This Week's Prayer

Ground of being, ground of love:

Prayer means attention. That to which our hearts attend directs our energies. Let us then pause from usual cacophony of demands upon our attention and direct our heart on purpose. Let us bring intention to our attention.

Let us attend to our ultimate aspiration: to be people of compassion, living in connection, sensitive and responsive to pain even as we are bathed in wellsprings of peace and joy.

We remember today the more than 700 muslim pilgrims on Hajj near Mecca who died in a stampede Thursday.

Let us remember when thoughts of judgment arise because others are not like us that this is often in their favor -- though we find that hard to believe. This week bombs in a Sanaa, Yemen mosque killed worshippers celebrating Eidh-al-Adha. Bangladeshi bloggers were killed because they expressed ideas contrary to fundamentalist Muslims; and so with ISIL in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria. Judgment of others as not like oneself is a violence, and every country, every heart, has known this violence. It may kill bodies or may seek to wound spirits by marginalizing, ignoring, humiliating, and otherwise denying others' intrinsic worth and beauty. Let our hearts open in compassion.

Let our hearts hold the suffering of so many in Sumatra, due to fires which have been raging for several months, causing high levels of air pollution in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

Let our hearts hold the people of California affected by the fires there -- and gratitude for the firefighters, including some prisoners used as volunteer firefighters, helping others and perhaps finding a new purpose in life.

Let us be a people who turn toward, not away from tragedy, and are keen to turn tragedy into opportunities for new cooperation, connection, and the fostering of beloved community.

This week we learned about corrupt practices of many multi-national companies and governments – from German car manufacturer Volkswagen to various governments in recent history including Germany, the US, France, Panama and the United Kingdom teaching how to interrogate with torture methods that leave no physical trace. In Kenya, 500 police officers have been charged with crimes including murder. These are our siblings wreaking harm upon our siblings.

Let our hearts attend and seek ways to mend.

Let our hearts hold in gratitude the people of Europe who have opened their homes to refugee families. Particularly in Greece, people struggling themselves to survive are caring, feeding, and providing tents to arriving refugees. May we heed their model. Let our hearts hold in gratitude the high-tech work towards helping those paralyzed to have the hope of walking again -- and low-tech ways of improving agriculture in countries struggling with hunger and declining water supplies.

Let our hearts find inspiration from Pope Francis visiting among us. Some Catholic doctrine we do not share -- we are conscious of the harm wrought -- yet here, too, our Unitarian heritage reminds us that we need not think alike to love alike. Let us actively encourage the good this Pope represents and manifests. Let our hearts open to his call to care lovingly for this planet and for the people which populate it. Let our hearts hear his call for mercy and justice.

That to which our hearts attend directs our energies. Let our hearts and our energies be directed -- ever more gently, ever more strongly -- toward love.


What Is Spirituality?

What Is Spirituality?

So what is spirituality? It's a term that encompasses transcendent love, inner peace, “all-right-ness,” acceptance, awe, beauty, wonder, humility, gratitude, a freshness of experience;
a feeling of plenitude, abundance, and deep simplicity of all things; “the oceanic feeling,” Sigmund Freud spoke of, calling it “a sense of indissoluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal.”

In moments of heightened spiritual experience, the gap between self and world vanishes. The normal experience of time leaves us, and each moment has a quality of the eternal in it. Symptoms of developing spirituality include:
  • increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen;
  • more frequent attacks of smiling from the heart;
  • more frequent feelings of being connected with others and nature;
  • more frequent episodes of overwhelming appreciation;
  • decisions flow more from intention or spontaneity and less from fears based on past experience;
  • greater ability to enjoy each moment;
  • decreased worrying;
  • decreased interest in conflict, in interpreting the actions of others, in judging others, and in judging self;
  • increased nonjudgmental curiosity;
  • increased capacity to love without expecting anything in return;
  • increased receptivity to kindness offered and increased interest in extending kindness to others.
By orienting toward the elevated – whether in compassion, ethics, art, or experience of divine presence – we transcend the ego defense mechanisms by which most of us spend our lives governed.

