improvising harmonies as I sang.

Maybe it would be a particularly tuneful day for my vocal chords. Maybe it would be singing an old lullaby to my child. But it didn’t really mean anything, wasn’t very important.

Many years passed in this way and then came a time when I was asked to sing one of those folk songs I knew by heart at the memorial service of a friend. It’s a kind of philosophical, metaphorical song entitled “River” by Bill Staines and it sings about life as a river. The last verse is particularly poignant, with these words: “one day when the flowers are blooming still, one day when the grass is still green, my rolling waters will round the bend and flow into the open sea…”

I was pretty sure that I would have a hard time singing that verse, that my voice would break, that I would not be able to continue. My friend Alan’s life had rounded a bend and had flowed into the open sea, unexpectedly, mingling there with all the other lives gone before him, leaving behind the lives of his wife and two teenage sons.

I almost turned down the request, afraid I couldn’t do it properly. But Alan’s wife persisted, saying he had learned the song from me and she knew he would want me to sing it.

The day of the memorial service, I went to the church, spent a few minutes practicing with the guitarist who would accompany me, and then it was time to begin the service.

It came time for me to sing and I stood next to the guitarist, my stomach clenched with anxiety, wanting to do well but afraid I would falter. I made it through the first verses and choruses just fine and then the guitarist took his musical break before the final verse.

Just as I opened my mouth to sing those most difficult words, my heart pounding, I looked out into the congregation gathered there and saw another friend, Mary, looking back at me. She smiled at me, with tears in her eyes, and all of a sudden, I felt the song begin to sing itself.

It flowed out of me, in notes and phrasings I didn’t even recognize as mine. My voice was strong and clear and true. There was something happening that was beyond me, that was beyond my control, that was expressing my love for my friend Alan, that was receiving the love of my friend Mary, and pouring out all that sense of relationship and connection with them.

A new understanding of my connection to others through music was born that day and left me shaken and humbled by that experience.

Our service today has been about “The Arts” as a source of spiritual inspiration for Unitarian Universalists. But I’m not sure we’re just talking about “Art”, per se.

The Arts, whether visual, aural, vocal, written, kinesthetic, are expressions of human creativity, a life force so powerful that we have evidence of it going back into pre-history. It is a primeval force, ecstatic and uncontrollable, and it has driven human beings beyond the requirements of daily survival as long as human memory has existed.

Unitarian Universalist theologian, Henry Nelson Wieman, has posited that the creative force in the universe is another name for God, that this divine power exists in all of us and in all of creation.

I find that image very meaningful. As we’ve heard each of our speakers this afternoon, have listened to our choir, listened to the poems, sung the songs, looked at the visual arts displayed, I think I’ve seen and heard a common thread---that there is something that pours out of us at those moments when we are caught up in creating or experiencing beauty or meaning or relationship or growth. It’s something beyond normal daily life, something so thrilling and engaging that it surely is a part of our spiritual nature.

Of course, we say “the Arts” and yet we know in our hearts that creativity is expressed in many ways, not all of them beautiful and comforting, some of them quite disturbing, some even dangerous.

The creativity in human beings has brought us as a species to a place of high technology, of great beauty, and fearsome understanding of what we have done.

Today we have considered the creative experience and its relationship to spirituality. I find the creative experience to be so foundational to my spiritual nature that I have become attuned to it in other parts of my daily life, hearing it in conversations, tending the plants in my garden, in cooking a meal, even in figuring out how to jerry-rig functional mechanisms to keep my cats confined on the deck.

My colleague, the Rev. Rick Davis, minister of our congregation in Salem, Oregon, has proposed that we consider recognizing formally the importance of the Arts as a Source of our Unitarian Universalist faith. He suggests this wording: “The living tradition that we share draws from many sources (including) the Creative arts, which reveal to us the face of life’s beauty and joy, its enduring truth and meaning and which opens our hearts to feelings of awe and gratitude.” He goes on to say that art and spirituality are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.

Whether or not this ever happens, we know how important the creative arts are in our own lives. I’m grateful to our artists today for speaking to us, and for bringing the creations of their hands and hearts for us to experience.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that within each of us there is a burning spark of creativity, the spark of life that has brought forth great beauty in the world and gives us the ability to connect with each other and with the divine as we experience that creative spark in others. May we find beauty and inspiration in all of life’s ventures and may we offer our own creativity freely and lovingly. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday Quiz

After you die...

After death, you will exist in heaven. Everything and everyone you love will constantly surround you for all of eternity. You lucky scoundrel.

Take this quiz at

Thanks to James at Monkey Mind for this quiz.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I wish I had a before and after picture to show you!

Today, in addition to being Syttende Mai, Norway's Constitution Day, was the day we welcomed worker bee guests from the Port Townsend and Woodinville congregations to help us with a huge blitz of work all day on the new building.

Both these congregations had offered to send crews to help us with our building project and we decided that today was the best day to organize it. We'd stored up several major efforts that were perfect for a large work party to undertake. And, luckily, the clouds parted and we had a beautiful warm day as well.

