Keeping a Generous Spirit Always

I don’t know about you, but I find this time of year, with the merriment and the gifts and the special treats, creates even more pain in my heart when I see others who are suffering, going without, or struggling. Of course, I’m not alone because this is also a season of increased giving and generosity, when many of us give to those in need.

I try to make it a practice to always have something to give, to have cash or gift cards in my wallet or a care package of warm socks in my car. I know it is debatable (because many have tried to debate me on this, sometimes quite angrily) whether it is ultimately helpful or harmful to give to the folks who practice the ancient role of beggar. I also believe it is very important for us to give to organizations who provide care, such as shelters and free clinics. So if this doesn’t resonate with you, please know I am not judging your choices. Please, give in ways that feels right to you.

But I’m going to tell you a story about why I give as I do. When my children were very little, and were just learning to read, they would practice reading the signs we drove past together. Well, one day we were stopped at a red light and there was a man begging at the corner with a sign that said “Hungry, please help me”. My kids were slowly working out together what the sign said, and just figured it out as the light changed and I drove on. They cried out in distress: “mom, that man was asking for help! How could you just drive past and not help if he was asking for help?”

In their simple understanding, they reminded me of something important. How can I be a person who just moves past someone asking for help? And, regardless of what good helping may do for all the beggars of the world in the long term, what does ignoring and hardening my heart do to me in the long term?

So I choose this practice now, in many ways because it is good for me and not solely to be good to others. I try to stay generous, in a world that sometimes makes us feel we need to hoard resources to be safe. I try to stay trusting, in a world that tells me trust will be abused by others and that we are all cheating. I try to stay loving and soft, in a world that tells me I need to “toughen up”. But I won’t let the world do that to me.

I close with this quote:

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

A Thanksgiving Story

I wrote this for my congregation, for a worship service this coming weekend. How do we tell our stories? Others are welcome to use this story or adapt as they wish. The main source I worked from is here.

The Real Story of The First Thanksgiving, by Sara Lewis

I want to talk to you all today about stories, and how we tell our stories.

When I was a kid, probably like most of us here, I grew up with a story about the First Thanksgiving. The story was basically that the pilgrims, who were brave immigrants from England who came to the “New World”, or to what is now America, had struggled but they had survived, partly because of help from their friendly neighbors the “Indians”, who they called that because the first European explorer in this “New World” had been wrong and had thought he had found the country of India, which is another half way around the world from America. But, even though the name Indian was wrong, the pilgrims kept using it.

But anyway, the “Indians” had mostly been friendly and had helped the pilgrims survive, and now the Pilgrims invited the Indians to a Thanksgiving Feast to celebrate that, and everyone ate turkey and cranberry sauce and was happy. The End.

And that story, the one I grew up with, is just wrong. It’s wrong because of the things I’ve already pointed out:

The “New” world wasn’t new to everyone, just to the Europeans who came there. This was already someone else’s home and the Europeans treated it like it was something they could take for themselves.

The people who lived in this land weren’t “Indians”. They were people of many nations and tribes, with many different languages, governments, cultures, and histories of their own. The people in this particular story that took place in what is now Massachusetts were the Wampanoag.

And the story is wrong about the historical facts, too. The Pilgrims weren’t having a Thanksgiving, they were having what they called a Rejoicing. Gratitude for them would have been expressed through fasting and prayer. A Rejoicing was a more rowdy affair. In fact, the pilgrims were celebrating their survival that day by shooting things just for fun, shooting their guns and firing their cannons. They were making a lot of noise.

And the Wampanoags near by heard all this loud ruckus of guns and cannons, and jumped to the logical conclusion that there was some kind of fight happening. So, the Wampanoag arrived, almost 100 of them, as a fighting force investigating all this noise.

Now the history that was written down about this day was written down by the Europeans, and they didn’t write down what exactly was said between the pilgrims and the Wampanoags. We don’t know how they avoided fighting with each other on that day. But what was written down says that the Wampanoags stayed and partied with the Pilgrims for 3 days. They all feasted together, on the locally available food which would have mostly been seafood and venison, maybe some corn based dishes as well.

That by itself isn’t too bad a story, but unfortunately that sharing and friendship wouldn’t last. The Wampanoags, and all the other indigenous peoples of this country, would eventually lose almost all of their lands to the Europeans. Many of them would die. Languages and cultures and histories would be suppressed in favor of European language, culture, and story.

And when I know all of that, the old story I grew up with is not just wrong because it gets the facts wrong. No, now I feel like it’s wrong because it gets the whole point of the story wrong. Now, I feel like we all need a new story. How will we tell it?

