Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder 12/24

It’s a beautiful Willamette Valley winter day – a mixture of rain and sun, dark clouds and blue sky, herons, rainbows, full and rushing rivers. The orbit of the earth shifted last night – the longest night – and we have entered into the time of lengthening days, tiny bit by tiny bit. It’s the height of the Christmas season – hustle and bustle sounds too calm to describe the traffic and crowds (and nothing can quite describe the amounts of “stuff” piled flowing out of stores into homes.) The old familiar story of Christmas is waiting to be told in just a few days.  As with all old familiar stories, there is much more to it than we assume. It is a gateway, a window into human needs and fears, triumphs and shortcomings still accurate after all these millenia.  

This year seems especially hard for allowing ourselves to enjoy holidays; to be joyful can feel like denying the truths of suffering and hardship which are so present in this world in danger from greed, power, and war, among other things. The danger is real, of course, and cannot be denied. And yet, and yet. The beauty of the turning earth cannot be denied either. The possibilities for love, for understanding and compassion, for letting go of entitlement, for reaching out to others, for being peacemakers and lovers and helpers and friends are always present – always present within us and between us. They are never far away. Even today, with all its complications, everywhere I go people are giving good wishes to others.  “Happy Holidays.” “Merry Christmas.” “Best wishes.”

The calendar of days will come to an end soon, and then we’ll begin again, as we always do. May we pause to give thanks for all the gifts of life as we are carried through the universe on this spinning earth. May we give good wishes, and have goodwill, for all we meet, including ourselves! May we renew our determination to be peacemakers, friends, companions and helpers, so to make this season of peace and goodwill real.  

For each and every one of you – may the days of this season be beautiful. I’m sending love to you all –    Jill


Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder, 12/15

In ancient Chinese practices, there was recognition that peace begins in the closest place – within each human heart and mind. “If there is to be in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the homes. If there is to be peace in the homes, there must be peace in the people.” This wisdom has been understood through generations in almost every culture, yet, we forget — we forget. Forgetting has become our cultural habit, distracted and limited as we are by stuff and ego, anxiety and fear. We should be careful, and thoughtful, about our words and deeds in this season of holidays. If we are going to sing about peace, we must first consider and contemplate how much peace we are nurturing in our own hearts, and how much peace we are creating in our relationships. If we are going to celebrate the balance of light and dark, day and night, we must consider and contemplate how well we move between the two – how much we understand the necessity of both. If we hope for the accomplishment of “goodwill to all” we have to start with our own families and neighborhoods.

Has it ever been harder to cultivate peace and goodwill? Perhaps not, and yet we are not the only humans to be alive amidst war and strife. Perhaps this is why the old admonishments feel so welcome, and so comforting. Once again, we are invited to begin again. May this then be our practice, our observance of the holidays and holy days, our celebration of the season: to find peace in the gift of every breath, to let that peace move through us and into the world as love and respect, as consideration for the well-being of all. Yes, it’s hard, yet nothing is more needed. May we hear the invitations, and may we begin again.

Sending love to you all in this season of great possibilities –   Jill

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder 12/10/2023

Can you imagine that each season, as it arrives, brings with it a welcome? A welcome to the world as it is, in this particular season, at this particular time. Can you imagine being welcomed into winter, for example. What might it look like and feel like to know yourself welcomed by winter?

We could start with the soft grayness of the sky and hills, especially after rain – a softness which doesn’t move one to cover their eyes, but to quiet just a little and breathe in the fresh moistness. And the clouds – the variable and moving clouds, especially those that settle in to hug the fields and the valleys between the hills, like blankets. The darkness of course, with its invitations to rest, to reflect, to contemplate, to sleep, to keep covers on for longer each morning. And the stars – when the clouds part in the night sky, and stars can be seen even through the bare branches of trees. And here in this valley, at the edges of hills and woods, owls, who converse around the neighborhood as night begins and as morning begins as well. Don’t forget the cold – the breath of the north, the bringer of snow and ice and their unique expressions of beauty.

Can we allow ourselves to feel this welcome, to be welcomed, a few times a day, and to understand the welcome as generosity – the generosity of the turning earth, of the waxing and waning seasons. A generosity of variety, of breadth and depth of life, of life beyond our expectations. And if we can imagine this welcoming generosity, then might we ourselves become part of the welcome, part of the generosity, as a practice of understanding what we are part of? The season offers us all of this. All that’s needed from us is to enter in, with gratitude. May we feel the welcome of winter as a season of generosity, and may we respond with generous hearts and minds to spread the welcome to all who are in need of it.

Between Us (December 2023)

December arrives, with its unique forms of busy-ness and expectations, and I invite you to give yourself time to contemplate this season from as many perspectives as you can. To contemplate means to observe deeply, with focused attention. Perhaps what I’m suggesting is something different – not merely to think about in order to categorize, but to feel – to know by feeling. Maybe ponder is a better word than contemplate. What is this season, for you? What makes a difference? Winter, darkness, lights, Christmas, Solstice, rain or snow, fog, solitude, celebrations, rest?

It is a season of holidays / holy days – each with particular insights to offer – Hannukah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Divali, and others. It is a season on this particular part of the earth – of rain and fog, sometimes of cold and ice, of geese and owls, of bare trees and mud, of creeks full and running fast. It is sadly, still, a season of struggle and strife, here and in so many other places. Of all these insights and occurrences, what nurtures you? What is hard for you? What helps you remember what you are part of?