Several weeks ago, when Woodinville and Port Townsend agreed to come on May 17, our building committee reacted with a little alarm. Would we have enough work for them to do? Who had thought this up?

So since I was the one who had thought this up, I suggested that I organize a picnic as a hospitality gesture to our guests, and then I started worrying about it. But it all turned out beautifully!

We had a simple picnic with hot dogs, chips, salad, and dessert, plus soda, water, a little beer. People brought mountains of cookies and other sweets, plus salads. I provided the grill and the hot dogs (did you know they make vegan hot dogs? and some people were grateful that they were provided), chips, and drinks, plus the condiments for hot dogs and the tableware.

And we had a total of about 30 people, if you count the few who just wandered through, had a hot dog and left. All the cookie leftovers will have a second showing at social hour after church tomorrow, as will the leftover chips.

It has been a truly marvelous day. We got so much done on the building----painting, particularly----and on the grounds, removing blackberry bushes (did you know how well a front-loader rips those babies right out of the ground?). Our new sign out front is beautiful and now fully visible from the road. The earthy color of the building, with its dark green metal roof and dark red trim, is perfectly suited for the locale. It is really looking fabulous.

I'll post pictures when I get some more. But right now I think I'll go take a hot bath!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wiser? Time will tell.

Maxie came home late last night, hungry and a bit spooked, but uninjured. He's just lucky I was still up and about, having decided late to watch TV for a few minutes to unwind before bedtime. I'm normally in the sack by 9:30 or so because I'm up so early.

Sitting in front of the TV, I can look out at the dark deck but I can't see anything much, just reflections in the glass of the room behind me. But something moved in my field of vision and at first I figured it was one of the other cats, moving around in the dining room. Just to make sure, I turned around and scanned it---no Loosy or Lily was prowling around there. So I decided to get up and check outside, and there he was.

He seems happy to be home and yet I'll bet this happens again. I still don't know how he gets off the deck and back on again. If I figure it out, I may take steps to seal off the opening, but I don't want to take a chance on making it impossible for him to get back on the deck, if his choice of exitway is a flying leap from above.

I may just have to live with this tension and make the best of it.

One nice thing was that the FS called yesterday afternoon to offer condolences, after reading my post about the Missing Member of the Family. So I called him back to let him know that Max had returned.

Thanks to yesterday's commenters for their comfort and concern.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Supremes for Marriage Equality

Hallelujah! Just Hallelujah! I am so glad this has happened. Congratulations to all the men and women who have been hoping and praying for this day to come.

It's 6 a.m. and he's not home yet.

Max jumped off the deck yesterday afternoon about 3:30 and never came back. The other two times he jumped, he was back within a couple of hours. This time, he's not.

We are all feeling the loss of his presence. As aggressive and feisty toward Loosy and Lily as he was, he was also just a kitten, a teenage kitten to be sure, but with vestiges of kittenhood still---the ability to fall limply into a pile of sleeping catfur, to curl up on my bosom while I lie in bed reading my book, to experience the wonder of the bunnies and deer that inhabit the yard. Always eager to go out outside on the deck, he would haunt the door yowling or, if I was here at the computer, he'd watch me hawklike and if I made a move to get up, he was galloping down the hall toward the deck door, always hopeful that I intended to let him out.

Last night when it was time to go to bed, after I put a bowl of food and water out on the deck, just in case he came back in the night, after I stole one of the several catbeds around the house to put out for him, just in case, I sat on my bed and cried.

He's not coming back, I'm sure of it. He has been gone too long. He's either lost or hit by a car or killed by a predator. Of course I'll check with my neighbors, but it's most likely that his sense of adventure got the best of him and he went too far to find his way back, was too exposed by his white fur and spotted by a coyote or a raptor. He's still light enough to be lifted by a large bird, even though he'd put up quite a fight.

I haven't completely given up hope, of course. I'll keep the bowl of food out for awhile. I'll check the roads and the neighbors. But I think Maxie is gone.

I'm not at the point of being able to see that it means less stress for the other cats or that my cat food and vet bills will diminish or that I can put out one less litter box, that I can quit worrying about cat pee on the bed. These were reasons that I almost turned him over to the animal shelter a few months ago. Now they just seem like stupid reasons for wanting to give him away.

He brought immense joy and love into my life, got the older cats moving faster, and was a source of amusement and entertainment, all his short life. It's hard to say goodbye.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Letting go

Max has twice now disappeared from the deck for an hour or so at a time. How he gets off, I don't know. How he gets back on, I don't know. But twice now I have had to shut the door to the deck not knowing where he is, just hoping he will return and knowing that I have no way of protecting him, short of curtailing everybody's freedom in this house.

Which I am not willing to do, to myself or to the other cats who show no interest in leaving the safety of the deck.

The mystery is not why Max might want to leave the deck, which is a good ten feet off the ground in most places and made more difficult by the arrangement of planter boxes, wire fencing, and the like all around the perimeter. There are bunnies all over the yard, tantalizingly close, and I suspect he has gone to chase them.

