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First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist

I was lucky enough this past Sunday to be at the Coming of Age ceremony at my church, First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist. The Coming of Age ceremony is a process where the kids who have been in religious education are now transitioning into the Youth Group, but they do it with a whole year program of investigation of the world, where they see themselves in relation to the congregation, and what their own beliefs and feelings about the world are. It culminates with this service where the kids run the service, and instead of a sermon, each of them get up and read to the congregation their Credo (latin for “I believe”) statements. They’ve been working on them for months to hone what it is that they truly believe about their world, and it is so amazing to see these 13 and 14 year olds speak so articulately to a large audience about something so personal.

I was commenting to people afterwards that we as adults don’t get this opportunity too often. As I grow and change, I know that my feelings about the world have changed. While I have been doing a great deal of personal and professional development over the past number of years (as I hope is apparent from this blog!), I haven’t really formulated it into a crystallized format for presentation. It’s quite the gift, and showed me that I really should take the time for that more often. I got a hint of that in my personal retreat that I took last month (and am planning on doing monthly from now on).

Professionally, I’m all about what is your message and how are you delivering it to your appropriate audience. As I’ve discovered time and time again, the lessons learned from one area of your life are usually very applicable to other areas.

So, what do you believe and can you describe it to others?

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Ken at Rowe Yankee Plant, Rowe, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

Ken at Rowe Yankee Plant, Rowe, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

I was lucky enough to be asked back for the second time to be a workshop leader for the Gay Men’s Labor Day Weekend at the Rowe Camp and Conference Center in Rowe. It’s a wonderful Unitarian Universalist retreat center in Western Massachusetts off the Mohawk Trail, and they’ve had numerous famous people in the personal development field give workshops there. It’s a great group of men who get together and share their humanity. Thanks to Ben Seaman to have the faith in me to present again!

I lead two workshops: “Finding Your Calling” and “How You Show Up in Dating Profiles” (talk about self-branding!). I also got to take a writing workshop and partake in the other great activities.

The Conference Center is about the biggest thing in the Town of Rowe, which has about 700 people and is miles from the nearest road with a route number. We walked the 1/4 mile from our site to the middle of town to use the old church, which looks like it is now used as a community building. It’s the type of place where you can walk in the middle of the road and can tell if a car is coming from far enough away to get to safety before they get near you.

Most people know the town as the site of the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, which is now closed down. I drove past it on my way to Monroe and its on a side of a steep mountainside way far away from most people. I was told that the construction vehicles used to barrel down those rural roads and almost crash on the sharp turns. I’m sure this town was picked because its so rural.

Ken at Rowe Camp & Conference Center, Rowe, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

Ken at Rowe Camp & Conference Center, Rowe, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

Rowe Center, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

Rowe Center, Massachusetts, 1 September 2012

So, what do you want to be known for?

In my further striving to share interesting voices with you, I came upon this essay by Vilius Rudra Dundzilla, who is a yogi, university professor, Unitarian Universalist minister, and all around interesting guy.  This essay was first posted on another blog, but I had to share it hear. I met Rudra at Easton Mountain, and have been following his unique approach to life since then.

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The Importance of Spiritual Fitness

Me

Let me tell you about Orion. He’s a big, muscular guy. An ex-football player, and an ex-marine. He’s a body builder now. He looks like an Arnold Schwarzenegger type. He manages a lumber yard in Virginia. He’s pretty fit.

Last weekend was Orion’s 30th birthday. He was celebrating it by going on a yoga vacation. We both attended a retreat for yoga teachers and advanced practitioners. It was at Easton Mountain, a Gay spiritual center in the Adirondacks near Albany, NY.

The first session was an intense warm up routine. Lots of stretching, in many different ways, to get the muscles warm and limber. With a deep focus on breathing, and bio-feedback. Yoga is meditation in postures.

Orion knocked his back out. It hurt him the rest of the weekend. He dropped out of the program, eventually taking vicadin. His back was so stiff, and hurt so much.

I felt sorry for him.

I asked him how he prepared for the yoga retreat.

He didn’t. He hadn’t practiced yoga in 3 years. He thought he could just pick it up again. I think that was the foot ball player or the body builder talking. The retreat had very clear preparation steps. We were to detoxify our bodies for two weeks. And we were to practice as much yoga as possible. Daily. At home, with DVDs, or in yoga classes. Orion did none of this. And he suffered the consequences for it.

You

You’re probably thinking something like, “I’ld never do something like that!” A whole weekend yoga boot camp. Forget it.

OK, I’m the yoga freak here.

