Weekly Reflections

Reflections from the Ministerial Team

May 5, 2021

I’ve been going around sniffing trees of late, outside businesses and people’s homes.  On a recent walk, one of my children was concerned I might be viewed as weird.  I come from a long line of weird.  My mother, Meg, always has scissors in her car, so that she can snip flowers along the road at a moment’s notice.  She loves the wildflower “Queen Anne’s lace” so much that my kids call them “Meg-whites.”  One day, I found myself pulled over on I-95 snipping “Meg-whites” among the shrubs, and I had to laugh at the generational force. 
 
My husband Nathan and I are in the market for a couple of trees – to keep making good on our commitment to carbon mitigation.  And I’m looking for trees that could recreate a sensory memory from my 20’s.  There were trees blooming in May that I would breathe in on the walk from Harvard Square to the divinity school.  They soothed my spirits and got me through exams.  So, I’ve been sniffing around, and Nathan and I hopped on Google’s satellite maps to see what trees are on that street in Cambridge!  Yes, he has been kind to indulge this.
 
We made our choice this morning:  A Gala Apple tree and a Japanese Lilac tree.   From our front yard, they will join in all the showing off that Mother Nature is doing of late.  Things need pollinating, and the trees and shrubs know what to do for that: produce sweet, colorful flowers.  I’d suggest that the sweet flowers are not just calling out to the pollinators, but to all of us – to take note of the turning of the season.  As in the Pagan celebration of Beltane, this attentiveness to the turning is a form of reverence.  In a way, we will be planting two May poles in our yard this week, and we will fuss around them.  And in turn, they will clean and sweeten our air.  It really is a dance. 
 
Enjoy it in your way,
Caitlin

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April 21, 2021

The verdict is in:  Guilty.  Guilty.  Guilty.
 
Let’s call the verdict one of accountability because we’re nowhere near justice.  As you likely know, shortly before the verdict was announced, 16 year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot four times by police in Columbus, OH.   We’ve a long way to go. 
 
As the country and indeed, the world, waited to witness the next chapter in this tragic American story, Black Americans reminded us that among young People of Color, Black, Indigenous (POC/B/I) there is a deep sense of exhaustion after a year of tenacious protest and organizing.  Add to that deep sense of exhaustion a crisis of hope.  Van Jones described the young people’s feelings as wondering if their lives matter in this country and that this verdict was going to give them an answer.  He said that young POC/B/I are “afraid to hope."
 
Afraid to hope that their lives matter.  
 
You know that I hold that the purpose of a religious life and community is to keep hope kindled.  That an entire segment of our community is afraid to hope is devastating commentary if one believes that hope is what keeps our internal fires burning. 
 
We can - and should - be grateful for the guilty verdict.  But our gratitude must be connected with a deeper sense of commitment to do our part to help “bend the long arc of the universe toward justice” (thank you, Theodore Parker) and a life-giving hope.   
 
Our Black Lives Matter public witness is a discipline.  For the Souls who show up on that line, the discipline is a reminder of our deep resolve – a reminder that we must keep on.  On a weekly basis, it signals to our neighbors and passers-by that All Souls cares about dismantling white supremacy. Sometimes, when POC/B/I folks ride or walk by there is uplift reflected in their responses.  Perhaps in that response a glimmer of hope may be kindled.  
 
Join the line every Friday from 5:30 – 6 p.m.
 
As well, we must learn about our country’s history and why and how white supremacy influences all the ways that the U.S. is governed and policed.  These are challenging lessons that break your heart but we will be stronger for the heartbreak.  Most importantly, those of us who are white will be more effective, responsible and LOVINGallies in the fight to dismantle these systems. 
 
There are 30 people engaged in the discussion of Stamped, a discussion led by Maggie and Chris Clouet.  While that’s great, that’s 10% of the 300 strong that is All Souls.  We must do better.  When we launch the next learning opportunity, I sincerely hope that 60 (or 90 or 200!) Souls will be at the table ready to learn together. 
 
This verdict and moment may be a first step in righting wrongs that have persisted for our entire history.  Maybe.  Whether it is or not is in our hands - yours and mine.  Show up, dear Souls.  Do your part to create a world where justice, equity and compassion in human relations is centered – as our second principle requires of us.
 
May George Perry Floyd rest in power, in peace and assured that his life mattered as do all Black Lives.
 
See you Friday at 5:30 p.m.
 
In Solidarity and with Love, 
Carolyn

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April 7, 2021

Like many, I’ve been riveted by the live coverage of the ongoing trial for the killing of George Floyd.  It’s got compelling witnesses, unfolding legal strategies, and the emotional hook of the plainly wrongful death of a human being.  It also comes with tension, and I fear that, even with all the testimony and videos, there might still be no accountability for this death. I am hoping and praying for a conviction that offers a little piece of justice amid this great big injustice.

And I’m learning that many of us are having a vastly different experience right now.  I’ve been hearing from Black colleagues, neighbors and friends that they cannot watch the trial at all because of the very personal trauma.  In the words of Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the video of the killing, “When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad. I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.”[1]
 
I can watch, because George Floyd does not look like me, or the men in my family.  I have never had an experience like this with police, or even feared such an experience; in fact, when my white son made teenage mistakes, the police officers he encountered were both professional and compassionate.  I find the trial gut-wrenching and hard to watch at times, but it is not - for me - part of an ongoing, transgenerational trauma.
 
May we be appalled at the killing of George Floyd and at the vastly different experiences of this moment.  May we be moved to greater gentleness with one another.  And may we (in Rev. Carolyn’s Easter words, inspired by the poet June Jordan) get on with the work of creating a just world that rises from the ashes of white supremacy.  
 
May it be so.
Ann Kadlecek, Intern Minister

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March 31, 2021

A Place of Sanctuary

During the winter months of the pandemic, while we gathered for Sunday worship on YouTube, Unity Hall served as the Homeless Hospitality Center’s 24/7 warming center for our homeless and low-income neighbors. This sanctuary for the spiritual needs of our religious community became a sanctuary for the daily needs of members of the larger community, providing warmth, a place to sleep, lunch and dinner, restroom and internet access, and staff services.

As the Outreach Worker for the Homeless Hospitality Center and your Affiliate Community Minister, I spent time with guests in Unity Hall and reflected on how perfectly our worship space was transformed into a hospitality space. The rows of forward-facing chairs were replaced by socially distanced tables and chairs, the pulpit and altar table removed, hymnbooks and chalice stored, and the sound equipment, organ, and piano securely enclosed. The coffee-hour window and counter became the ideal serving area for meals and beverages, and the carpeted chancel steps a convenient sitting and napping area.