The other reality is that there are also coyotes, eagles, owls, and other predators around and the odds are that he will one day not be able to get back on the deck before they see him.

This is a really tough and scary decision to have to make, but I have to let go of his safety, to some extent. If he is going to get off the deck somehow without my knowing how it's happening, he is going to have to take his chances with the dangers. And that means that I am also taking chances. I have done about all I can to close up the places where he can wiggle through. Short of keeping him inside and off the deck, which I am not willing to do, there is no way of assuring his complete safety.

So---it's like a kid who needs to be able to strike out on his own, drive the car to school or wherever, learn to do something that scares his mother, take a risk, and learn the lessons of that risk.

The parent who allows this lives with the anxiety that "he's too young" or "he'll be killed" or variations on that panicky theme when we wake up at 4 a.m. and he's not home yet. I know I stand the chance of losing Max, just as I stood the chance of losing the Favorite Son in one of his escapades.

This also applies to ministry. Sometimes issues come up in a congregation and a minister has to say to herself, this is going to have to be their issue, not mine. I am going to have to let go of the outcome of their decision. And I remind myself of the adage I've learned from my colleagues, "this is not the hill I'm willing to die on."

It's hard to know when to let go and when to hang on and fight it out. Do we see this happening anywhere else in the world?

Monday, May 12, 2008


is not easy for me. I like my work too much to put it on the shelf for very long. Even in the checkout lane of the grocery store I seem to have my minister antenna out and I notice things---whether the checker looks harried or whether a parishioner I see among the salad fixings hasn't been at church for awhile. I find it hard to turn it off.

So after yesterday's wonderful, exhausting service, I looked at today's calendar page and thought, "I don't have anything I HAVE to do tomorrow. So, I'm not going to get up and hustle off to the gym; I'm going to take a walk over at SW State Park instead. I'm going to make a rhubarb crisp with the wonderful rhubarb that my garden has produced. I'm going to ..... well, what am I going to do with myself if I don't get busy on this coming Sunday's order of service or write a board report or a newsletter article?" I wasn't sure how the day would develop if I didn't work.

But I decided I needed to do it. There are very few days when I don't do something work-related. I think about sermons in the car; I answer emails from parishioners; I'm "working", in some way, much of the day, even if it's only thinking. Today I put church stuff on the shelf as much as I could and just did things for myself and my own restoration.

Of course, the haircut I was looking forward to became a chance to talk with Amy, who goes to our church and whose little boy was dedicated yesterday, so I guess I did do a little.

But mostly, I have been successful in putting church matters out of my mind today. I have put off writing my board report until tomorrow, even though that's later than I normally do it, since the board meeting is Wednesday. It won't hurt. And the O/S for Sunday is already pretty much done and doesn't need to be sent to our administrator until Wednesday. I can put off writing the homily until later as well, since there are other speakers besides me on Sunday and my part is smaller than usual.

It's felt good. Tonight Trilogy rehearses here at my house so I don't even have to go anywhere.

But it does remind me that I need some other sources of self-care besides the good feeling of a job well done. I want to get in the habit of doing things for myself, things that don't necessarily cost anything (like a walk in the park) but are just done for my own pleasure. I guess today was a start. I am well aware that it will take some effort on my part, because it's so important to me to be "useful". Spending time on myself---is that useful? I may have to reframe my ideas of usefulness.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Beautiful Chaos!

Mother's Day started out awfully early this morning, as most mornings do. But I'd gotten to bed quite late last night after spending the evening at a local bistro listening to a couple of friends (Deja Blooz is their group name). We stuffed ourselves on appetizers and desserts, compliments of my darling brother's Christmas gift, which was a generous gift certificate to this place in Langley. But it meant I was late going to bed, which makes NO difference to the cats, who are up and at my door by 5:15 a.m. without fail.

So the morning started off a little bleary-eyed anyhow and the day was going to be a full one. I had a wedding consult at 1 p.m. with a couple who are being married in July, and then our DRE Lorie and I had to prep our meeting space for the Big Production---a intergenerational service with Flower Communion, Child Dedication, and Re-creation of the Simple Gifts Still Life all rolled into one.

Whenever you're working with kids to put together an intergenerational service, you can count on its being chaotic and unpredictable. However, you can also count on its being absolutely adored by the congregation---at least here on the island.

We were dedicating six kids, which is quite a passel of parents and children all up front. And we didn't really have a chance to rehearse any of the program, other than the music. So we just had to go forward hoping for the best.

Well, it was marvelous. There were all kinds of goof-ups but none of them mattered much. The dedication brought tears to people's eyes, the re-creation of the still life was lovely, and the Flower Communion seemed to touch people's hearts as well.