Psychologist Robert Cloninger and his team at the Center for Well-Being of the Department of Psychiatry of the School of Medicine of Washington University in St. Louis sought a way to define spirituality more definitely, empirically, and measurably. Their 240-item questionnaire called the "Temperament and Character Inventory,” includes spirituality (they call it self-transcendence), as one of the dimensions of character. As Cloninger measures it, spirituality is the sum of three subscales: self-forgetfulness; transpersonal identification; and acceptance.

First, self-forgetfulness. This is the proclivity for becoming so immersed in an activity that the boundary between self and other seems to fall away. Whether the activity is sports, painting, playing a musical instrument, we might sometimes lose ourselves in it, and the sense of being a separate independent self takes a vacation.

Second, transpersonal identification. This is recognizing oneself in others -- and others in oneself. If you have ever found yourself looking at another person -- or another being -- with a feeling that you are that other, their body embodies you -- or if you have looked at yourself with a sense that your being embodies others -- then you have experienced transpersonal identification. Spirituality involves connecting with the world's suffering and apprehending that suffering as our very own.

Transpersonal identification goes beyond "there but for the grace of God go I.” It's not that grace saves you from the unfortunate circumstances others endure. Nothing saves you because, in fact, you are not saved from those circumstances. If anyone is hungry, then you are hungry, for the hungry are you. That's transpersonal identification.

Third, acceptance. This is the ability to accept and affirm reality just as it is, even the hard parts, even the painful and tragic parts. Spiritually mature people are in touch with the suffering of the world, yet also and simultaneously feel joy in that connection. "Acceptance" does not mean complacency about oppression, injustice and harm. Indeed, the spiritually mature are also often the most active and the most effective in working for peace and social justice. They are energized to sustain that work because they can accept reality just as it is, even as they also work to change it. Because they are not attached to results of their work, they avoid debilitating disappointment and burn-out and are able to maintain the work for justice cheerfully. Because they find joy in each present moment, they avoid recrimination and blame. They see that blame merely recapitulates the very reactivity that is at the root of oppression.

Add together your scores for self-forgetfulness, transpersonal identification, and acceptance. The sum is your spirituality score.

Spirituality Is Not Volitional -- but Practicing Is

Here's the thing, though. It's not a matter of will. It's not a matter of volition. It's not a matter of weighing the pros and cons and making a decision. You can't decide to be more spiritual or more spiritually mature.

If you are low in spirituality -- that is, as Cloninger finds, you are practical, self-conscious, materialistic, controlling, characterized by rational objectivity and material success -- you can't wake up one morning and decide you are no longer going to be that way. It's who you are, and your own rational objectivity will very sensibly point out to you that you don't even know what it would mean to not be that way.

What you can decide, what is a matter of will and volition, is whether to take up a certain kind of discipline called a spiritual practice -- and just see where it takes you. I know that these days all kinds of things get called a spiritual practice. But let's differentiate spiritual practice from just something you do.

What Makes a Practice a Spiritual Practice

Quilting, piano-playing, or hiking might or might not qualify as spiritual practice – that is, might or might not tend to produce the symptoms of developing spirituality. An activity is more likely to work as spiritual practice if you seriously treat it as one.

First, treating a practice as a spiritual practice means engaging the activity with mindfulness -- focusing on the activity as you do it, with sharp awareness of each present moment.

Second, treating a practice as a spiritual practice means engaging the activity with intention of thereby cultivating spiritual development – reflecting as you do the activity (or just before and just after) on your intention to manifest those symptoms of spiritual development in your life.

Third, treating a practice as a spiritual practice means sometimes engaging the activity with a group that gathers expressly to do the activity in a way that cultivates spirituality – sharing each others’ spiritual reflections before, during, or after doing the activity together.