One time, as I sat at a table and talked with a guest, I looked up at the chancel and recalled Sunday mornings behind the pulpit, as an occasional worship leader, preaching, praying, sharing, and singing with you. In that moment, I had a daydream. I imagined how worshiping, and hospitality might happen together, with All Souls’ members and our homeless neighbors singing and praying, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee, many moving in and out of the doors, others slumped over sleeping, and a few hanging out together or sitting silently alone, all souls from all walks of life sharing life-sustaining community within these sheltering walls. What heavenly chaos that would be!

As it is, the Homeless Hospitality Center will move out of our sanctuary in the next few months, and we will move back in for worship. For me, Unity Hall will never be the same. Even after the pulpit, altar table, hymnbooks, chalice, sound equipment, organ, and piano are back in place, when I have my next opportunity to lead worship with you, I will see the faces of our homeless neighbors among us in this sacred space, knowing that all are welcomed here, and all are fed in body, mind, and spirit.

Reverend David M. Horst
Affiliate Community Minister

* * * * * * * * *

March 24, 2021

Our ministerial team offers this reflection, and calls us to witness this Friday at 5:30 at All Souls:

Two mass shootings in as many weeks. Such a brutality inspired reflection from all of us who minister to you.

First of all, the strength of our communion flies south to Atlanta and west to Boulder where the carnage and devastation are both fresh. We join in meditation, prayer and sorrow as we hold the victims in our hearts and minds.

And “thoughts and prayers” - as the limp political response typically goes - are not enough. Our thoughts, prayers, and sorrow - and those of our legislators - are not effective enough a response to the poisonous stew of racism, white supremacy, misogyny, and in many cases, mental illness that has not been treated. Add to this poison easy access to weapons (in Atlanta a 9mm handgun in Boulder an AR-15 rifle) and we will not soon be seeing the last of these tragedies for all of our thoughts and prayers.

For many of us, each time we witness another mass shooting, our thoughts go back to December 2012 and the massacre that took place here in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “Surely,” we said then, “something will be done now to address gun violence. Surely, the death of 20 children and six adults will spur our national leadership to pass sensible, nation-wide gun safety laws.” And then Washington Navy Yard, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, Pittsburg, Thousand Oaks, Virginia Beach, El Paso and now Atlanta and Boulder -- and many lesser known but devastating shootings in between.

There is no way to accurately measure the number of victims left in the wake of this violence. As we count the victims who are dead, we would do well to count their loved ones too, their lives laid bare. And there are still others - those who no longer feel safe in school, in houses of worship, in movie theaters, in grocery stores, in nightclubs.

It’s enough to bring us to a place of overwhelm. The news reports this week said that Boulder was the seventh mass shooting (in the United States in 2021) in which four or more people were killed. Can you recall the other five? We couldn’t. We live in a country where this happens so often, it just doesn’t register the way it used to. Change seems to be impossible; we become numb. But this week, we are awakened from this numbness as we are reminded of the history of gun violence in America.

Know that there is one group among us that needs no reminding. When we talk about gun violence in Youth Group it seems so obvious to them – the hate and mental illness that cause someone to act out are complex issues, but gun reform should be simple. How could anyone choose otherwise over all these lives lost? It was with this clarity and righteousness that All Souls youth led us to Boston to the March for Our Lives in 2018 to advocate for gun violence prevention. You’ll remember that Parkland students who survived the school shooting were a driving force behind this youth-led movement before they were even old enough to vote.

We need more of that spirit and commitment.

Our faith, our spiritual lives, and our actions are needed now. We may or may not see the change we seek, but we don’t have to accept that this is normal and we are powerless. We can choose to respond so that the ongoing tragedy of gun violence doesn’t change us. Let us be reminded of twentieth century Christian minister and pacifist A.J. Muste who used to stand alone in front of the White House holding a candle. When asked if he thought this would change the policies of this country, Muste said, "Oh I don't do this to change the country. I do this so the country won't change me."[1]

In the U.S. the majority believes in sensible gun safety laws. Let our voices be among them. Let us not be changed in our resolve.

It was only a week ago that we gathered in vigil and solidarity with our Asian neighbors to decry the spate of hatred and violence with which they are being targeted. We will gather again ever-connecting the ways that white supremacy and racism fuel gun violence in our country. As we did last week, postcards will be distributed to send to legislators. We’ll take up an offering to donate to Sandy Hook Promise, an excellent organization born of tragedy.

As we have done for over five years, we will hold All Souls’ Black Lives Matter banner to remind us of the ways white supremacy’s long tendrils infect all marginalized communities.

We’ll gather this Friday at 5:30 p.m. at All Souls.

If you cannot make it, light a candle at home, to bring soft light to your fears, and to reignite your commitment to peace in our country.

The stories coming out of Boulder include the story we’ve heard with each shooting, that is of terrified people caught in the crossfire desperately texting / calling their loved ones only to say, perhaps for the last time, “I love you.”

As the hymn says, “Love will guide us. Hope inside us will lead the way.”

We Love you, dear Souls. You are in our hearts as we struggle with this senseless violence as a country, as a congregation, and as individuals.

Reverend David Horst, affiliated community minister
Ann Kadlecek, ministerial intern
Perry Montrose, director faith formation
Reverend Caitlin O’Brien, associate minister
Reverend Carolyn Patierno, senior minister

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March 17, 2021

Dear Souls,
 
Last week we marked the one-year anniversary of our shared life having changed dramatically.  This week we look to our shared future.
 
With vaccinations offering a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, individuals and communities are considering what reunion might look like.  All Souls is beginning to imagine that day.
 
A task force will be setting public health benchmarks to guide All Souls on the process of regrouping for our next chapter.  Maggie Clouet, Gretchen Edstrom, Laurel Holmes, and Mark Robel have all graciously – and enthusiastically! - agreed to serve on this task force.  Maggie, Gretchen, & Mark are all nurses and Laurel is a social worker who has made a career in public health.  They will be interpreting CDC, UUA, and Ledge Light Health District recommendations as they apply to congregational life.  They will meet for the first time next week.  
 
In the meantime, you’ll notice small steps in our reconvening:  the choir 
gathering to sing together (in the Peace Garden, compassionately distanced, masked); our weekly Black Lives Matter witness starting up again soon; planned activities for the children and youth to gather outdoors.  Beyond that, there are no plans ahead of the task force’s work beginning.  Stay tuned.
 
As well, there will be many discussions about what our return to our shared life will look like.  The 2 questions that will drive this discussion are:  

  • What newly discovered ways of “doing church” in the past year do we want to carry into our next chapter?  
  • What old ways of “doing church” would we rather not return to?  