But I know you’ve been through similar situations.

Think back to your college days, or high school.

You’ve got your final exam tomorrow. How do you study for it?

Well, best practices say study a few hours each day, over several weeks.

But how do you study for the exam?

You pull an all nighter, craming for the test. You fall asleep around 3 or 4 am. The next morning you wake up, drink a pot of coffee, and hope for the best.

That is, if you wake up in time for the test. I once had a student sleep through his final because he pulled an all nighter studying.

Some of you are triathletes or marathon runners. How to you prepare? Do you wake up the morning of the Chicago marathon, and decide over breakfast at McDonald’s, I think I’ll run the marathon today.

NO.

You plan ahead and start practicing months in advance. You need to get ready.

God

Our religious traditions are filled with stories like this.

Spirituality does not happen over night. It requires practice.

We heard the Taoist tale of Khing the woodcutter. And how he prepared for his sacred task of carving a bell stand. It was no ordinary bell stand, but an elaborate one for a temple.

In the Jewish tradition, Miriam is the sister of Moses. She is the only woman in the Tanakh, Hebrew Scriptures, named a prophet or a prophetess. When the Hebrews escape from Egypt, she leads the people in celebration. She sings and dances in victory. It’s “The Song of Miriam.” She inspires the Hebrews, and they rejoice with her. These are her spiritual practices. Our choirs still do this today.

In Christianity, we have John the Baptist. He eats locusts and honey, and lives in the desert with his renegade band of followers. He wanders from town to town, preaching the coming of the Messiah. And he baptizes people, that is, washes away their sins. That’s his spiritual practice.

Let’s face it. As Unitarian Universalists, this guy would probably not appeal to our religious sensibilities.

Islam has Mohammed. He learns Judaism and Christianity from his fellow merchants. He rejects the idolatry of his people. He begins to worship the one God. He goes to the caves outside Mecca to meditate in solitude and silence. There, his revelations begin. That’s his spiritual practice.

India gives the world Gandhi.

He’s a corporate lawyer. A graduate of British education in India and England. A very proper gentleman. But he believes in human rights, and he fights for equality. He organizes all kinds of boycotts, and protests, and marches in South Africa and in India. He breaks unjust laws. He opposes segregation, Apartheid, discrimination, excessive taxation, mistreatment of the poor and underprivileged, and especially the British occupation of India. But he also realizes that he needs to prepare himself. He needs to become a different person, so he could effectively transform the world. From this realization, comes his teaching, “to be the change we want to see in the world.”

“To be the change we want to see in the world.” That is the essence of spiritual fitness. As a child, he grows in up a religious family with Hindu devotionals. As an adult, he examines the religion of his youth. And explores other ones as well. Sound familiar?

Gandhi develops his deep spiritual practices gradually, over his life time. He experiments a lot. And he sticks with the practices that work for him. It’s trial and error.

He mediates every morning. He prays. He studies scriptures: Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and Jewish, all the religions. He even translates the Bhagavad Gita. He eats a vegetarian diet, and even tries a Fruitarian one. He controls his sexuality, sometimes to the chagrin of his wife. He keeps a day of silence once a week. Silence.

He weaves his own clothing out of Indian homespun cotton. And wears very simple Indian peasant clothes: a dhoti and a shawl. He journals, daily. And he writes articles, letters, and edits a newspaper. He takes long fasts. To purify himself, and to protest social ills. And when factions would argue at a meeting, He’d do one of two things. He’d suddenly declare that it was time for prayer. Or, he would serve tea to everyone. He would break class barriers and take on the role of a servant. Jesus washes feed. Gandhi serves tea. Seekers would come to Gandhi’s ashram. They have great plans, and huge ideas. They want to organize all sorts of protests, and marches, and actions. Gandhi tells them to spin and weave their own clothing first. BUT, BUT, BUT they try to respond. And then clean the toilets, Gandhi says. That blows their bubbles. He’s teaching them patience and humility.

Gandhi’s spiritual work empowers him. His gumption for social justice comes from his inner spiritual work. His struggles for human rights and equality is effective only because of his spiritual preparation. His spiritual fitness. He calls himself a spiritual warrior.

Gandhi is an example for us. We need to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

You

You know as well as I do that spiritual practice is a challenge. It takes time to find the right one. And then things get in the way, and you forget about it. But with repetition, it becomes easier. It becomes your second nature. The practice sustains you. It kicks in, when you need it most. Like when you find yourself stressed out, worried, spinning out of control. Bills, shopping, work, guests, you name it. And suddenly you remember the practice. And it calms you down.