Fourth -- and most of all -- it requires establishing a foundation of spiritual openness. There are three basic daily practices for everyone that over time develop a foundation upon which some other practice can grow into a real spiritual practice.
  • Silence. 15 minutes a day being still and quiet, just bringing attention to your own amazing breathing.
  • Journaling. 15 minutes a day writing about your gratitudes, your highest hopes and your experiences of awe.
  • Study. 15 minutes a day reading “wisdom literature” – the essays of Pema Chodron or Thomas Merton, the poems of Rumi or Mary Oliver, the Dao de Jing, the Bible’s book of Psalms – just to mention a very few examples of wisdom literature.
With these three daily practices building your foundation of spiritual awareness, then gardening, yoga, or throwing pottery are much better positioned to truly be spiritual practices for you.

* * *
This is part 2 of 3 of "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spirituality"
See also:
Part 1: Atheist Spirituality vs. The Family Business
Part 3: What'll You Get Out of It?


Atheist Spirituality vs. The Family Business

This Is It

Set aside the illusion of your past, the gossamer dreams of your future. Return to right now, this place: your body, your surroundings. After all, this is it.

The point was whimsically expressed by poet James Broughton:
This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That

O it is This
and it is Thus
and it is Them
and it is Us
and it is Now
and Here It is
and Here We are
so This is It 
Atheist Spirituality

I recently became aware of a phenomenon called atheist spirituality, which may sound like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or plastic glasses. Let me give you a couple samples. First, here’s Andy Walters describing "My Spiritual Atheism" on his blog:
"As a spiritual atheist, I mean that I reject the supernatural but affirm the reality and value of what most people usually mean when they say 'the divine.'... [The divine is transcendent love, and] Transcendent love is valuing others’ interests above your own.... Practicing respect, humility, compassion, and altruism, for example, is intensely gratifying.... It is the divine -- the part of me that “transcends” my ego.... Second, by “divine”, people also mean inner peace -- being unafraid of what is, has been, or will be.... When I experience it, I am flooded with a sense of “all-right-ness” with myself and my circumstances. Although it is a sense of acceptance, it does not rid me of the desire to better myself and my circumstances.... Awe is the final component of what people usually mean when they speak of the divine. Divine awe is a sense of utter astonishment and wonder at the mystery of existence...the degree of awe that can come from observing the mystery of existence.... For thousands of years, humans have mapped out the divine and many have explained it in terms of the supernatural. With the advent of modernism, however, that language no longer makes sense. But that doesn’t mean that the divine isn’t real -- it only means we need a different vocabulary to describe the same reality. I call it spiritual atheism." (CLICK HERE)
The second sample is from a video I found called, “My Spirituality as an Atheist”
"...I’d have to consider myself a spiritual person. I’m not talking about some ghostly, ethereal soul...inside my body.... I’m talking about the essence of human...: the action or ability to see beauty, to feel wonder, and to be in awe.... The Grand Tetons.... A pile of stars...still and perfect.... At times I can be so overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive that I cry or I laugh or I scream or I just breathe deeply. Being humble is simply the feeling of recognizing the reality of one’s small significance to a universe so massive. Being grateful to be alive doesn't require a person to be grateful toward.... I am one with the universe. I am as much the universe as a supernova: made of the same particles, governed by the same forces. I am genes that mutated randomly then were selected naturally based on their success in survival. And I love apple butter on a biscuit. I collapse in awe at the magnificence of this place.... I breathe appreciation for it all. I have to – with all my essence, with all my spirit."

Yup. "It is now, and here it is, and here we are, so this is it." There’s something very pure about each moment, just one chance to experience it: blossoms and sunshine and one morning’s journey together. This is it.

The Family Business

I’m the first-born child of rationalist humanist academic parents. I grew up and went into the family business: being a rationalist humanist academic. I was in fourth grade in a small town in Georgia when I first heard the word “atheist” – and asked what it meant. Shortly afterward, I decided I was one.

This was a scandal to my classmates. The scandal died down after a week or so, but from then on through high school I was “the class atheist.” Even so, apart from a few kids who were hostile, and a few others who undertook to try to save me, my classmates by and large politely ignored our differences of theological opinion. If there was a disconnect between us because of religion, looking back, I’d say the distance-making, the wall-building, came more from me than from them. As a child and teenager, my sad heart hardened and chose contempt as its protective strategy.

