Centering for Worship Dee Beacham
The largest bead in the Prayer Bead Practice is the Centering Bead. It provides a way into the prayer journey. To start the journey, one can start the practice by reciting a passage of scripture that centers you, or read a poem or sing a song. This practice uses the image of a journey, one form of prayer moving into the next.
The poem today is by Mary Oliver, called When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
Into the world to do this, go easy, to be filled
with light and to shine.”
Entering Rev. Denis
A little bird told me today is a numerical
Palindrome. Same forward & backward
And it’s the 33rd day. Because it’s leap year, 333 remaining.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, so I’m sure San Francisco and Kansas City are taking the numerics as a lucky sign.
And it’s the first Sunday, when we collect food for our neighbors in need. This month, your offering of non perishable food items, toiletries, or cash will go to the open pantry at Old South UCC church in Kirtland.
Naming Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
A few weeks ago, I noticed something. A few people in our congregation said things to me separately that were all variations on a theme. They talked about engaging in spiritual practices at home, alone, knowing that such practices increase resilience and compassion, both tools they find necessary for doing the work they do out in the world. They all talked about feeling disconnected as they do it. Or about feeling like they’ve made it up as they’ve gone along, knowing that there is no “standard” Unitarian Universalist prayer practice. A couple even talked about feeling like they were poaching practices from traditions that weren’t their own.
These conversations, which all took place within the course of just a few weeks got me thinking, so I went back and asked them if they’d be willing to take part in a regular Prayer Circle, saying it could be a way of recharging our spiritual batteries together and creating practices that will help UU’s feel more connected to something larger than ourselves. The practice could have the benefit of connecting us to each other and UUs, but also to people around the world who pray as part of every day.
The thing we all know is that the way to change the world is to change yourself, so in a way, this could be our gift to the world. Taking part in this together, so that we can all be better in our lives and our jobs as peace makers and justice makers could be small gift that to make a big difference in ourselves and the world.
Prayer can be a gift both to ourselves and world.
I thought using prayer bead as the foundation of the practice. Rev. Erik Walker Wikstrom, who was then the curator of the online worship resources for our Unitarian Universalist Association, wrote a book called Simply Pray, in which he looked at different kinds of prayers across faiths and cultures, and broke them down into different types of rote and meditative prayers, and come up with a practice that uses a standard set of beads to help keep track of them.
I told Jessie Jones about them, and she suggested, based on her own experience in groups, that we could really engrain the practice as shared by doing it together every day for a week, then once a week for a month, then once a month for a year. I proposed meeting, in the morning before everyone headed off to work.
On that cold morning of January 8, it was 54 degrees in the chapel when I arrived at 5:45 to make coffee and turn on the heat. Amazingly, 14 people showed up, and we were joined live online by another 8 people. And everyone has stuck with it, gratefully. In fact, others joined us along the way, and on our 8th consecutive morning, nearly everyone expressed sadness at not continuing to meet daily. Everyone has practiced alone.
A few people in the congregation have asked me “How is this prayer UU?”
That makes sense to me. After all, we have defined ourselves for generations as being a community that is set apart from other faiths by being the one that doesn’t engage in rote prayer and tired ritual. Many have declared both of those things to be meaningless.
When I was a kid the first 3 prayers I learned were rote prayers, to be memorized. The ones we called the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary” weren’t the kinds of prayers I went to for spiritual sustenance. They were meted out as punishment after confession.
I also learned to kneel at my bedside, put my hands together and recite “Now I lay me down to sleep. Pray the Lord my would to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my would to take.”
As an adult, I don’t by into that theology at all. I don’t see God as working like that, scaring children with the threat of hell and rewarding only some with heaven.
The prayers we do in our circle aren’t like that.
As we do on Sunday, we begin and end with Chalice lighting and benediction.
The main event in our prayer is four different kinds of meditation Rev. Wikstrom calls Naming, Knowing, Listening and Loving, when we sit together in silence.
In between we do short, repetitive prayers.
I want to be clear here. Our prayers aren’t plaintive. They aren’t addressed to a God, with the expectation that by asking, God will fix anything for us. Most of us don’t really believe in a God that functions in that way. But we’re UUs, so we know that some of us might. And we make space for that.
The point of the breath prayers, the repetitive, rote prayers between meditations, is to re-center us, to end one kind of meditation and help us get ready to set our intentions for the next meditation.
Today, we’re going to show you all what we do, and let you experience it a little, and we’ll even explain to you some of the intentions we set for ourselves when we prayer, together in a group, or at home on our own, so you can see for yourselves just how UU this practice is.
Our first meditation is Naming, which is very similar to our joys and cares.