What I like about the child dedication I've worked out is the words I use with each child and parent. I ask the parent(s) the child's name, then I repeat the name, dip a rosebud in the "holy" water and touch the child's head with it, saying "I touch your head that you might learn to think clearly", touch the lips, saying "I touch your lips that you might learn to speak truth", touch the heart, saying "I touch your heart that you might learn to love deeply", touch the hands, saying "I touch your hands that you might learn to serve others", and touch the parent(s), saying "I touch your parents that they might always remind you how deeply you are loved". Then I say, "welcome, Zoe, (or whoever) to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island.

Our DRE gives each child a little bag with a sugar lump (for the sweetness of life), bitter herbs (for the sorrow of life), a Susan B. Anthony dollar (for UU ancestry), and I forget the other items, but each is significant in some way.

To watch the children's faces is truly wonderful. One little boy kissed the rosebud as I touched his lips. The sigh from the congregation was audible.

We have really worked hard to build up an RE program that works. Our meeting time of 4 p.m. is really difficult for families and it's been a slow go. But we are hopeful that when we move to a morning service, things will change for the better. Lorie, bless her heart, has managed to build the program immensely since she came two years ago. She is absolutely a gem and has recruited her whole family to be part of the congregation. We have dedicated five children from her immediate family!

Anyhow, tonight I'm going to bed a bit early and bask in the memories of a wonderful day.

On top of it all, the Favorite Son called and we had a great conversation. Their Fellowship in Reno has just had candidating week for their new minister-to-be. He didn't know yet if the new guy had been voted in, as they are not yet members and didn't stay for the vote, but they were optimistic. The FS is more than just my son; he's also my friend, which is a lovely relationship to have with a person whose face I used to have to scrub!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Good Friday!

No, I'm not several weeks late. Today is---or will be---Good Friday in a very personal way: the various workmen who have visited my property in the last three days have determined that the leak in my waterline is easily fixable, that it is not galvanized pipe which would have required a complete replacement of the line, and that it can be done today in a short period of time! (They're here now working on it!)

Is that Good News or what?

In other matters, I am feeling very happy about a number of things going on in the congregation right now:

1. Our intergenerational Mother's Day/Flower Communion/Child Dedication service is coming together nicely. We are dedicating 6 kids, all members of families new to the congregation, which is a thrill in itself. We always give a rosebud to each child, which looked like it was going to cost an arm and a leg these days, but I found a miniature rose bush which has 6 lovely buds and blooms on it. So it's even a green gift!

2. I'll be performing 3 weddings and doing 3 preaching gigs this summer, all of which I enjoy very much and fatten up my savings account a bit. I was getting a little bit worried about whether I was going to be doing anything income-producing this summer and all of a sudden several things came in. And there could be more in the offing.

3. The compilation of responses to our stewardship campaign has just been published and I was thrilled to read many, many warm and loving responses to my work here as a minister. It's always a little scary to peruse something like that, because many times criticisms are stated so blatantly and unkindly that it's quite painful, even though they may be legitimate concerns. Remember this, if you're ever asked to fill out a survey on your minister!

4. And it's a beautiful day here on the island!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Go, Hillary, Go?

I'm not really sure I know what I mean by this. Do I wish Hillary would remove herself from the race so we can get on with electing a different president with a real campaign strategy? Sort of. Or do I wish Hillary would hang in there and represent women all the way to the top, whether that's a win or a lose? Yes to that one too.

I listened to the tenor of her remarks after losing the NC primary and barely winning IN and I thought "this is one dedicated lady. She isn't going to give up and let down her constituents. She's going to take it all the way, win or lose. The women of America are her sisters and she's going as far as she can."

It's a little like (IMHO) a woman with breast cancer who, because she loves life, because she doesn't want to leave her loved ones, because she is a fighter who has surmounted other difficulties, because she believes she owes it to those who love her to keep on fighting, a woman who tries every last treatment available, even the ones that are as bad as the disease, just to be able to say she tried everything before she let go.

There's a piece of me that knows that this is not necessarily a good strategy. There's another piece of me that understands completely why she would do it. I might do it too.

And yet, there's a point in life when the loved ones of a dying person want to say to that person, "it's okay to go now, it's okay to let go, we'll be all right, you've done your job".

Go, Hillary, Go. Whichever way you want to take that.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Updates and Gratitude

Thanks to Mile High Pixie and another, unnamed reader who both suggested ways to make the water shut-off time shorter and less handicapping. Does it ever help to have friends in the blogosphere who know a thing or two about plumbing! MHP is an architect in Denver and understands about the installation of things like plumbing and water lines. Pixie, I'm grateful! And to Ms. Unnamed, a reader here on the island, my gratitude as well for suggesting a temporary patch on the leak during the drying-out period.

How my workers will respond to these suggestions is yet to be determined, but I feel better prepared to tackle the repair with them because goodhearted people have helped me see the possibilities. A thousand thanks!

Yesterday I went into Seattle to meet with the remnants of the board of the Religious Coalition for Equality, which is considering affiliation with Equal Rights Washington, a formerly small effort that has the potential to become an umbrella group for many of the groups which have formed around the issue of marriage equality. Since the enactment of domestic partnership benefits in Washington state, the push for full marriage equality has slowed. It hasn't died, but the urgency has lessened.