I was not the sort of atheist that went for “spirituality” – did not use that word for my experiences. Nor did I think in terms of sacred, divine, transcendent. Wasn’t so keen on awe, mystery, or wonder either. So what I want to tell you this morning is how I learned to stop worrying and love spirituality.

Strange Love

Some of you might remember Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie, “Dr. Strangelove.” It was a black comedy satirizing the prevalent fear of the time: nuclear bombs. How many of you have seen the movie? The subtitle was, you may remember, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

Life sometimes hits like a bomb, blows up the world as we have known it: the loss of a loved one, traumatic tragedy. Bombs are fearful things: the nuclear bombs with which nations threaten whole populations, and the little explosions inside handguns that propel bullets for neighbor to kill neighbor, and all the varieties of in-between bombs that terrorize our hearts, that shake and sadden our souls.

Life also explodes in beauty: the birth of a child, the arrival of spring, an act of kindness.

How do we learn to ease the worry and bring love to the bombs we fear? How do we learn to stop worrying and love: everything; even the hard parts? It calls for development of such virtues as equanimity and compassion. Those are spiritual virtues – and even if they are entirely a matter of getting our neurons wired a certain way, the circuitry of spirituality draws on but is different from purely cognitive intelligence – draws on but is different from the emotional circuitry.

Native disposition – genetics – accounts for some of a person’s spiritual virtue. Can you cultivate the spiritual virtues beyond your native disposition? Maybe. Sort of.

But first, what is spirituality? To that question we will turn in Part 2.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Spirituality"
See also:
Part 2: What Is Spirituality?
Part 3: What'll You Get Out of It?


Boomer Buddhist

Those of us who, like me, were born in the baby boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964) have seen a lot of change. We started life in a world in which father knew best, schools and lunch counters were segregated or just beginning to be desegregated, people smoked everywhere, TV had three stations, and every kid was a free-range kid. I grew up a white, middle-class, American boomer -- which is to say, for instance, I was quite familiar with spaghetti, but I'd never heard of fettucine -- or sushi, or pesto, or quiche.

It’s a whole new world. Through US history up into the 1970s, more than 90 percent of Americans were Christian. Outside of Asian immigrant communities, there was no Buddhism to speak of. I think I was about 14 before I ever encountered Eastern religion of any kind: an older friend took me along to a Hare Krishna party. Boomers came into a world where there were very few English-speaking Buddhist or Zen groups. Today the number of Americans who identify as Christian is down to about 70 percent, and there is hardly a town in the country without a legitimate Buddhist teacher and sangha, representing one of the many lineages and traditions.

What once seemed exotic -- like quiche and fettucine alfredo – has come to be perfectly ordinary – like quiche and fettucine alfredo.

Here’s how it happened for me. I entered seminary to prepare for a second career as a minister. In 2001, at the end of my first year of seminary, I had the prescribed interview with my regional subcommittee on candidacy. I was nervous. I intellectualized as my protective strategy.

"Do you have a spiritual practice?" one of the members of this committee asked me.

Before starting seminary, I had spent two years as the congregational facilitator and preacher for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Clarksville, Tennessee. Before that, I'd served as a president of our Fellowship in Waco, Texas, as Vice President of our church in Charlottesville, Virginia and had worked as the church secretary for a year at our Nashville, Tennessee church. But did I have a spiritual practice?

I was a born-and-raised Unitarian Universalist. I had a Ph.D. I'd been a university professor of philosophy for four years. I could debate about metaphysics, metaethics, metatheology, poststructuralism, postindustrialism, and postmodernism. If it was meta-, or post-, I was there. But did I have a spiritual practice?

I told them that while I was exercising on my ski machine, I liked to put on a CD of the chants of the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. The regional subcommittee on candidacy was unimpressed. Their advice to me: get a spiritual practice. They didn’t define “spiritual practice.” They just said, get one. And I am forever in their debt for changing my life on that day.

I’d read about Buddhism, and I agreed with what it said. So I decided to begin practicing it. Six years later, in 2007, I received jukai – formally received the Buddhist precepts. It’s kinda like confirmation. I was given a dharma name: “Hotetsu.”

