Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder

Autumn is a season of amazing contrasts. One could spend much of a day simply watching the sky. The colors of the clouds – from white to gray-brown to gray to dark deep blue-gray – all can be present at the same time. And when sunlight illumines red and yellow trees against the dark clouds – it is often breathtakingly beautiful. From cool rainy days to hot sunny days, as trees seem to turn colors overnight. Not to mention the sun on the trees against the clouds, which sometimes quickly turns to hail, which turns to sheets of rain, which eventually becomes a drizzle.

‘There is a deep kindness at the heart of everything,’ wrote John O’Donohue. I love that idea, yet the contrast with what seems like immense destructiveness – a collective insanity, a growing instability – is stark. I remind myself of the ying-yang symbol of Daoism, which illustrates the constant presence of and movement between dark and light, life and death, evil and good – all always present and interwoven.

Every day is unique; its unfolding cannot be slowed nor can its path be predicted. And, we always have the choice to begin again, to be open to the unfolding, to let ourselves be carried and to bring our best selves and highest ideals to whatever comes our way. And so may we greet each day: the clouds, the rain, the light, the colors, the beauty, the presence of evil and good. May we be thankful for the breath which is given to us again and again.

Not So Like-Minded After All

It’s not uncommon for UU’s to note that they like being part of a congregation because they’re among “like-minded” people. It turns out, the more we learn about how brains function, and the more we listen to people instead of making assumptions about them, we’re not very like minded at all! What, then, do we offer one another for our religious lives?

9-24-2023, Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder

Rain Meditation

I’ve been traveling with family this week, and this morning we woke up to rain. As I paused to listen to the gentle, steady drizzling, and to breathe in and feel the day begin, the listening became its own kind of morning prayer. Do you ever hear or feel a prayer as you begin a day? What words do you say, to yourself, to the day? Or do you enter into quiet, into silence, without words? It makes a difference how we begin, whether or not we make a space, a way, some time to rest our minds from constant grappling and explaining. Whether or not we open the edges of the stories we tell about the way things are within us and around us, to let more in.

One of my teachers says that spiritual growth, or becoming wise, is a process of discovering at your core a story that can hold all the other stories. A foundation that makes room for everything that comes your way, for everything that is. In that place, that story, vulnerability and courage are the same thing. Courage is not simply the energy or power to defend our expectations or habits or “knowledge.” Courage is the ability to keep the doors of our minds and hearts open, to change direction, to leave things behind and keep moving, even – or especially – if we are mourning as we go. “What would it be like to wake into our bodies, our relationships and our work as if seeing them for the first time?”, the teacher asks. Yesterday there was sorrow and joy; today there is sorrow and joy – but today we are not the same as we were yesterday. Nothing is the same.

This is a daily practice – to find ways and time to open ourselves and our stories to the way things truly are. To be willing to be lived by pain and sorrow and fear in all the ways we are willing to be lived by happiness and love and joy. To move as life moves, in us and around us. For the days of this week I wish for you, and for me, the gift of of opening to the day, beginning with breath, and with thanks. Sending love to you all — Jill

Between Us (September 2023)

September arrives and soon we’ll begin a new Fellowship year. First, however, we’ll take a small break in the usual routine of Sunday services – a Sunday off, a chance to intentionally pause, a chance perhaps to consider and mull: what does this routine mean to me? What is it for? Whom is it for? The Fellowship is many things and includes many things, yet at its heart it is a worshiping community – which means at the very least that it is a gathering of people who are committed to a shared endeavor, a shared religious life. If you’re simply in the habit of attending, I invite you to take this time to consider what it means to you to be part of this worshiping community.

Our theme for the coming year will be “Building A New Way.” Whether we had decided to be aware of that need or not, the call to build new ways of being together, of being in the world, of sharing and caring, of searching for meaning, of building deep connections, of inspiring action – the call to build new ways is clarion. The world has changed, is changing, is in need of change – and we are part of the world.

Some of the areas we’ll continue to work on are living in a climate crisis, learning to understand and dismantle systems of oppression – racism in particular, how to be welcoming and inclusive, generational differences and bridges, and what religious and spiritual practices can help us in this work. Some of the new areas we’ll explore include leadership for now and the future, and especially leadership for the life and work of the Fellowship.