There’s lots of talk about giving, of course – especially from those who depend on this season to make as much money as they can. “Give our things” they say, and we too easily believe that consumerism is a source of happiness. We know the limits of that habit. What if we could make this a season of generosity more than just of “giving”?

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder

November was designated as Native American Heritage Month in 1990, by President George HW Bush. Since then, have you ever set aside time in November to learn more of the true stories of Native Americans? Of the relations between Native Americans and colonialist settlers which many historians and others refer to as genocide? The story of what we call Thanksgiving Day includes much more violence and bloodshed than what most of us learned in elementary school. And if you are White, have you learned anything about the varied perspectives of Black Americans on this holiday – including that Blacks and Native Americans were excluded from it? From our UU’s for Justice newsletter in 2022: “We do not need the false “pilgrims and Indians” narrative, that illusion of past unity, to actually unite people. Instead, we can focus simply on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity, and gratitude. (From Sean Sherman, founder and CEO of The Sioux Chef and the author of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.) For daily practice, while it’s still November, may we help ourselves to learn more, and focus on how we can add to togetherness, generosity and gratitude. 

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder 11/19/2023

In March 2020, when the COVID pandemic required us to radically alter our family and community connections, at the Fellowship we undertook a daily practice of cultivating inner nobility and steadiness. The needs and aims were many: including to help decrease worry and anxiety, to increase our ability to acknowledge and accept new ways of doing things, to encourage ourselves and each other to recognize different ways of staying connected, to help ourselves and each other find courage and strength when we felt too fragile or unbalanced. Of course things have changed since March 2020 – at the very least we are no longer in the midst of the global pandemic. Yet in some ways things have not changed – we are certainly still in the midst of global change – physically, socially, emotionally, and more. To practice cultivating inner nobility and steadiness remains a high calling, and a daily opportunity. Is the world we are living in any less challenging than it was in 2020? It doesn’t feel that way. Inner nobility and steadiness have never been more important than now.

What is inner nobility? Here are some ideas: It is the ability to consider the well-being of others in the same way we consider our own well-being. Or, love your neighbor as yourself. It is a capacity to not take everything personally, and to understand ourselves as irrevocably part of a wide and deep network of relations. It is the ability to approach others with loving kindness first. And how do we practice steadiness? Remember what it feels like to be in a boat which rocks. The first instinct is not to tell someone to “stop rocking the boat!”; the first instinct is to add more hand-holds, or rearrange one’s body to move with the rocking. That is, to quickly see the way things are, and adjust in all possible ways.

May we continue to learn, may we continue to practice – may we continue to cultivate inner nobility and steadiness.

“Transgender Day of Remembrance”

Gender and Sexual Diversity Justice Team: Michelle Shouse, Patricia Parcells, Becca Bedell, Rachel Kohler, Rev. Jill McAllister

In Unitarian Universalism, freedom means the freedom of each individual to claim their own identity – to not be defined by others or social norms. Transgender people find this freedom hard to come by in most places – indeed many parts of our wider community are dangerous for trans folks. How can we as a congregation help provide more safety and support for all? 

“Tending Our Grief, Opening to Gratitude”

Rev. Jill McAllister and Susan Sanford

As strange as it may sound, grieving does not necessarily come to us naturally. And, culturally for most of us, it has not been well-modeled or taught. We need each other in order to learn how to tend to our grief, to practice, and to learn to carry it. When we can’t tend to our grief, our capacity for joy and happiness is too often diminished. What can we learn, and how can we help each other?

Interdependence is Everything 11/5/2023

We’re continuing a series of Sundays focusing on values identified by thousands of UUs as  central to who we are and strive to be now as we move into the future. We’ve considered  love, transformation and pluralism. This week we’ll consider interdependence, which, before it can be considered as a value, must be understood as a fact of life – biologically,  ecologically, and spiritually. Join us!

Between Us (November 2023)

It is a challenge to be present to the world – a challenge to be willing to acknowledge all that feels frightening and dangerous. If some years ago many of us felt successful and safe in the world, and deserving of it, we do not have that luxury now. We know more, we’ve seen more, we’ve learned more about what is true. As Unitarian Universalists, that has long been our aim – to see and learn more truth. This is not an exercise in intellectual posturing, though sometimes we have been mistaken in that direction.

We’re working with the theme, “Building A New Way,” this year – because we must! If it were only climate change we were facing, it would be immoral to not change the ways we live and interact with everything and everyone else. As we all know, there is more.

I’ll admit, the amount of change which is happening, and the amount which is needed, is daunting, and often, I feel discouraged. Here at the Fellowship, it can feel dizzying: folks who’ve been here a long time miss the way (they think) things were and wonder who will carry on when they are too tired to do everything, while folks who are new wonder what is going on, how to find out, what are the requirements, and where is the calendar of events?

I try to remind myself, every day, that this is exactly what change looks and feels like! We are in fact changing, and that is very good news. But it’s unsettling. Of course it is. I want to remind all of you of this as well. We need to be able to step back from our wonders, worries and concerns, and help ourselves and each other recognize that we have set off from whatever shore (and assumptions) we may have stood on, and now we are in the currents, together.

Together is the most important thing. When faced with this kind of unsettledness (which is increased by all the anxiety we piled up during the pandemic) we too often resort to finding others to blame for our frustrations and fears – the elders, the younger, the new ones, the old ones, etc.

For these times we need as much openness as possible, as much willingness to learn as possible, as much loving-kindness as possible. We need folks who are willing and able to listen and lead and guide for the good of all. We need to help one another live into our covenant of right relations. The future is unfolding between us – may we stay focused on our highest ideals!