So I am both Unitarian Universalist and Buddhist. Unitarian Universalist has a number of theological subgroups. We have our Unitarian Universalist humanists, our Unitarian Universalist Christians, our Unitarian Universalist pagans, our Unitarian Universalist Jews. Less numerous, but in existence, there are Unitarian Universalist Muslims, and Unitarian Universalist Hindus. And, of course, some of us are simply Unitarian Universalist Unitarian Universalist.

Some years ago, a survey of Unitarian Universalists sought to gather data about how our various theological subgroups are accepted in our congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Christians tended to say that they felt mostly accepted, but sometimes felt a little marginalized in their Unitarian Universalist congregation. The Unitarian Universalist pagans mostly said that they felt mostly accepted, but sometimes did feel a little marginalized. The Unitarian Universalist Humanists said they were generally accepted, but occasionally felt a little marginalized. The Unitarian Universalist Buddhists said, “We’re just fine.” Interesting!

All the while I was becoming Buddhist I was also becoming more Unitarian Universalist than ever. I was studying our history, our polity, our theology, our congregational life -- and loving us more and more.

There’s a lot of overlap between Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism, especially the naturalized, liberal Buddhism that I practice and teach. But to get a picture of what UU Buddhism looks like, we need to look at one important thing that’s very UU and isn’t Buddhist. In fact, none of the Eastern religions include it: an orientation toward justice as part of the religion. The Unitarian Universalist second principle is "justice, equity, and compassion" (justice also appears in our sixth principle). The Buddhist tradition has a lot to say about compassion; very little about justice or equity.

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "UU Buddhism"
See also:
Part 2: Athens, Jerusalem, and Buddha
Part 3: How to Save the World


Just Keep Noticing

Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), has written a book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. His book highlights some examples:

Alan Marlatt uses mindfulness to address our national substance abuse problems. Marlatt is the founder of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention. Thousands of mental health counselors and therapists are teaching clients mindfulness to help with depression, with social anxiety, with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health issues.

Midwife Nancy Bardacke, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Program, has found that expectant parents who learn mindfulness “develop skills for working with the stresses of pregnancy and everyday life.” (163).

Others have adapted MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) specifically for teens to equip teens during that very stressful time of life with “the skills they need to keep themselves balanced in a world that can be difficult and complicated for young people.” It trains the brain for resilience and cheerfulness.

Oakland’s “Mind Body Awareness Project” is bringing mindfulness training to gang members. Mindfulness enables 12- and 13-year-old boys to “see for the first time that it’s OK to be who they are and that they don’t have to belong to a gang to attain self-fulfillment.” (164).

Mindfulness has the power to liberate us from the manacles of our own reactivity. Reactivity. Something occurs; we don’t like it; the limbic system is triggered, and we just react. Stress levels go up; the capacity to empathize goes down. Reactivity in our schools produces increased stress from the negative judgmentalism of peers, which, at the extreme, includes bullying -- and sometimes a corresponding inability of bully victims to get unstuck from the role of victim. Reactivity in our military can put soldiers in a mindset of “shoot ‘em all and let God sort it out.” Reactivity in our police is a contributing factor in readiness to shoot unarmed civilians. Traumatic stress levels can lead to PTSD for the rest of their lives.

Some frustration and anger is inherent in the work they do. Absence of skills to manage those feelings is not. Reactivity shows up in disease rates, and pain, and pain medication, and self-medication with alcohol or drugs, licit or illicit. Reactivity shows up in gang loyalty to one’s insiders and gang violence toward those seen as rivals.

There is no easy way to health, no magic bullet. It’s not easy to get out and exercise everyday. That’s a hard discipline. But the heart attack you could have prevented hurts a lot more. If we haven’t been training ourselves in nonjudgmental awareness, in identifying our feelings, in empathizing with ourselves and with others, then when the reactivity comes – and it does come from time to time for everyone – we have no resources for managing it.