 
Here’s a sketch of a process that’s still under construction:
 
Small groups convened during coffee hour will serve as the place for initial discussions on these 2 questions. Copious notes will be taken.  
 
From the feedback received, task forces will set to work making plans for all things related to worship, faith formation, and gathering for meetings, events, and rites of passage / celebrations.  As well, the Facilities Team is aware of the goal to spruce up the church ahead of our return.  
 
The fervent hope – depending on a whole host of “we’ll-see-where-we’re-at” - is that we will be able to gather in-person for worship in September for water communion / Pies for Peace.  
 
You can see that all of this work – and there’s a lot of it – calls for your input and help.  Thank you in advance for saying “yes” – graciously and enthusiastically – to both. 
 
I realize that this week’s reflection is both exciting and terrifying depending on how we are each managing our anxiety concerning the virus.  I offer encouragement for patience.  We all handle trauma and anxiety differently and we’re all pretty rusty in our in-person relational skills.  Have you checked yourself as you watch movies of late?  Do you feel yourself thinking, “Why are they in such a crowded space?!”  “What are they doing eating in a restaurant?”  “I can’t believe they just shook hands!”  Etc.  That’s trauma / anxiety / stress talking …. and that trio is going to keep on talking for a long, long while.  Patience.  Compassion.  We’ll need both as we navigate the road to reunion.  
 
“The road to reunion” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  My biggest concern is that we have ample enough boxes of tissues in Unity Hall for the tears of joy, sorrow, relief, and stress that will be shed – by me alone!  I know I’ll be in good “cry-baby” company on that day.
 
We’re getting there, dear Souls.  News of one more Soul having been vaccinated is good news.  We keep on.  
 
See you soon … ish.  
 
With Love, Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * *

March 10, 2021

File this story under “Random Acts of Kindness."
 
I’m out running a few errands one of which takes me to the Packer Building in Mystic. You may know that it’s a tight parking lot that comes right off of a curve in the road.  I’m careful and focused as I park, but still, one of the other cars in the lot catches my eye. 
 
I spy back seat windows that are covered in bright pink post-its.  I take a quick look as I hurry past and see that there’s a message written on each of them.  I’ll take a closer look after I get done what needs doing hoping that the car will still be there when I return.
 
It is!  I slowly walk closer, making sure there’s no human or dog inside who I may startle.  The coast is clear.  I see that the handwriting seems to be that of a young person.  Not a little kid but maybe the writer is 10, 11, 12?  My heart leaps as I read the random notes of kindness.  They say:
 
Hello! Have a good day!
You did good today! 
You can do it!
You are worthy!
You are beautiful!
Your* awesome!  (*Encouragement from me: let your inner mis-spelling anxiety take a rest, okay?)
 
What a simple gesture – and brilliant!  Right there in the middle of the too-tight parking lot, an upright (I suspect young) neighbor extending some kindness to every passer-by. 
 
I think that one good post-it deserves another. I always have a pack of post-its tucked in my pencil case that yes, I carry in my purse.  In gratitude, I write a message in return and stick it to the window. *
 
As our neighbor said to every parking lot passer-by, I say to you here, “You are beautiful!”  Thanks for being your kind selves, dear Souls.  Let’s keep it going!
 
With Love, 
Carolyn 
*It said, "I -heart- your post-its!"

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March 3, 2021

In celebration of brown grass…

The drive to drop one of my kids at school is on a gorgeous winding road. We’ve been passing iced over marshes and rolling layers of white for weeks now. My son and I cover lots of topics on these drives. A few days ago, I found myself in a particularly chipper mood as we chatted, and I searched my thoughts for a reason. I realized that it must be because I was seeing patches of brown grass in and amongst the white snow. Yes, it was that I could see grass!

Now, we all know that it very well may snow again…and again…before the smells of spring are really ours to revel in. I hadn’t realized, though, how much I needed the sight of that brown, winter-trampled grass. I hadn’t realized how resigned I’d become to a feeling of blanketed quiet and inactivity. Yes, I know there is a beauty to it. I do know…but this year, the accompanying isolation of being driven indoors has been especially depressing for many of us. And so I raise my cup of tea to brown grass!

When I was growing up, my mom used to laugh at our Easter photographs which, in those days, were generally not developed at the photo booth until the summer. She would look at pictures of us out in the back yard in our Easter best, and she’d say, “we were so thrilled that it was spring, but look how brown everything was!” She had a good point. There was so much more vibrance around the corner, but the sight of grass (though not yet green) was just enough to get us through. May it be so for you.

With love,

Rev. Caitlin

* * * * * * * * * *

February 24, 2021

I just returned from my annual oncology appointment.  It was 9 years ago that I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the adventure began.  Although I’m not sure that “adventure” is quite the right word. 
 
There were nine months that passed beginning with surgery through chemotherapy and then recovery from chemotherapy.  The overarching characteristic of that time – from March through to December – was quiet. My life was suddenly so quiet.  I was inside for much of it, looking out our living room window as I am doing right now as I write.  That experience is now fully integrated into who I became, but every year since, just as sure as the deep of winter begins to turn to spring, the memory returns of those long, quiet days and the strange isolation of that time.
 
So here we are in this similarly out-of-the-ordinary time, when time turns in ways that feel out-of-time and sometimes, surreal. But in fact, it’s all too real – as real as 500,000 deaths and tens of thousands more struck with COVID-19 illness. 
 
And so as I sit in this rocking chair looking out at the perfectly blue winter sky, I wonder.  Who will we be when this crisis has passed?  How will we integrate what we’ve all been through as individuals, as families, as communities, as a country … as a congregation.  Who will we have become?  How will we integrate the loss, fear, fury, and uncertainty of the past year?
 
If the cancer survivor’s experience is any indication the answer is:  day by day.  Day by day, we’ll regain some of our strength and learn to live with new and newly discovered vulnerabilities.  We’ll more deeply appreciate the power of beauty.  We’ll take nothing for granted, most of all just the pure joy of being together.
 
We’ll sit in rocking chairs nine years from now and remember how quiet the world suddenly became for a short time that brought a whole new understanding of time itself. 
 
We’ll give thanks for each other’s company as I give thanks for all of you on this day after having returned home from seeing Dr. Mathews who said, “You’re doing great!  See you next year!”
 
See you soon, dear Souls …
Love,  Carolyn

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February 18, 2021

Religion, good and bad

As with all structures of power and authority, religion can be used for good or ill. With the rise of Christian nationalism and its alignment with white supremacy, we are compelled to ask, Are some religious beliefs good and others bad? 