Our decision was that we would pursue it, if ERW could grant some requests---that we be able to offer the religious message about equality through ERW and not be subsumed into that organization, that we have clergy on their board, that when financially feasible we have a staff member dedicated at least in part to fundraising with our religious donors.

The religious message, we concluded, is essential and must not be subsumed into the general message. We are the Davids, the defenders of the faith, pitted against the Goliaths of the local conservative megachurches, whose angry rhetoric is what always seems to make the papers, not our message of love and acceptance.

So it was a good day yesterday, seeing RCE friends for the first time in six months, and then finding the advice of plumbing-knowledgeable friends in my email!

Today I shall marshall the water-fighting forces of the island! and do the laundry, the grocery shopping, the vacuuming, the petunia-planting.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Much as I love this house, I may have to find another place to live. Last fall, I noticed that my electrical bill had jumped $50 in one month, for no good reason---no rate hike, no unusually cold weather, lots of energy-saving measures on my part. It has stayed so high all winter that I decided to go on budget-billing, but when the utility company re-averaged my usage, the budget-bill stayed really high.

So I told my landlord (a Sacramento guy, a good guy, but he's never lived on the island) about my concern and he kind of pooh-poohed it, said it was probably just the weather, etc. So I told him I'd pay for a plumber to come look at the hot water heater, which was one of the possibilities.

The plumber came today and pronounced the water heater in fine shape, but he had the good sense to ask about other things and we finally figured out that the pump in the wellhouse is running constantly (at 220 v.) because there is a leak in the water line between the well and my house. No wonder my electricity bill is so high!

To fix it will require shutting off the water to the house, digging out a trench to expose the pipe, letting it dry out a bit, and then replacing the pipe, probably all the way back to the wellhouse, a couple hundred yards away. I don't know how long all that will take and I'm not sure how I will cope with that situation!

I guess I will, but it's a big pain. And the lower part of my yard is a swamp! Water is bubbling out of a hole in the ground in the yard.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shaping Worth Together

Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 4, 2008

The late Kenneth L. Patton, a staunch Humanist preacher, poet, and hymnist, wrote these words, which I feel are a fitting beginning for our time together today:

Let us worship with our eyes and ears and fingertips;
let us love the world through heart and mind and body.
We feed our eyes upon the mystery and revelation
in the faces of our brothers and sisters.
We seek to know the wistfulness of the very young
and the very old,
the wistfulness of people in all times of life.
We seek to understand the shyness behind arrogance,
the fear behind pride,
the tenderness behind clumsy strength,
the anguish behind cruelty.
All life flows into a great common life,
if we will only open our eyes to our companions.
Let us worship, not in bowing down,
not with closed eyes and stopped ears.
Let us worship with the opening of all the windows of our beings,
with the full outstretching of our spirits.
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,
to those who have fallen in love with life.
Let us worship, and let us learn to love.

The word “worship” is scary for lots of Unitarian Universalists, evoking as it does the idea of adoration of a deity. And that is one definition of the word “worship”. It’s just not the one we use.

It can also mean rituals of reverence and praise and it can mean ardor or passion toward another person. These are all legitimate definitions of the word “worship”. Again, they are not the definitions we Unitarian Universalists generally use when we think about worship.

No, we tend to go back to the original language, the Old English, the combination of two ancient words, “weorth” and “schippe”. One word means worthiness and the other means to shape. What we UUs usually mean by the word worship is “to shape that which is worthy”, to take note of, to treasure, to think about, to share that which is worthy.

I’ve always liked this way of defining the term worship. For me, it goes beyond what is normally meant and expands its meaning beyond deity, beyond prescribed adoration, beyond personal preference.

My own experiences with worship, with shaping worth together, have been as varied as yours may have been, beginning in my Baptist childhood with a pretty conservative rehashing of ancient King James Version Bible passages, interspersed with some great hymn singing, an occasional communion service, and long prayers.

When I first walked into a Unitarian Universalist sanctuary for worship, my experience was rather different, though it was still pretty much the same format, with much better preaching, meditation instead of a long pastoral prayer, and hymns whose words seemed more in line with my thinking though without the energy my Baptist pals had mustered.

As I got more accustomed to the differences between the Baptist worship services of my youth and my Unitarian Universalist experiences with worship, I started to develop ideas of my own about how things should go.

As a member of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado for almost 25 years, I had my gripes. Gosh, I’d think, this preacher sure is boring, or, over my head, or too flip, or looks weird. Gee, the choir sure sounded flat. Boy, I wish my neighbor wouldn’t talk during the prelude. And, I like Joys and Concerns but does it HAVE TO go so long? I had my complaints, for sure.

And then I had a remarkable two by four between the eyes. After I had given a short homily one Sunday as a member of the Committee on Ministry, our minister Robert Latham got up in the pulpit, turned to me, and said, “Kit, you missed your calling. You ought to be a minister.”