When you came in, you had a chance to take a stone from the bowl at the top of the aisle. If you didn’t, feel free to do so now. Hold on to that stone, as we engage in Naming, a litany of gratitude.
It’s a mental listing of things that we are grateful for. Personally, I always start all four my meditations the same way, by connecting to people all over the world who take time in their day to pray, using various names for the creative energy of the universe that some people - including our Unitarian and Universalist forebears — have called God.
You can close your eyes if you’re comfortable.
I start with “Eternal Spirit. Earth-maker, Pain-Bearer, Live-giver. Source of all that is and that shall be. Parents and ancestors of us all. Loving God, in whom is heaven.”
Our lives are full of blessings, and it’s always good to be mindful of them, especially during trying times. I invite you imagine those blessings.
Start with your body. It may give you aches or pains or other problems, but what about it is good? What about your body functions well and serves you? Your mind? Your heart? Your lungs? Your limbs?
Now, imagine your family, the people you live with now, and the people you spent your youth with. Your parents, your children, you aunts and uncles. Who among them bring you joy and a sense of connection to the great all?
What about your friends? Who are the people you are happiest to spend time with, the friends who love you enough to support you when you need it, and tell you the truth when nobody else will?
And the places where you spend your time.... at work. Volunteering. Exercising. Playing. Worshiping.
Now thing about the resources you have that you appreciate. The food on your table. The money in your bank account. Your house, your car, your bike. The electronics that keep you connected and entertained.
Maybe there’s something specific you are thinking about this morning, a gratitude or hope for yourself or someone else.
This morning, in our Joys and Cares book, we learn that Terry Prosek, Ron Prosek’s mother, fell and broke her hip. She is in the hospital, awaiting surgery. Ron is with her now. Doctors are confident she will recover well.
Let’s now observe a minute of silence, as we will for all of our meditations.
[One minute of silence. Chime the singing bowl.]
Now let’s sing the children to their classes with the first verse of hymn #1008, When Our Heart is In A Holy Place. The choir will sing the next two verses later. Feel free to join them if you like.
When Our Heart Is In A Holy Place, verse 1
Knowing Jessie Jones
A practice of knowing is a path toward self-awareness; investigative vulnerability. Looking honestly at ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses and working towards understanding and forgiving ourselves. And through the work of knowing meditation we can identify and connect with what truly brings us alive.
Seeking self-knowledge is a part of all the spiritual and contemplative traditions. We may be most familiar with The Christian counterpart to knowing prayer, which is confession. For me, framing this part of the practice as “knowing” casts confession in a different (and more positive) light.
Knowing is a significant theme in the work of contemporary British poet and philosopher David Whyte.
This is his poem Sweet Darkness,
which is an invitation to step beyond the confines we have established
by hiding from and judging ourselves;
by making inauthentic choices;
by what we do or leave undone.
It is an invitation to come to know who we are and what brings us alive
and a reminder to be present and wholehearted in our lives.
When your eyes are tired,
The world is tired also
When your vision is gone
No part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
Where the night has eyes
To recognize its own.
There you can be sure
that you are not beyond love
The dark will be your home
The night will give you horizon
Further than you can see
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in
Give up all the other worlds
Except the one to which you belong
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
Anything or anyone
That does not bring you alive
Is too small for you.
[One minute of silence. Chime the singing bowl.]
When Our Heart Is In A Holy Place, verse 2
Listening Mary Mason
On January 8th I woke up hours before dawn to feed my animals, let the dogs
out and back in, before making the drive to church. Then I drove through the
darkness, one of only a few cars on the road, to the church and entered into the
candle lit chapel with 13 or so other intrepid prayer circle participants. It was
cold outside, cold in the room. Voices murmured quietly, and I said a general
good morning to the group.
After small talk amongst ourselves we took our seats
in the circle and RevDenis led us in our first prayer circle. From the lighting of
the chalice, through the prayer and response, the readings and silence, to joining
hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, to ending with oiling the altar and
turning on the lights...we have, as a group, formed a prayer circle. And I am in a
very real way journeying together with this group of people.
I come from a decades long primarily solitary practice of prayer and meditation. This has
transformed my solitary practice at home. I bring the prayer circle experience into my home practice now. Many years ago the journey into prayer followed by silence was not an easy thing for me.