This question has been weighing on my heart and mind since the November presidential election in my grief and anger over how Evangelicals — sisters, brothers, and siblings in faith — have forsaken core Christian values to embrace authoritarian politics and governance.

Who am I —  a liberal, marginal Christian in the Unitarian Universalist tradition — to make value judgments about certain religious beliefs and belief systems? No, the question is, How can I not?

I define religion as a coherent system of beliefs and practices, sacred stories, doctrine and symbols, and shared rituals that humans create, sustain, and transmit within their religious institutions and communities. Religion is a construct, a product both of our magnificent human imagination and flawed human character. God does not create religion, we do. We aspire to the good but too often succumb to the bad.

I propose a religious code of ethics: Do particular religious beliefs accept reality, respect scientific inquiry, promote intellectual honesty, support political freedom and individual responsibility, teach growing and maturing faith understandings, affirm a sense of trust and relatedness to God and the universe, honor and respect human diversity in all its forms, and encourage the feeling or intuitive dimension of life? (Adapted from Howard Clinebell’s “Test of a Healthy Religion.”)

Let us try to avoid common divisive conservative/liberal religious stereotypes. Conservative beliefs can be expansive, embracing, and growing. Liberal beliefs can be blind, exclusive, and stunted. All religions in all faith traditions have their light and shadow sides.

Even good and healthy religious beliefs must be held with humility, knowing that God is ultimately unknowable and each of us in our religious tradition holds sacred truth only in part. My way is one path. Your way is another path. Ourway has many paths.

We simply cannot abide the rise of Christian nationalism and it must be called out as unethical, unfaithful, and undemocratic. Christian nationalism is a bad religious belief within the good religion of Christianity. We are a nation with a multiplicity of faiths and traditions, which, on the whole, adhere to life-giving, life-affirming, and life-sustaining beliefs. Let us choose the good.

Peace and blessings,

Reverend David Horst
Affiliate Community Minister

* * * * * * * * * * * 

February 3, 2021

I’m coming into my last few months with All Souls, and that reality is starting to sink in for me.  So much has happened, and yet it feels like such a short time that I’ve been with you.  Pandemic time is a strange thing.
 
But I’m very excited that even after I finish my internship (in mid-May), we will come together again in a sacred congregational act, as All Souls ordains me on June 6. 
 
For me, this moment has been a long time coming - I now realize that my whole life has been ministerial formation, although most of it didn’t look like it at the time.  And the last three years have been very focused on Unitarian Universalist ministry, with seminary, this internship, clinical pastoral education, and recently passing my interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (a group of clergy and lay people who assess candidates’ readiness for ministry).
 
But none of that makes me an ordained minister.  In our denomination, it is congregations that have the final say about who to call into ministry.  Indeed, the only way for anyone to become a Unitarian Universalist minister is to be ordained by a congregation.  This congregational right, and responsibility, has been enshrined in our polity ever since our Puritan ancestors insisted that authority belonged with church members, not a group of elders or a denominational hierarchy.  And so, this congregation’s decision to confer ordination on me is steeped in tradition and the Unitarian Universalist understanding that the power of religious community derives from its people.

I am so grateful that it is you, beloved Souls, who will ordain me.  Your kindness and encouragement have helped the pieces of my formation come together into a coherent ministry in a challenging time, and have given me the confidence to take that ministry elsewhere.  It feels right to me that we do this together.
And in the gloomy days of a pandemic February, it is a bright reminder of the ongoing life of this congregation and this enduring faith.
 
With love and gratitude,
Ann

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January 20, 2021

By the time you read these words, our new president will have placed his hand on his family’s Bible and made a vow to show up for our country in all that we currently face.  As with their predecessors, what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris say and do from this moment on is incredibly important.  Will you join me in lighting a candle for them and their families?  In so doing, we lift up their ambitions for “a more perfect union,” and we recognize that the burdens they now bear are profound.  May they be safe, may they be smart, and may they be courageous. 
 
We know that our new leaders cannot wave a wand and fix the pandemic, the environment, nor deep racial and economic injustices.  We look not for saviors today, but for fallible humans like us, who will need our engaged citizenship to succeed in constructive solutions for the challenges we face.  I know that our Unitarian Universalist principles will be much better reflected in the work of the incoming executive and legislative leaders of our country, and for that I am grateful and encouraged. 
 
I believe that the outgoing administration unveiled and brought outsome of the worst in us Americans and, even though they vacated the White house today, the worst in us is still here to be addressed.  It is a relief that less of our collective attention will be distracted by the personality and behavior of one particular person.  We may now have a better chance to fix our gaze more fully on the demands of the moment, one of which is to grapple with the division that he exposed and stoked. 
 
So, light with me a candle, for our leaders and for us:  may we be safe, may we be smart, and may we be courageous. 
 
In solidarity,
Rev. Caitlin 

* * * * * * * * *

January 13, 2021

Sometimes it’s hard to know which problems to pay attention to - there seem to be so many to choose from.  The pandemic deaths and overloaded hospitals?  How about extremist threats to democracy?  Racial injustice?  Environmental devastation?  Or the well-being of people close to us?  Maybe our own needs in this challenging time?  It’s head-spinning, really.

It can feel like this passage from John Lewis’ memoir:

"About fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Seneva's house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn't thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified. As the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, Aunt Seneva herded us all inside.

The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake.

And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then a corner of the room started lifting up.

This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.
That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.

And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.

More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.

It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams - so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.

And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.
And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand.
But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.

And we did.
And we still do, all of us. You and I.
Children holding hands, walking with the wind."
 
Our house is rocking, but we continue on, dear Souls - hands clasped, walking with the wind.

In faith,
Ann

* * * * * * * 

 

January 6, 2021

 

Dear Souls,
You are likely struggling with a whole range of images you witnessed today.  Perhaps you saw this same photo that I did. 
 
I’m looking at a photo of a domestic terrorist in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Sitting in her chair, he has a heavy boot slung up on her desk, gleefully pointing down to a gun of some sort worn at his hip.  There is an American flag haphazardly thrown over a nearby table.  (Wally and Carol Fenn, WWII vets now of blessed memory, would be weeping.)
 
It is a horrifying image of violation and intimidation. 
 
But let’s take a look at what else appears in the photo …
 
Behind her desk is a print in which the late Representative John Lewis is featured with what looks like a personalized note stuck in the frame.  There is gift-wrapped box right beneath it with a big red bow. 
 
In the center of the desk there is an oversized travel mug.  There is a computer, a stapler, assorted files, multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and a desk phone with what looks like 50 buttons. 
 
A bust of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is perched up high on a breakfront to the left of the desk. 
 