And Sunday worship began to take on a whole new meaning for me. As a congregation leader and potential seminary student, I was invited to go to the district’s Leadership School, where I began to learn about what worship means. I learned the idea of “shaping worth together”. I had a chance to share my own ideas about what was worshipful and what was not.

I learned that my gripes were common gripes but that they really weren’t getting at the heart of worship. That is, what I disliked often meant something entirely different to someone else.

My boring or too intellectual preacher was a source of wonderful stimulation to someone else. Another person appreciated the hours of work that went into a choral performance and forgave all the flat notes. For every gripe of mine, there was a response that helped me see that my worship experience was not just about me and my preferences, that other worshippers needed something different.

The Rev. Barbara Hamilton Holway, our teacher for Worship Arts at Leadership School, told us all that in corporate worship----and that means when we all come together in the same place to experience the same hour of meaning and value----in corporate worship, we have a chance to receive several different gifts of worship

There’s the gift of silence for those who crave a contemplative time. There’s the gift of the spoken word for those who learn by listening. There’s the gift of singing together for those who love to be part of voices raised in song. There’s the gift of poetry or artistic expression for those whose reverence is inspired by creativity.

There’s the gift of the responsive word for those who love to speak aloud the beautiful words of others. There’s the gift of the joys and concerns of the gathered community for those whose love and care for friends and neighbors is at their essence. There’s the gift of laughter for those whose spirits need a lift and the gift of solemnity for those who are in a serious place.

And so, Barbara reminded us, when we are in worship together, every element may not serve us individually perfectly. But a UU worship service is designed to offer the many gifts of worship to the great variety of people who gather there, and what is not meaningful and worshipful to me is very possibly deeply meaningful and worshipful to the person sitting beside me.

When I started seminary, I was immersed in an interfaith stew of fellow students and learned to appreciate the many gifts of Christian worship, and of worship with a pagan flair or in the contemplative style of Buddhism, and found great meaning in some elements and less in others. When a fellow student griped about some less-than-meaningful-to-him element, I was able to share my mentor’s teachings.

But I continued to be a little bit frustrated by my experiences in corporate worship. Some of this was because I was in seminary and attuned to critiquing what I saw being presented in worship. Some of it was because worship wasn’t well-conducted. But somehow even JUC’s high quality worship services didn’t always inspire me.

And then I came to the point in my training where I had to qualify for inclusion in the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, by jumping through the credentialing hoops of a committee called the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the dreaded MFC.

I’d read everything on the reading list, I’d done all the seminary work, gotten good grades, high evaluations on my chaplaincy training and my internship. I figured I was probably THE best candidate ever to arrive before the MFC----secretly, of course, I was scared to death. So I did what I often do when I’m scared and that is come across extra strong.

After my half hour interview with the MFC, I went out to the lobby of the hotel where we were being interviewed to wait for them to decide and call me back in. And I waited and waited and waited. Finally, after almost an hour, a wait which was a lot longer than most other candidates had endured, somebody came to get me.

My heart was pounding. What did the delay mean? I sat down in my appointed seat and the chair of the committee said to me, “Kit, we’re giving you a rating of 2, not a 1. 2 is a passing rating, but we think you’re way too intense to be easily accepted by a Search committee or a typical congregation. We want you to spend your final seminary year with a Spiritual Director before you are qualified for Preliminary Fellowship.”

Well! I was polite. I didn’t scream out my defensive objections. I thanked them sweetly and went out silently fuming. Intense? Me? I saw the rating of a 2 and the assignment of a contingency to be completed, as failure. I was unable to see anything positive in having gotten anything less than a great big gold star!

Fortunately the years I spent in 12 step work were invaluable to me, as I cooled down later and got over my sense of embarrassment at having been less than a perfect student, I could acknowledge that yes, I am intense, I am strong-willed, I am even egotistical at times. And maybe Spiritual Direction wouldn’t be so bad.

For those who are not familiar with the term, Spiritual Direction is simply the undertaking of a spiritual search with a companion who is trained to guide another person through the common spiritual questions and dilemmas of life. It’s a bit like counseling, but it’s spirit-oriented, not goal-oriented.

So I hunted up a Spiritual Director. Her name was Ann and she agreed to meet with me for a year, during my senior year in seminary. At our first visit, she asked me to think about what spiritual practice I would like to develop.

That was in September of 1998, ten years ago, and when I chose to develop a prayer life, with Ann’s help, I never dreamed what effect it would have on my spiritual development, and, in fact, on my ability to find meaning in ordinary human experiences of all kinds. It changed my perspective and my life.

My colleague the Rev. Susan Maginn, of Wy’east UU Congregation in Portland, has written: “There is a pretty profound relationship between…(having a spiritual practice and coming to worship services.)

“In our personal spiritual practice, we are able to go into the quiet of our being and meet our own personal needs for engaging the spirit. We all have our own ways of developing our spiritual maturity. For some of us spiritual practice is expressive - in art, music, writing, hiking in the woods.