Problems, there will always be. As the Congressman points out, and my own experience certainly confirms:
“We will still misplace our keys. We will still forget people’s names. We will still say and do things that may hurt others, including those we love. We will say the exact wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. But in each of these instances, with mindfulness we may do it just a bit less. We may see the humor in our mistakes and be able to laugh at ourselves more. We may be just a little less critical of others, and of ourselves. Or we may deal with our mistakes more quickly and with a more sincere and kind heart. We may more easily forgive the people who have hurt us. We may sit down and have civil political conversations with those who strongly disagree with us.”
So it’s not like this is going to solve all your problems.

Last Jun 5, a headline in the Washington Post read “Meditation and Mindfulness Aren’t As Good for You as You Think.” I don’t know if this is true, since I don’t know how good for you you think they are. The article points out that
“we still can’t be sure what the active ingredient is. Is it the meditation itself that causes the positive effects, or is it more to do with learning to step back and become aware of our thoughts and feelings in a supportive group environment?”
Everything I know leads me to emphasize the importance of both. There’s a magic in being still and quiet every day. There’s also a magic in a supportive group environment. And the combination is greater than the sum of the parts. I always recommend both daily practice by yourself and weekly gathering to practice in a group.

The article then points out that for some people sitting alone and being fully present to whatever thoughts and feelings arise can be disturbing. Sometimes the thoughts and feelings aren’t pleasant ones. Mindfulness practice can be emotionally and psychologically disturbing.

This is true. You can bring it forth, get to know it, gradually work out a peace with it – or you can keep trying to keep it buried, and then, from the depths it will poke through in various unexpected ways. You can plunge into what is disturbing now -- or you can hide from it, for a while. Eventually, it always catches up. Remember that verse from the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
And again, it’s invaluable to have a supportive group, and if possible, a teacher, to help you work through disturbing experiences that may arise in meditation.

We all have our demons. Rather than keep fighting to suppress them, better to welcome them, embrace them, and befriend them – though that can be difficult, frightening, and disturbing at first. The only way out is through.

In addition to the demons within, there’s the suffering around us. In a recent meeting of our Journey Group facilitators, one of our facilitators told about having undertaken, for the last three months now, to really be attentive to people and surroundings. This facilitator reported,
“It’s not always good. There are some sad things that I would have preferred not to think about. Some of what I’m now noticing is not fun and not happy.”
That is exactly right.

Showing up for life means showing up for all of it. Presence to the sadness is as important as accessing wellsprings of love, peace, and joy – and, really, presence to the sadness, the tragedy, the pain and loss and grief that is all around, is a necessary and integral part of accessing the wellsprings of love, peace, and joy.

When I offer the prayer each Sunday, I aim to, among other things, bring our collective attention to the hurt in this world because mindfulness that isn’t attentive to the magnitude of pain isn’t mindfulness. The strategy of just not thinking about the enormity of the world’s anguish – or of your own -- is sooner or later going to fail.

Old age, sickness, and death come for all of us and all our loved ones. Best to get ready now. Moreover, in the meantime: compassion. Compassion requires attention to suffering.

It all begins where you are. Wiggle your toes again. Feel the way they push against your shoes. Feel the weight of your feet on the floor. Now notice the pressure of your body on your seat. Notice how your back feels.




* * *
This is part 3 of 3 of "Mindfulness"
See also
Part 1: Mindfulness
Part 2: Mindfulness in Unlikely Places: Congress


This Week's Prayer

Dear Source of healing and wholeness we call by many names,

We pray in order to give voice to the longings of our heart.

Our hearts go out to the more than 430,000 refugees who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, and for those nearly 3,000 who have died or gone missing as they sought asylum in unseaworthy boats or at the hands of unscrupulous human traffickers.

Our hearts go out to the Syrians:
- the 250,000 Syrians who have been killed in four years of brutal war;
- the 7.6 million Syrians, half of the country’s population, who have been forced from their homes, including the 4 million who have fled the country;
- the one million more Syrians who will flee the war before year’s end.

Our hearts go out to the families of the 17 people drowned in Utah this week in flash floods.

Our hearts go out to those in California who have lost everything to wild fires that have destroyed homes and immense tracts of timberland and threatened the majestic and ancient redwoods. Many humans and many other animals have lost their homes.