It is all so ordinary but for the rogue violation in the center of the photo. 
 
This day is no ordinary day in our country.  Violence separates us from the ordinary every time.  The House Speaker likely began this day knowing that, but, like many Americans, she did not likely imagine the extent to which this would be true today.   
 
If this was an ordinary time, we’d gather in Unity Hall tonight to break bread together.  Sing together.  Reach out to each other as a reminder that a faith community’s superpower is that in each embrace and song and cup of coffee is the invitation to resilience.  In the wake of trauma, we are called to harken back to the time before, so let’s remember the power of those gatherings in times past and just as importantly, remember the many ways we have made “good trouble” to nudge our country closer to a more perfect union. 
 
I pray that Speaker Pelosi – and all the other folks who work in that building whether behind a podium or a mop – will soon return to their places determined, resolved and spiritually unperturbed. 

We shall not be moved – and, I hope, neither will they. 
 
Keep on, Dear Souls. 
With Love and in solidarity, 
Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * 

December 30, 2020

From Mourning to Morning

I am waking up, waiting for the sunrise, wanting a new day to begin.

After months of restless sleep and daily worry, I carry the comforting and hopeful words of the psalmist with me:

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  Psalm 30:5b

Is joyfulness permissible as thousands of Americans are infected with the Coronavirus daily and one of our citizens dies every minute? As individuals and families struggle to keep safe while maintaining their work and school commitments? As businesses and their owners and employees face economic hardship? As a large proportion of our sister and brother Americans are seduced by lies and conspiracies that threaten our very democracy?

Yes, joyfulness is not only permissible but indispensable, here and now, in this moment, for you and me and we the people. Despite widespread suffering and deep anxiety, the soul calls us ceaselessly to joy, a joy that is a part of our collective psyche and soul.

For sure, anger, fear, and grief are present still; and for many, disgust for all that is unhealthy in our body politic. Yet, in this season when we celebrate the birth of the child of God, when darkness gives way to light, when gestating life prepares to spring forth again, let us receive the healing balm of joy.

Two key qualities of joy, compassion and humility, have been supporting me for four tumultuous years, and I have certainly experienced moments of joy — but it’s been so damn hard. My humility and compassion have been sorely tested, and I believe these past four years have been a joyless time for all Americans, whatever their political persuasion. Differences have turned to demonization. Democracy has turned to desperation. Dreams have turned to despair. This is not who we are. This is not how we want to live. We can be better.

Soon, my friends, I believe the long night will end. Our mourning and despair will cease. The morning sun will rise and dry our tears. Days of joy will return. With humility and compassion, we will move forward to become the individuals, the people, and the nation we have always dreamed we could be.

This is my hope. This is my prayer.

Reverend David Horst
Affiliate Minister

* * * * * * * * 

December 27, 2020

Here we are: the last weekly reflection of the year. A mid-week reflection was introduced in March as the pandemic was at the start of changing our lives.  We had no idea just how much change would be in store.
 
I hope that you are all feeling not only the light at the end of the tunnel but also patience enough to stick with the public health restraints we must continue to honor.  Here are a few other things I wish for you:
 
If you are at home and helping your child/ren learn while also juggling job responsibilities, housekeeping chores, and cooking … I wish you the deep peace of stillness, quiet, and solitude. 
 
If you are at home and your grown children or young grandchildren are living away and the quiet feels like it’s closing in on you … I wish you a constant feeling of connection and permission to make some noise! Turn up the music!  Bang on a drum!  I wish you peace. 
 
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, stress and your stay-at-home life is exacerbating your frayed-around-the-edges mind and heart … know that you are not alone.  Reach out.  Talk with your therapist, if you have one.  Check in with loved ones.  I wish you peace. 
 
If you are struggling with employment instability or job loss, I wish for you better days to come, new learning, unemployment benefits that are easily accessed and that carry you through.  And … reach out.  You are not alone.  I wish you peace. 
 
And if you are in a happy place, if you’re newly in love, if your best friend just had a baby, if you’re a frontline worker and got the vaccination, if it’s turned out that the decreased stress of the holiday feels pretty good to you, good on you!  Don’t hide your light under a bushel.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
 
Let’s look to 2021 with hopeful hearts, dear Souls.  Take some time for celebration.  Take time to rejoice and give thanks. 

With Love, Carolyn     

* * * * * * * * * * * 

Every year in preparation of the Christmas Eve service, I pour through files that contain dozens of readings I've collected over the years. It's a centering, creative process that brings close the ancient story's central themes: peace on earth, mystery, miracle, joy, hospitality - all wrapped up in a silent holy night. This year I'll be focusing on the blessings that emerge even in the midst of crisis and challenge. As that's basically the Christmas story, there's no shortage of relevant readings.

Inevitably I'll have more readings than can possibly fit in the service and one or two (or three or four) will fall to the cutting room floor. I'll share one that didn't make it to Christmas Eve but instead comes to you this mid-week.

As we prepare for the season's first snow storm, I hope you can take a moment for a poetry pause, a long stare out your window or a stretch of your imagination, as the poet says, "enough to detect the music of celestial voices in the midnight hours of life."

Glad tidings of comfort and joy to each of you, dear Souls.
With Love, Carolyn

“Christmas Beatitudes” ~ David Rhys Williams

On this blessed day, let us worship at the altar of joy,
for to miss the joy of Christmas is to miss its holiest secret.
Let us enter into the spiritual delights
which are the natural heritage of our childlike hearts.
Let us withdraw from the cold and barren world
of prosaic fact, if only for a season:
That we may warm ourselves by the fireside of fancy,
and take counsel of the wisdom of poetry and legend.

Blessed are they who have vision enough to behold a guiding star
in the dark mystery which girdles the earth;
Blessed are they who have imagination enough to detect the music
of celestial voices in the midnight hours of life;
Blessed are they who have faith enough to contemplate a world of peace
and justice in the midst present wrong and strife;
Blessed are they who have greatness enough
to become like little children;
Blessed are they who have zest enough
to take delight in simple things;
Blessed are they who have wisdom enough to know
that the kingdom of heaven is very close at hand,
and that all may enter in who have eyes to see
and ears to hear and hearts to understand.

* * * * * * * *

December 9, 2020

A big thank you to Tim Lambert and the Carolans, who sang Alouette Iselin’s “Solstice Song” in this past Sunday’s service. We chose this song because its message is a heartfelt invitation to our worship time together during these darker and colder days. “Let me come in and share your light,” goes the song. “I only ask you to let me stay for an hour by your fire.” As with many things during this time of social distancing, “coming in” and “staying by your fire” must be interpreted metaphorically. The computer screen has indeed become a fire to gather around during the pandemic, and I am so grateful to find so many of you there each Sunday.