“For some of us it is more contemplative – prayer, meditation or memorizing poetry. We choose a practice that is our holy task. We regularly set aside holy time to make it so.

“When we come together for Sunday worship, we are doing something different. My hope is that our spirits will certainly be enriched by our Sunday worship services, but this time is not personal spiritual practice. It is an expression of our shared path. We are a people who are bound together by a covenant to walk in the ways of love. Worship is a celebration of this.

“When we do one without the other, our spiritual needs will not be met. If all we do is personal spiritual practice, we will be missing the sacred community. If all we do is community worship, then we will be asking the community worship to meet our very personal needs, which community worship is not designed to do. A new member of ..this congregation… described this eloquently. She said, ‘One goes deep, while the other goes wide’.”

And this is what I learned from developing a personal spiritual practice: that focusing on my own spiritual life in a regular, conscientious way helped me find meaning in every worship service I attended, whether it was well-done or not, whether it met my individual need that day or not, whether the choir was great or the preacher was boring.

It was no longer just about my needs, for my individual spiritual needs were being met by my personal spiritual practice. Being together in worship was about being part of a loving community as the community experienced a loving time together.

Last week, our guest preacher, the Rev. James Kubal-Komoto spoke to us about “how to become a more spiritual person in 15 minutes a day”. Do you remember what he told us about the four elements of spiritual living? Let’s remind ourselves of them. James spoke about integrating four attitudes or behaviors into our daily lives.

He spoke about compassion and kindness, how much more deepening is an attitude of care for other human beings than is an attitude of criticism. That was the first thing he suggested: compassion and kindness.

The second thing was gratitude, the ability to be thankful for what we have in life instead of wanting more and more and more stuff or money.

The third was acceptance, and he used the Serenity Prayer as an example: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

And the fourth was faithfulness, faithfulness to our values, faithfulness to a life of integrity and commitment.

A personal spiritual practice brings these elements of spirituality into our daily lives. You may find your deepest yearnings satisfied by time in the woods or on the water or in your garden; you may find it listening to music or creating something beautiful; you may find it in silence and meditation. You may find it, as I did, in a daily prayer time.

I’m certainly not advocating that you should all do any one thing I suggest, as a spiritual practice. I can suggest things all I want---that’s the freedom of the pulpit! But you have the right to disagree or to choose your own path---that’s the freedom of the pew! A very important freedom in UUism.

But I would like to suggest strongly that in order to get the very most possible out of any worship service, any time of corporate worship, whether it’s here or down the road at a more conservative church, that each of us should have a personal spiritual practice, a time in which we think about and focus on such attributes as compassion, gratitude, acceptance, and faithfulness.

One of the remarkable things that I have gained from my daily prayer time is an ability to feel a kinship with even those religious folks who are on the other end of the religious spectrum from me: compassion and understanding for how important their faith and their own practices are to them; gratitude for having found my own path which resonates for me so well; acceptance that this is who they are and that their paths are right for them, at this time in their lives, as are mine; and then faithfulness to my own values and a commitment to continue to work for those values in the world.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to my ministerial colleagues about my own spiritual journey, my odyssey, a privilege which most ministers in our district receive once or so during their career. I spoke to them for about an hour about my life and then asked if anyone had questions.

During the Q and A period, one colleague raised her hand and asked, “Kit, where does your spirit of “happy positivity” come from?” She went on to say that this was her experience of me, that not much got me down very permanently, that I seemed to be able to grow and rise above fairly negative experiences.

I pondered that for a moment, surprised by the question as I certainly have my down times, my low energy, depressive moments, but I realized, and answered her thus, that I had faked it for a long time, for many years of my life, and that it had shifted in the past twenty years or so because of my experiences in such programs as AlAnon and my regular prayer practice.

Without these two discoveries in my life, I think I would still be faking it, not wanting to reveal myself too much, afraid that others would critize. And it was learning about myself through 12-step work and prayer that gave me the courage to be truly myself, to survive the low blows that life always delivers.

As we think about our worship times together, our corporate worship, and plan how to make these times even better when we move into our own sanctuary, filled with our own symbols and a deeper sense of our own identity as a congregation, I hope that each of us will consider how we might deepen our personal spiritual lives, whether by disciplined repetition of a practice like meditation or prayer, whether by time spent creating beauty out of the earth or fabric or paint or music or words, whether by contributing to the wellbeing of our community by service to others or by spending time in nature or in reading poetry.

I’m not sure it matters just what we choose as a spiritual practice, just that it must invite us daily into deeper consideration of our own relationship to ourselves, to other beings, and to the earth on which we live. When we are able to set aside worries and anxieties for a time and focus on who we are and what we may become through a personal spiritual practice, we deepen our own lives and give ourselves more “worth” to shape when we come together as a community. In addition, we will have more to share with the community beyond our walls.