A mother once told me her teen son had locked himself in the bathroom. Teens sometimes need their privacy, you know. After a while, mom knocked on the door. She got a gruff answer, “Ma, I’m all right. Leave me alone.” After a long while, she knocked again. There was no answer. She could not open the door. She panicked. She forgot how to unlock a bathroom door. She could not get to her son, to see what was going on with him. And she worried: how could she lift him? He was bigger than her. Her mind raced. Was it drugs? Or alcohol? Or, heaven forbid, suicide? Did he drown in the bathtub? Or electrocute himself? Or something else? She was going crazy.

She called 911. The paramedics took care of everything.

In the ambulance she realized, she needed to let go. Her son was in capable hands. She could do nothing to help. And she remembered the meditative breath, her meditative breath. The breath that clamed her down. Breathing, she could care for him without obsessing, without driving herself crazy.

As it turned out, he had gone into insulin shock. All-knowing and all-powerful teen that he was, he had not taken his insulin that day. Or maybe for a few days. He felt fine, so he felt did not need his meds.

As religious seekers, the challenge for you is finding a spiritual practice that works for you. And sticking with it.

What is your spiritual practice?

What do you do to center and ground yourself?

What inner work gives you inspiration and energy to do your outer work?

Is it meditation? Knitting? Gardening? Biking, or jogging? Walking along the lake front?

Take moment to think about this, and jot down notes on the slip of paper provided.

We

As a congregation, we are here to help each other. One of our goals is spirituality. Let’s read the words on the cover of our OOS together: 2U “is a vibrant community that inspires you to develop your own spiritual path and live our your values in the world.”

We share spiritual practices together in worship. Worship is the core life of a congregation. We pray, we sing, and we seek inspiration together. That is a spiritual practice. We have small group ministries, with check-in, a spiritual reading, and personal reflection about the reading. That is a spiritual practice.

We have children’s and adult faith development programs. We learn spiritual practices, grapple with life’s tough questions, and find ways to serve the world for the common good. That is a spiritual practice.

We nurture ourselves, then we serve the world.

Like Gandhi said, we need to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

 – Viluis Rudra Dudzilla is Professor of Humanities & Comparative Religion at Harry S Truman College in Chicago, Illinois, USA and a Minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Photo of Rev. Dr. Thandeka by Merrel Booker

I was lucky enough a couple of months ago to hear the Rev. Dr. Thandeka preach a sermon at my home church, the First Parish in Cambridge, Unitarian Universalist. I heard he speak before at the UUA General Assembly, and also read her readings, so I looked forward to what I knew would be a great sermon.

The main thrust of her talk was about being present in the moment to take advantage of what life if presenting to you know as a gift. She kept up the common theme of breathing and paying attention to your breathe. As she stated, we are continually “inspired” and filled with the spirit of life with every breath we intake.

She started by relating a story of her first trip going in a roller coaster with her brother when she was a little girl. Her first time, she was scared and screaming and completely in the the moment of terror. Because she knew that her brother would remember this and taunt her for the rest if her life, her went on again and was stoic for the entire ride. She was not in the moment.

I’ve recently taken some workshops on the concepts on Tantra, and have been really trying to be more present in my own life. I have discovered about myself that I am usually more comfortable thinking about done other space and time, even if it’s not as pleasant as the place and time I’m in now! That was a revolution to me.

Rev. Thandeka spoke to being in the present moment and breathing in it’s fullness at every moment, and if we’re being too being too rigid and in our minds and not our bodies, we don’t experience life. There is Spirit in each and every breath and we are delaying life when we don’t experience it as it is, but fight in our mind what we think it should be.

In the language of type theory, and the MBTI, in particular, there is a dichotomy of judgers and perceivers. Judgers like to have everything scheduled and feel comfortable when items are crossed off the to do list. Perceivers are more open and flexible and like to go with the flow. I’m definitely a judger, but I’ve been working on being more flexible and in the moment. I’m not great at it, but that’s what a practice, spiritual or otherwise, is about.

I leave you with some of Rev. Thandeka’s thoughts:

  • “We are the inspiration, or breathing in, of God.”
  • “Each breath is our spirit of life.”
  • “We are re-inspired every time we breathe.”

So, how do you stay in the moment and become re-inspired?

Here are the top articles/posts that I’ve seen over the past week that interest me, and hopefully interest you!

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

Ken Mattsson

I am a career consultant who specializes in the connection between what your spirit wants to do in the world, and how to marry that to the work that you do in order to support yourself. While I work with people in all fields, I specialize in working with "creative entrepreneurs" and the LGBT community.

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