Worship is one of the ways that we mark time and account for our joys and sorrows. It is by this warm fire that we will name and honor the memory of All Souls' member Gail Cooper, who died this week. We will remember the book store she dutifully stocked and hosted after Sunday services. We will remember her quick laugh and the wonderful accent that reflected her Massachusetts roots. Gail will be missed. May she rest in peace.

It is not the same to name our losses gathered around a computer screen, but it is the fire that many of us are lucky to have now. Thank you for the ways that you show up to warm the space even more. I hope that you’ll also consider hopping on the zoom coffee hour after the service for a quick hello. This week, I was caught off guard by how moved I was to see some of your faces after so long.

Much love,

Caitlin

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

December 2, 2020

“The next dozen weeks will be long and painful. But spring is likely to bring highly effective vaccines and a renewed commitment to medical leadership, something that has been missing …” Donald G. McNeil Jr. for the New York Times, 11/30/20.

We enter into the Advent season fully aware - in the words of George Harrison – that it’s going to be a “long and lonely winter.” “Long and painful” as described in the New York Times.

On March 21 my friend Brian sent me this text: “I hope this is over soon. And by soon, I mean 4-6 weeks.”

Well, bless our hopeful – and at the time, naive - hearts.

Nearly nine months later, we’re weary. When asked what folks miss the most, you’ll not be surprised to hear that the overwhelming response is: hugs. We’ll need to wait until spring or summer for the full body embrace of loved ones. A deep pool of patience is required - the capacity to endure the long, lonely, and painful winter despite the ever-present temptation to loosen our commitment to sound public health measures to which we need to say, “Get thee behind me, temptation!” Through the long season ahead remember that you have your faith to lean on.

In addressing vaccine distribution, the same New York Times article points out the significant influence of religious tradition. I continue to be deeply grateful to the Unitarian Universalist Association that back in May of this year strongly recommended that our congregations continue to worship online through to May of 2021. When I shared that recommendation during a service several Souls referred to the response as “the gasp heard around the world." Turns out, it was sound advice. So when inevitably people you love and respect break down and take risks you find questionable at best, lean on your Unitarian Universalist faith whose leaders stared hard at the science and made bold recommendations that have proven to be prophetic.

This time out of time is asking much of us, not the least of which is to care for ourselves and in doing so, care for others. We can do hard things especially when supported by communities of care such as All Souls. Every Sunday at the service’s conclusion, we hold one hand to our hearts and reach out with the other to the community beyond but yet held so close. As the poet said, I’m holding your hearts in my heart. Don’t forget … and keep on.

With Love and blessings in this Advent season,

Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

November 18, 2020    -   "Touching Democracy"

I slit open the outer envelope, removed the inner envelope, verified a signature, opened the inner envelope, and removed the yellow ballot. Joining community members (and my spouse) gathered in third floor hearing room at Norwich City Hall, I helped count and tabulate nearly 6,000 mail-in ballots for 14 hours on November 3. Once the ballots were flattened and assembled by precinct, we took turns feeding the ballots into the scanning machines and running tapes of vote totals for the local, state, and national candidates. The day ended, almost ceremoniously, as each of the poll workers signed the tapes verifying the accuracy of the count.

Ballot counting is repetitive and tedious, requiring work of the hands and presence of the mind. Yet, for a brief moment, I held each ballot as if it was an object of reverence, honoring the time and attention individuals spent filling in the little bubbles of their chosen candidates and then signing, inserting, sealing, and dropping off or mailing their ballot to the City Clerk. All the candidates’ ads, texts, mailings, yard signs, slogans, and debates seemed small matters because now I had touched democracy at its most fundamental. As I held the ballots and witnessed the counts firsthand, democracy became tangible in a simple but profound way.

Participation in democracy for me is both a civic and religious duty, especially during the past four years when our democratic values and institutions have been threatened and our religious differences exploited. Democracy encompasses all that makes up our civil religion: Our common values, sense of belonging, shared purpose, mutual regard, commitment to liberty and justice, and sincere patriotism. Democracy also exposes our imperfections, hypocrisies, hubris, and prejudices. Democracy is messy, and sometimes democracy brings forth the sweet fruit of decency, honesty, and compassion. These, too, are things we can touch.

Sincerely,

Reverend David Horst, Affiliate Minister

* * * * * * * * *

November 11, 2020

"This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine..."

So we sang this past Sunday, and the Sunday before. And so it is for me. It has been painful to watch my country move further and further away from my hopes, my dreams, and all that I consider holy. And such a relief to see the possibility of a new direction.

We have cause to celebrate - both the presidential election and some remarkable down-ballot victories: the first Black woman elected to congress in Missouri, the first transgender state senator in Delaware, a new state flag in Mississippi, measures to protect the electoral process in many states, and more. I’ve been celebrating, and I hope you have, too.

And, as Rev Carolyn preached last Sunday, we also have much more work to do. To quote my son on Saturday, “This was Helms Deep. If we didn’t win, it would have been all over. But we’ve still got to win Pellenor Fields and throw the ring in the fire.”

It’s true. There are still threats to our democracy, an out-of-control pandemic, racism, climate change and other big problems that aren’t going away any time soon. The struggle goes on.

But don’t cut short the celebration. We need it, along with every other spiritual resource we can muster. Living our Unitarian Universalist values, and holding elected officials accountable to those values, is a long-term project. Some motivation can come from righteous anger, but to sustain ourselves for the long haul we also need to care for ourselves, and maintain our connection to what is good and beautiful, and what inspires joy.

So celebrate. Get some rest, if you can. Steer clear of doomscrolling. Give your body something it needs.

And make space for whatever helps you to pay attention to the wonders and joys of this world. Not out of denial, but because you are committed to being part of the solution tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf
and pine; but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are
everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

May it be so.
Ann Kadlecek
Ministerial Intern

* * * * * * * * * 

October 28, 2020 - Vote Love

By next week at this time, Election Day will have passed.

Two of the seven UU principles invite us to covenant to affirm and promote “the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” and “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” I’ve been deeply moved by the work so many in the congregation have done through UU the Vote – specifically, writing postcards and letters to fellow Americans encouraging every recipient to vote. Some Souls are active with the League of Women Voters. (Remember when representatives from the League came to one of our services – now it seems like years ago – to make sure we all had the information we needed to register and to vote?) We got fired up at our October 4 service when we learned more about what we each can do to live out our values and “Vote Love.”