Enjoy this small break, use it well, and come again on September 10 ready to joyfully begin again, sharing the work and the beauty of being the UU Fellowship of Corvallis.

Between Us (August 2023)

Church attendance in the US has been in decline for decades.  A recent article by Isabel Fattal notes that this “great dechurching” seems to be driven to a small extent by a long history of corruption and abuse within religious organizations, but even more by current American culture and priorities.  According to Jake Meador, editor-in-chief of the quarterly magazine “Mere Orthodoxy,” “contemporary America simply isn’t set up to promote mutuality, care or common life.”

Here at the Fellowship, in May we approved a new Covenant of Right Relations which aims at precisely those values – the nurturing of mutuality, care and common life – including specific needed skills and practices, such as engaging respectfully, listening deeply and clarifying misunderstandings. Now we need to make that covenant real and alive, between us, by practicing these skills with each other as often as we can.

Beginning in September, our theme for the year will be “Building a New Way.”  So much within the Fellowship which was lost during the pandemic still needs to be rebuilt, and we can’t re-build structures that are now outdated. We have to pay close attention to  the negative effects of current American culture and priorities, plus the long-standing obstacles of patriarchy, racism, sexism and so much more, and do better. Here, between us in this congregation, we aim for better ways of being together, so that all may feel safe and respected as we each pursue the journey of a religious life.

Have you had a chance to meet someone new here this summer? Have you practiced listening deeply to someone else’s story, or clarifying a misunderstanding? August is a great time to do so, as is every other month! I don’t remember who said, “Be the change you wish to see,” but it’s still worth trying. May we reach out to each other with compassion and love.

Daily Practice: A Weekly Reminder

Daily spiritual practice is a way to stay alert to how things truly are, to find sources of wisdom and strength, to let go of what does not serve us, and more.  Here is a new iteration of my daily practice writings – a once-a-week reminder to maintain your own practice. I’ll begin with a new version of a piece I wrote a few summers ago – it still has much to consider:

“We were talking about loss as we walked this morning. About changes in how we work and what is needed now and what to do with feelings of inadequacy. Perhaps these are just small feelings compared to losses of life and housing and jobs, losses of connections to others and daily support from friends and family, losses of habitat and species and wilderness in the world. Nevertheless, they are feelings which shape how we move into the day, and how we face all the other losses and changes.

I have great hope for the future because of how much is changing right now.  And I know for certain that these changes include many, many losses.  This too is part of my daily practice;  to name some of the losses of life and beauty and things I thought I could depend on.  To acknowledge the sorrow and fear, and the challenge of finding new ways to live.  As I breathe in and out,  I let these feelings be present. Sadness and joy move in me and around me, while the breath is steady. Life is moving and changing and also breathing through me in every moment – therefore I am moving and changing. I give thanks for another day given.”  

Sending love to you all – Jill

Between Us (July 2023)

My friends – all you who are members and friends of the UUFC – I’m thinking of you today. This is not a special day, not a holiday, but I’m thinking of you.  Because you, like me, are alive in this world, and there are so many challenges in this living.  There is beauty, and love and insight and compassion.  And there are so many challenges.

I’m reflecting on things I learned at the UUA General Assembly, and on the old understandings of the 4th of July which are outdated, and on the fact of how much danger some people are in from war, and politics, and other people.  And on the facts of climate change and the chaos and the realities of how the changes are affecting us all. 

In the summer months, I always try to spend more time in reflection – on the state of the world, on the state of the congregation, on the state of my energies, and on the needs among us that we call ministry.  I am greatly buoyed at the moment by the upwelling of new and needed relationships, ideas, and goals within the Fellowship.  I am heartened by movements within our UUA – toward more inclusiveness, and more acknowledgement of inequality.  I am inspired by visions of a future which build on the past, but keep us moving forward. 

In these summer months I invite you to reflect as well.  Reflect on how you are related to the Fellowship – to people and programs and visions.  Reflect on where you are uncomfortable – which may be just where you are ready to learn more.  Reflect on how you can add to the store of wisdom and compassion and strength among us.  And most of all – keep coming, keep connecting, keep meeting people, and keep learning.  This committed community which we share is a precious resource, which depends upon, and helps, all of us.   Jill

Daily Practice, June 30th, 2023

Good morning friends – Between our house and the neighbor’s there are ten Douglas Firs and one small redwood.  A very small forest that we share and enjoy. This morning I watched awhile (breathing in the beautiful perfume of those firs) as the rising sun lit one side of the highest branches, and turned them a golden green. Meanwhile, a convention of crows was gathering in the field, then flying to high branches and back.  Once again the morning sky is bright and clear – this particular summer day,  another chance to be alive and thankful. 