Prayer was easy.... I was able to talk...which
comes fairly easily to me. Just ask my friends and family. But to sit silently and
think about a reading, or to be guided into contemplating a specific idea, or the
most difficult thing of all, to be silent and listen, to be aware and present in my
chair without following all the thoughts that bounce through my head...that was
agony. I started at a minute of silence twice a day. I never knew how long and
awkward a minute of silence just being present and simply listening could be. I
checked the timer 2 or 3 times sure that the minute had to have elapsed and
somehow the alert hadn’t sounded. It took me years to work up to much longer
stretches of time. And as my comfort with silence has increased, so has my ability
to be centered and calm. I look forward to the continuation of this
experience...through the changing of the seasons...as dawn breaks during, and
then before our prayer circle...as birdsong from outside is added...the warmth of
summer...spring, summer, fall and then winter again.
As all of us involved grow
and change through the coming year we can continue to meet for prayer and
silence. I am very grateful to be offered the opportunity to learn and grow in
prayer and in silence in this church, in Unitarian Universalism, in fellowship
with others here.
Now to set the stage for a minute of silence I am going to share with you some
quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh who is a Vietnamese Buddhist zen master and
spiritual teacher. The quotes are from his book Silence.
Our minds are filled with noise, and that is why we can’t hear the call of life, the
call of love. Our heart is calling us, but we don’t hear. We don’t have the time to
listen to our heart.
Silence is essential. We need silence, just as much as we need air, as much as
plants need light. If our minds are crowded with words and thoughts, there is no
space for us.
[One minute of silence. Chime the singing bowl.]
When Our Heart Is In A Holy Place, verse 3
Loving Kristine Burkwood
I am Nancy Theofrastous and I will be reading for Kristine Burkwood, who is currently down the hall with the Coming of Age Class, participating as a mentor.
In my daily prayer practice, I find that the four cornerstones of Naming, Knowing, Listening and Loving are given direction by the choice of words or questions asked prior to the time of silence. When Rev. Denis led us in the first full week of prayer, and then on subsequent Wednesday mornings, he gave us many different ways of approaching the silent time. I found that my thoughts were heavily guided by his choice of words.
One of my most fruitful loving prayers started with the following guidance in the Taoist tradition…
“It is said that “The Way is eternally nameless” and yet our naming things makes them visible. Naming the things that we love and care about makes space for our compassion. Whose hopes are we carrying today?”
Try that for a minute… “whose hopes are you carrying today?” (pause and breathe)
When I ventured out on my own, I wrote down what “Loving” meant to me…giving, kindness, well-being. Love of self – Love of others. Acceptance.
I would picture myself and say – I love you as you are now, shaped by your life experiences, using your “go to” coping mechanisms, responding to situations with the resources you have at hand. I love you as you have been, are now, and will grow to be. Your being is enough.
I then picture someone else in my life – it could be a close relative, friend, co-worker, church member, client or extended family member of a client, and I say the same to them in my prayer – I love you as you are now, recognizing that you are shaped by your life experiences, you use your “go to” coping mechanisms, you respond to situations with the resources you have at hand and know. I love you as you have been, are now, and will grow to be. Your being is enough. (pause and breathe)
This practice allows me to put myself and others in a more complex perspective, gives a depth of character, it allows for so many causes of current behavior and allows space for growth and hope for the future in the direction of their choosing. For me there is a sense of acceptance of the whole person just as I am, or as they are, here and now. I actually picture some of the experiences, responses and interactions as I say these words slowly and pausing for spaciousness.
Try this with me…Picture yourself and say to yourself silently - I love you as you are now, shaped by your life experiences, using your “go to” coping mechanisms, responding to situations with the resources you have at hand. I love you as you have been, are now, and will grow to be. You are enough.
Now choose an “other”. Name them and picture them. Say to them silently – I love you as you are now, I recognize that you are shaped by your life experiences, you use your “go to” coping mechanisms, and you respond to situations with the resources you feel you have at hand. I love you as you have been, are now, and will grow to be. You are enough. (pause and breathe)
Other days, I simply list people silently and send them my love unconditionally. I include myself in the list and circle out from those closest to me, letting the list expand in ever widening directions (including pets) until the chime sounds.
Now for a little time for your own loving reflection… You are enough.
[One minute of silence. Chime the singing bowl.]
Leaving Rev Denis
You are enough. and everything that you give, all of the gifts that you share with the world are enough, no matter how large or small those gifts may seem. And so, we make a practice as a congregation of sharing your financial gifts with partner organizations most months. this month, we’ll be sharing the collection with each other, in the form a scholarship fund, available to those among us who would like to take part in conferences, regional education opportunities, or even going to General Assembly in June. Please give what you can, knowing it is enough.
And if you are a visitor here for the first time, please let the collection basket pass you as our guest. Thank you for being here.
Centering for the Week Dee Beacham
As we leave our practice we return to the Centering Bead. The poem today is by Mary Oliver, called “Praying.”
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.