I participated in one of UU the Vote’s phone banks, the one to voters in Pennsylvania. It was the second time I’ve done so, the first was to voters in Wisconsin. I’ll share just one story.

Her name is Marilyn. She is in her 80s and she’s never missed casting her vote. She is voting in person this time because, “It’s the only way [she] trusts.” She lamented that it’s come to this in our country, the divisiveness, the cruelty. “I’ve never been scared before.” She’s scared that generations-long commitments like the peaceful transfer of power may not hold this time. We talked for about five minutes but that’s all it took for this voter to so openly share the content of her heart to the stranger on the other end of the line. I continued on to my next call with my own heart feeling lighter. There are many good people out there.

When you drop your ballot in the drop box or walk into your polling station, hold this truth close: there are good people out there and we’re all voting so that love will protect each and every one of them and each and every one of us.

Vote Love, dear Souls. And thank you for all you’ve done, inspired by your faith, to uphold the democratic process.

Rev. Carolyn

 

October 14, 2020  

In 2019 Naomi Shulman published a book entitled, Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place! 125 Kind Things to Say & Do. The book gets high marks on Goodreads. She also wrote a children’s book called, I Daven Every Day. From the looks of it, Shulman seems like a nice, Jewish woman.

Which brings us to “nice.” Women especially get tied up in knots over “nice” although it’s certainly not a gender-specific knot. That said, I vividly remember when at 28 years-old I finally reckoned with the tyranny of “nice." I advocated for myself in a way that was deeply honest but not classically “nice." It was a turning point.

When the president recently revealed that he tested positive for Covid-19, there were clergy who were flummoxed about what to say. There were people of faith – some of them committed to honoring the “inherent worth and dignity of all people” (ahem) – who drew a blank. We want to be nice.

Which brings us to Naomi Shulman who had something to say about the matter of “nice." Her something to say flew around social media:

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mother grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly, and focused on happier things than ‘politics.’ They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resistors.”

Here’s what your minister has to say about “nice:" Now is no time to cast yourself as victim to the tyranny of “nice.” Your righteous – if not “nice” – voice is needed to blow back the forces fanning the flames of violence, cruelty, and injustice. Democracy – a cornerstone of Unitarian Universalist values – is teetering on the edge of collapse. At the October 4 service, you heard the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray say that “Now is not the time for a casual faith.” To which your minister would add, “Now is not the time for ‘nice’.” It is the time for a deep and centered righteousness.

This moment is a turning point. Resist complacency. Resist “nice.” Bless the world with righteousness.

With Love, Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

 

October 7, 2020

Let the crisp air energize you!

In our recent zoom meeting of Caring Team and Pastoral Visitor volunteers, I shared at check-in about some dread that I feel with the coming of colder weather. It worries me that there will be fewer safe options for this extrovert to be among people. A Soul at the meeting reminded me of the Scandinavian saying that “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Okay, I can take that on board and work with it, yes. And others at the meeting shared that the crisper air of the fall is always energizing to them. They’ve gotten things done that had sat all summer long. Okay, I can take that on board, too.

The crisp air coupled with the high stakes of our political climate do have me feeling alert and fired up. I believe it is up to us to shape the country we want to live in. Rev. Cathy Rion-Starr shared in Sunday’s “UU the Vote” service that a honey bee only makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. I had no idea! She urged us to “make our small bit of honey so that together, we as Unitarian Universalists can make gallons and gallons of impact.” We rest in the power of a collective, and we are accountable to a collective. Join me in breathing in the crisp air and letting it energize you for the work to be done.

Love and good wishes,
Caitlin


September 30, 2020                                      Ministerial Intern Ann Kadlecek offers this reflection: How shall we lament?

I’ve been thinking about lament lately. It started when I realized that my most recent worship reflection[1] had become a lament, even though that’s not what I set out to write. They say that we write the sermons we need to hear, and that seems to have been true for me. And judging from the responses I received, it’s what many of you needed, too.

Lament is both something we do (a heartfelt expression of grief or anguish) and how we do it. Humans have been doing this for a very long time - lament is a key theme in the Hebrew bible, and many of the beautiful poems (which were probably songs) in the book of Psalms are laments. These laments have been part of individual devotion and communal worship for millennia, expressing fear, loss and grief that transcend time, while also connecting present suffering to the ancestors and a faith in something greater.

A recent UU World article notes another role of lament - helping us name and acknowledge the injustices in our world, which is a necessary step toward addressing them. A failure to lament, the author says, results in “docility and submissiveness.”[2]

In Unitarian Universalist (and most American Protestant) culture, we’ve moved away from ritualized lament. American Unitarianism and Universalism have always been optimistic faiths that set aside the psalms of our heritage; we’ve lost the language, practice and rituals.

What we haven’t lost is the need. In fact, collectively, the need is greater now than at any time I can remember. We need lament, and we’re going to continue to need it.

So, how shall we lament?
This community may hold many different answers to that question. We might, however, start with some of the Psalms of our heritage that have stood the test of time. The language might, or might not, be language you would choose, but our heart’s yearning runs deeper than our imperfect words.

Here’s one to get us started, Psalm 13:

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This lament has a traditional biblical structure: A heartfelt crying out in need, followed by a recommitment to what is trusted and an expression of gratitude or praise. If those words don’t work for you, consider trying your own language - name your suffering in as much detail as you like, and then remember what you place your trust in and what you are grateful for.

What might your lament look like in this moment? If you give it a try, consider sharing, as we all relearn how to lament.
In faith, love, and lament,
Ann
__________________________________

[1] “Made for These Times,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3w5ftkzdI

[2] https://www.uuworld.org/articles/lament-ritual


A MESSAGE FROM REVEREND CAROLYN

September 16, 2020  Rev. Carolyn offers this mid-week reflection:

“The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility.” Eberhard Bethage (From the introduction of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

All around us there is free-floating anxiety. Our collective lungs and pounding hearts feel it daily. My current outrage-turned-anxiety-turned pounding heart concerns the revelation that many women who are detained at the southern border of our country have been involuntarily sterilized. We know this only because a brave whistleblower had a strong enough moral compass to come forward thereby risking their livelihood and career to do what was right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of sacrifice of late. It’s not a concept Unitarian Universalists discuss often. When there is discussion it’s likely to be fraught. Yet, sacrifice is precisely what is called for in this terrible time – such as the sacrifice the aforementioned whistleblower exhibited; sacrifice such as the kind offered by the firefighters working in western states; sacrifice by those who have at least enough food, money, and opportunity for those who have precious little of each and all; the sacrifice of comfort we all make in wearing masks so that all of us may be safer.