It is my prayer that we each may find within ourselves that wellspring of compassion, gratitude, acceptance, and faithfulness, and that we will bring a renewed vision of worship to our times together, as we grow and prosper as a congregation.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

Hymn #318 “We Would Be One”

BENEDICTION; Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that our own spiritual lives are enriched and deepened by the personal spiritual practices which we undertake. May we recognize their value to our life together in this Beloved Community and may we come each week with joy and anticipation of our time together here. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Corporate Worship and Personal Spiritual Practice

The quest for a deeper spiritual life often draws people into faith communities, be they Christian, Pagan, Buddhist, Unitarian Universalist, whatever. And I have often listened to people express their frustration that the worship services they commonly attend or occasionally visit don't meet their spiritual needs.

Maybe it's the use of uncomfortable religious language, maybe it's that people talk during the prelude, maybe it's the wording of the hymns or the cadence of the hymns or the unfamiliarity of the hymns, maybe it's a preacher who isn't intellectual enough or too intellectual, maybe it's perceived hypocrisy on the part of the members of the congregation. Or maybe it's something else.

This litany of complaints has always bothered me and I haven't known quite how to respond to it, outside of listening patiently. I understand completely that longing for spiritual nurture during corporate worship. I've been there...and I've come back again. I rarely feel that disconnect any more, even when I attend services that are much different from what I prefer. I couldn't think why that was, until recently.

The past few weeks have helped me sort out what has brought me to this place.

The kickoff event was our recent ministers' retreat, at which I was the honored Odyssian, the person who is invited to describe her/his life's spiritual journey, outlining the events in a life that has culminated in ministry. I had prepared for this moment for months, ever since I learned that I would be the presenter.

But even though I had done exactly what I had to do to prepare, I had not connected all the dots in my life until one questioner, at the end, asked me, "Kit, where does your spirit of 'happy positivity' come from?" The questioner went on to say that this was how she experienced me, usually cheerful and "up", resilient in the face of life's difficult challenges, and she wondered how I managed that.

It took me a moment to respond, which I did, rather incompletely, I'm afraid. But the question stayed with me and I've spent a good deal of time pondering a better answer.

The following Sunday, my friend and colleague James traded pulpits with me and his topic was "How to become a more spiritual person in 15 minutes a day". Because I preached at his church at 9:30 a.m. and our service is at 4 p.m., I was able to hear what he had to say. He emphasized the attributes of a fulfilling spiritual life as compassion, gratitude, acceptance, and faithfulness. And something clicked for me.

I thought back to another moment at our retreat when another friend and colleague told our small covenant group about the linkage she saw of personal spiritual practice and fulfilling corporate worship. I had asked her to send me the newsletter column she'd written about this idea, so I reread what she'd written.

And the puzzle piece fell into place for me: a regular spiritual practice which helps me focus on the qualities of a spiritual life (as in James' sermon) also helps me find nurture in corporate worship.

Many years ago, I discovered through AlAnon my own need for a regular spiritual practice. At that time, I used AlAnon meetings, work with my sponsor, and sponsoring others as a spiritual practice. It helped me stay on track emotionally and behaviorally, letting go of falseness in my outward presentation and being true to myself more freely.

When I went to seminary, I no longer regularly attended 12 step meetings. But in seminary I began to work with a spiritual director and covenanted with my SD to develop a spiritual practice. What I chose was prayer, that ancient practice which I had used cursorily as a child and almost never as an adult.

I began to pray nightly in 1998 and as I integrated prayer into my daily life, both in the evenings and during the day at moments of gratitude and need, I found my appreciation for all life increasing and my dissatisfaction with others lessening.

When I connected the dots, I could see that my beginning of a regular spiritual practice was also the beginning of a more honest and open me, a less critical me, a more accepting me, a more easily nourished me. This meant that I wasn't getting all my spiritual needs met by corporate worship; I was coming to worship already pretty well nourished and was free to treasure the sense of coming together with people I love, something I can't do by myself.

What my colleague said, in her column, was essentially that corporate worship is designed to meet the needs of the whole body of worshippers; it can't meet individual needs completely. Each worshipper's experience in a Sunday service will be more satisfying, more spiritual, if s/he has nurtured her/himself spiritually during the week with a personal spiritual practice.

So I've really learned something important about worship and spiritual practice. And I'm going to tell people tomorrow during the sermon about this wonderful gift. You'll get a chance to read it when I get it posted.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Little Warrior news

Little Warrior is in the thick of it these days. Yes, it was recurrent Wilms' tumor. Yes, she has had more surgery. She's in surgery today. Her mom, Lizard Eater, is blogging about it as often as she can. Read her thoughts at The Journey and please keep praying. Whatever you may believe about prayer, believe that it helps. It may bring about healing rather than a cure, but that too is an answer, and a good one. Of course, we hope for sudden miraculous cures, but the healing that comes from learning to live with a terrible, grievous situation is also priceless.

UPDATE: Little Warrior is out of surgery and home with her family tonight. Her surgery was to place a port so that chemo can be administered. Everybody's worn out, but they are home. Hallelujah!