Our hearts go out to Chile, still bracing against aftershocks of Wednesday’s 8.3 magnitude earthquake. Eleven died, and a million have been evacuated as a safety precaution.

Our hearts go out to the people of the Philippines, as they face a presidential election in the midst of many political scandals. We hope for them a leader of integrity, intellect, experience, and political will.

And to the people of our own country. May we and our fellow citizens learn to stop rewarding politicians who speak falsely. May we insist on the truth, even when it is complicated, even when it does not fit our preconceptions – for we have the politicians we deserve, and if the people are not committed to truth, our politicians will not be.

May we always have the courage to answer with love, with humility, with compassion.


This Week's Prayer

Dear Love,

The Christian scriptures include a parable in which the personification of love speaks to the people of compassion and says to them: "I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me."

The people of compassion are puzzled and ask Love: "When was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?"

Love answers, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matt 25:31-40).

Thus the people of compassion inherit a kingdom -- a kin-dom, a connectedness, a one-ness and a wholeness -- prepared for them from the foundation of the world. This is not a reward given in return for goodness. Rather, acts of compassion ARE the connectedness and realize the wholeness. The compassion IS the kin-dom.

Dear Love, the United Nations first warned over a year ago that more people around the world had been forcibly displaced than at any time since World War II. That figure has since risen from 51 million people to almost 60 million. Over half the world’s refugees have been in exile for at least five years, many in closed refugee camps where they do not have the right to work or move freely. Others cross the Mediterranean in inadequate and overloaded crafts.

They come from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, Bangladesh, Gambia, and other lands.

Thousands have drowned, or otherwise died.

They are driven into danger of losing their lives and their children's lives, driven from the homes they have known because their homelands lack safety, lack opportunity, lack basic life essentials, lack food or water, lack political representation, lack uncorrupted leadership.

Many flee persecution. They all flee in order to survive, even when threats to survival fall outside standard definitions of “persecution.”

May we commit to true concern and respect for those who have been getting neither.

Last week the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association launched a special Refugee Crisis fund, along with a petition drive asking the Obama administration to raise the number of refugees admitted into the US to 200,000. May we contribute to both of those efforts.

May we also examine the ways our country’s policies contribute to the conditions that create refugees.

Dear Love, may we be among the people of compassion.


This Week's Prayer

Adapted from Hildegarde of Bingen:
“Fire of the Spirit, life of the lives of creatures, spiral of sanctity, bond of all natures, glow of charity, lights of clarity, taste of sweetness to the fallen, be with us and hear us. Composer of all things, joy in the glory, strong honor, be with us and hear us.” (SLT #493)
Be with us and hear us, as our hearts are with the millions fleeing Syria, seeking refuge in Europe.

These words went up recently at UUA.org:

“The familiar can be delicate and too often suddenly lost and destroyed: homes and roads and neighborhoods -- or simply the sense of security which makes a place feel like it’s yours, like it’s a place to stay.
For so many reasons, people depart. They seek refuge from a thousand dangers and uncertainties for themselves and their children from places they can’t stay onward to places often unknown.
We hold the refugee, asylum-seeker, immigrant in prayer:
May God be with you.
May your grief and loss be assuaged.
May the hard road you travel include spaces of rest and security.
May you know your inherent worth and dignity every day of the journey.
We pray for the people who are met along the way:
May they remember how they were strangers too.
May they embrace the pathways of compassion.
May they recall the teachings of the prophets.
May they make room in their hearts and their homes.
We pray for all of us:
May the news that 70 migrating people were discovered dead in a truck arriving in Austria open our eyes to injustice.
May the image of the body of the 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi make us tremble and wail.
May the plight of refugees in Budapest stir our souls.
May we understand that around the world similar tragedies occur daily, usually beyond our awareness.
May we count our blessings and direct our generous support where there is need.
May we seek partnerships that confront unjust structures and hardened hearts.
May we recommit ourselves to global community beyond all borders.
In human solidarity, and with a firm commitment to the pathways of compassion, may we pray and act unceasingly.”

“Fire of the Spirit, . . . Composer of all things, joy in the glory, strong honor, be with us and hear us.”