Each week when the offering is taken up at All Souls we specifically say in response, “For all that you have shared and all that you have sacrificed, thank you.” We do so with intention, respectful of sacrifice’s meaning. We know that for many Souls, financially supporting the congregation comes at a cost that is thought worthy: sacrifice bolsters the greater good.

The greater good. More than anything right now, let’s hold the greater good in the center of our pounding hearts. Let’s sacrifice time, treasure, comfort, and privilege to see that our country’s wrongs are righted. There are women at the border – and so many others – counting on the willingness of “respectable people” to fly toward responsibility – even if it means sacrifice.

With Love and faith in your goodness,

Carolyn
 

***************************

September 2, 2020
Dear Souls,

This reflection is going to sound vaguely familiar. In his lovely homily shared a few weeks ago, Mark Robel – a bona fide gardener – shared some garden wisdom. I am not a gardener but I did recently glean some wisdom a little patch of dirt generously shared.

Kate is the gardener of the family. Every year she turns our little back yard into a kind of secret garden. It’s remarkable – remarkable to me, that is. Those of you who are gardeners, who happily put your hands in the dirt are probably amazed on some level but not, like me, amazed that anything resembling a garden is possible in the little bit of earth that I am lucky enough to call, “home.”

All this said, Kate does ask that I take responsibility for the little bed that stretches beneath our living room window. It’s barely ten feet wide and a foot across. Every year I go to Smith’s Acres in Niantic and have a good old time. I fill up my wagon with colors – because colors are all I know about gardening – that I think will “pop” alongside our bright red front door and the pink rocking chair that sits in front of that red door. This year I went for muted colors and the reliable coleus. And then I got distracted. Benign neglect ensued. It has not been pretty. Early in the summer, my daughter said that my little garden bed looked like a child’s stick drawing.

Then something interesting happened. Volunteer weeds began to pop up. (I’m choosing to call them “volunteers.”) And guess what? The “weeds” are prettier and more abundant than the fancy Smith's Acres flowers. I’m letting them be and delighting in the dirt’s wisdom.

So let that be a lesson to you and to me: chill out. Sometimes the best laid gardens - and plans - don’t quite bloom but being “in the weeds” doesn’t necessary mean that you’re lost. Sometimes it means that something more beautiful has been found.

Reverend Carolyn Patierno

**********************

August 26, 2020
The weekly reflection this week is offered by All Souls' associate minister Rev. Caitlin O'Brien.

Dear Souls,

There is an element of surrender to most spiritual traditions, an invitation to acknowledge the undeniable truth that we are not in charge. Today I need not remind you that we are neither in charge of the virus trying to replicate itself among us, nor in charge of a competent public health response to this threat. Yes, we have our part to play, but mostly we’ve just had to watch as our country’s Corona-virus death rate has become 6 times the global average. I trust that you share in my disgust with this fact, and that you are informing yourself, and taking a stand when and where you can.

In what has become not a sprint, but a marathon, I encourage you to remember to take care of yourself, because that is something that you actually are in charge of. For example, as often as you can, give yourself the chance to laugh out loud. This week, I’m reading a David Sedaris book that has me cackling under the covers at night. It’s good for the soul. And consider the washing of your hands to be an act of both physical and spiritual self-care. Join me, if you wish, in the practice of singing “Spirit of Life” as you wash your hands. I think that Carolyn McDade’s lyrics bring a great deal more meaning to this ritual than the “Happy Birthday” song. Don’t you agree?:

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

In solidarity and in faith,                                                                        
Rev. Caitlin

*************************
 

August 19, 2020 
Our intern minister, Ann Kadlecek, is back! Ann offers this week's reflection, with an invitation to build up our "letting go muscle". 

Hello, Souls!
It is good to be back with you, at the end of a summer that somehow has seemed both too short and too long.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself this summer is an abnormal tidiness. When so many important things seem beyond my control, keeping my books and files and projects organized just feels good.

Controlling something – anything – does feel good, but is it sustaining for the long haul? For this is definitely a long haul. And I encountered a very different perspective in one of my summer zoom groups – a weekly interfaith gathering of religious professionals, mostly chaplains, sharing the spiritual practices that are sustaining them, right now.

One chaplain shared that he used to have a set route for his morning walk, until one day he allowed his dog to choose where they would go. To me, this sounds very brave – I’m pretty sure my dog would lead me on a tour of New London trash bins and squirrels. And this chaplain did report some frustration at first. But his dog-led walk became a daily ritual that he now sees as an opportunity to strengthen his “letting go muscle” – a practice to build his capacity for letting go of bigger things. It is now, he says, his most important spiritual practice.

We’re all carrying a lot these days. We’re going to have to learn to set some of it down. This takes practice – not in big, dramatic ways, but in our everyday moments. Practice can happen when we approach something we’re already doing in a different way, refraining from control, or perhaps just letting our shoulders drop a little, and seeing what happens.

I’m not ready to give up my organized living room. But I’m finding other ways to practice – yesterday it was while driving, today on a call with the cable company (a really excellent opportunity to practice!).

May we each, in our own way, build the “letting go muscle” that we need to sustain us in these perilous times.

Be well, Souls.
Ann, Intern Minister

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August 12, 2020
Affiliate minister Rev. David Horst offers this week's reflection. 

The Persistence of Beauty

On my dark days, all I see is the ugliness pervading everything from city streets to our nation’s capital. I find litter, weeds, and blight in the city — a good metaphor of the corruption and cruelty among the ruling political class in Washington, D.C. Drinkers and smokers drop their empty nips and cigarette packs without a thought. Knee-high bitter dock, knotweed, and prickly lettuce in sidewalks and empty lots, spreading their late-summer seeds, have gone uncut for months. Soiled mattresses and crumbling particle-board furniture lie moldering at curbside. The city and political landscape from here to D.C. is debris-ridden and uncared for. How can I witness this uncaring and neglect and not feel dispirited?

And yet, somehow and someway, beauty persists. I witness the proliferation of Maximilian Sunflowers finding nourishment in the gutter. I praise the hardy Hydrangeas blooming blue and full in the heat of the day. I join local volunteers gathering on Saturday morning to clean up trash and debris from the streets of their city just as I support good-government leaders and citizens promoting honesty, equity, and decency.

By word and action, I resist the seduction of cynicism, the surrender to fear and division, and the wanton spread of ugliness.

Instead, I seek and find the beauty in our diverse cityscape and every human face. I believe that the democratic process and rule of law, like the beauty of the flowers, persists and flourishes.

Now it’s time to pick up the litter, cut the weeds, and clean up the streets — and speak out and vote.

Peace and blessings,
Reverend David Horst
Affiliate Minister