On this last day of June we begin again, just as we are called to do every day. We are called to wake up from our assumptions and opinions into appreciation of the miracles of life.  We are called to be aware of the breath which makes us alive.  We are called to recommit to a path of compassion and peace, to create more justice, to choose to bless the world, knowing how blessed we are. 

A prayer for today, to encourage us to choose this path once again:  “Blessing of Hope”  by Jan Richardson.

“So may we know that hope that is not just for someday but for this day—here, now, in this moment that opens to us:

Hope not made of wishes but of substance, hope made of sinew and muscle and bone, hope that has breath and a beating heart, hope that will not keep quiet and be polite, hope that knows how to holler when it is called for, hope that knows how to sing when there seems little cause, hope that raises us from the dead—

Not someday, but this day, every day, again and again and again.”

Jan Richardson

Thank-you to all of you for being part of this circle of practice!  Next week Daily Practice will  transition to the UUFC website, where I’ll post it at least once a week, maybe twice sometimes.  More information about how to find it will be coming.  Until then, and always, I’m sending love to you all!     Jill

Daily Practice (6-20-23)

Good morning friends — I’m reading a collection of poems titled “How To Love The World” (James Crews). The title itself has become my daily practice for now. It is one of the essential religious questions, at the edge of learning and growth. It seems that the more we know, or think we know, the harder it is to love the world. The “facts” are not very encouraging. 

Buddhist teachings have addressed this question for centuries. They teach that what we call the ego – a major part of how we interact with and interpret the world – is biased according to its own needs. The ego in each of us interprets information to satisfy its limited needs and ignores everything else. This “ignorance” is the source of our suffering, they say, and suffering makes it hard to love the world. It takes a courageous outlook to “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.”  

I’m learning that daily practice is simply a way to try to love the world, every day, over and over again. It is a way to step aside from the ego, a little bit (though whether or not we are ever successful at that I do not know), and let ourselves be present to what is true and real in the moment, starting with breath, air, light, sky, earth, living and dying. Most days, I don’t have a good answer for how to love the world, but almost every day I am convinced that it is worth trying, worth the effort. And I’m pretty sure it can only be done by loving one thing at a time – one thing, and then another, and then perhaps another.  Here in this small part of earth, where clouds move over the hills and the air is cool, I begin again by sending love to you all —  Jill

Minister’s Welcome

Welcome to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, a liberal religious congregation that has played an important part in this community for more than 60 years. Our religious tradition is more than 400 years old, dating back to the time of the protestant reformation in Europe.

Unitarianism and Universalism were two varieties of liberal Christianity, evolving over centuries, primarily in Europe and North America. By the time the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America merged in 1961 to become the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations of North America, (the UUA) our religious perspectives had expanded to include wisdom and teachings from all world religions, from science and humanism, art and mysticism, and much more. The UU Fellowship of Corvallis is still a member congregation of the UUA, and we still offer a broad and open approach to religious belief and practice.

Rev. Jill McAllister

The liberal tradition we uphold is best defined as an ongoing movement toward religious freedom, reason in religion, and the embrace of diversity in religious belief and practice.  We are a community held together not by beliefs or creeds, but by these shared values of freedom, reason, and tolerance. We are a caring community, helping each other navigate the realities of life. We are a community of seekers; knowing there is always more to learn and understand, we explore many ideas, philosophies, perspectives and modes of worship and spiritual growth.  We are a pluralistic congregation, dedicated to inclusivity and justice. Each individual is encouraged to aim toward these values and we are all called to live in right relations. We are a welcoming congregation, honoring the diversity of beliefs, practices and lifestyles among us. We are an active multi-generational congregation, working together in all the ways we can to increase justice and compassion in the world. We bring our whole lives, and together we face the realities of birth and death, sorrow and joy, sickness and health, knowing and not knowing. This is what it means to be religious. This is what it means to be Unitarian Universalists. We hope you’ll join us.