Remembering My Ancestors

Today is All Souls Day for Catholics, which falls on the calendar very near to Dia de los Muertos and Samhain, all holy days that give us ways to soulfully remember the reality of death and feel that our dead are still close to us. As a spiritual practice, regardless of what you believe about an afterlife or what happens after death, there is still great value in rituals that bring us reminders of death and opportunities to remember those we have lost. I also feel that there is great value to us in this life to remember and sometimes to atone for or heal the stories of our ancestors. We inherit many things from our ancestors, sometimes including generational trauma. Recent children’s movies like Encanto have illustrated this so beautifully. When we confront and heal patterns of generational trauma, we heal our whole families: present, future, maybe even past.

Can stopping the flow of generational trauma heal our ancestors? Maybe, maybe not, I honestly cannot say what I truly believe about the reality of my ancestors hanging around. But what I can say is that there is a part of all of my ancestors living on in me, and I can extend healing and love to those parts of myself. I can change how I relate to them. And in that process I am healed.

How do you remember your ancestors? What legacy have they left you? Is there generational trauma? Is there generational resiliency and strength? What gratitude, what healing, what atonement can bring you greater wholeness and wellbeing now?

Witnessing for my Faith

This weekend I attended a rally for abortion rights wearing my clerical “uniform” that marks me as clergy in public. I chose to make my clergy status so visible for a deliberate reason, in order to show that faith and religion are not automatically only on the side of limiting reproductive justice and bodily autonomy. I was the only person publicly proclaiming themself to be a person of faith at the event, and I had some good conversations with people who were curious what church or faith group I was from.

I believe that it is profoundly important for people of liberal or progressive faith to witness to their faith, to show up and side with love and liberation, and to counter the narrative that would put all of faith and religion in this country into the camp of conservativism.

Many religious and faith groups affirm abortion rights and reproductive justice.

And we are going to have to show up and witness to that.

Turning of the Seasons

Yesterday was the Fall Equinox, and I am delighted to welcome Fall. It’s my favorite season. But my spiritual director recently asked me about how I say farewell to a season, as well as how I welcome a new one, and it made me think I should express some gratitude to the season that we are saying goodbye to.

Thank you, Summer, for the gifts you gave.

Thank you for sunshine, for evenings eating outside on the patio, and days by the water. Thank you for abundant tasty salads, and for butterflies and bees. Thank you for flowers, for sandal weather. Thank you for cool breezes and the days spent sitting and playing outdoors. Thank you for BBQ’s and picnics. Thank you for clear dry weather to ride my bike to work. For all these gifts, I say thank you.

Until next year, dear Summer.

And welcome now, Fall.

Garden Encounters

Today as I weeded my garden, I had several delightful encounters with the residents of the garden: some interesting looking spiders, a couple small snakes, and this praying mantis. I felt a bit guilty, for after all the reason I was seeing them was that I was actively messing up their comfy homes, for they enjoy the weeds and overgrown places.

The garden is a compromise, really, between me and my silly “civilized” desires and the wild inclinations of “nature”. How far apart are those two concepts, in actuality? Probably not as far as we humans make out. But the garden, that is where the two meet (Michael Pollan’s book Second Nature explores this concept beautifully).

In the garden, I’m constantly tending to the edges of things. The edge where the lawn and the grass meet the flower bed must be clipped. The edge where the hedge meets the path must be cut back. The edge where my desires meet reality must be managed as well. For the garden really can’t be controlled, no matter how much some beautiful gardens give the impression of control. I’m thinking of bonsai and classic Japanese gardens …. so amazingly balanced and controlled.

My garden will never look like that. I’m much more of the haphazard gardener and (aspirational) I hope to have a country cottage sort of garden. This is a garden that really doesn’t pretend to any great amount of control, but also doesn’t want to be completely over run. If nature takes over too much, it’s not really a garden anymore at all, is it?

And so here I am, messing about at the edges, encountering the others who dwell there.

Offering Blessings

Since April this book, To Bless the Space Between Us, has been my daily devotional reader. Each morning, I’ve read a blessing as part of my spiritual practices. Some of the blessings were relatable for me and I simply accepted the blessing, and others were not, as some of these are very specific. Blessings for a New Father, for instance, doesn’t apply to me. But when I read a blessing that didn’t apply to me I either pictured someone I knew who fit that blessing or I pictured an unknown person out there who needed that blessing and I sent it off to them.

I have never been part of a Blessing culture or faith, but I have felt deeply drawn to the practice and I love what John O Donohue says about who can bless:

Who has the power to bless? This question is not to be answered simply by the description of one’s institutional status or membership. But perhaps there are deeper questions hidden here: What do you bless with? Or where do you bless from? When you bless another, you first gather yourself; you reach below your surface mind and personality, down to the deeper source within you – namely, the soul. Blessing is from soul to soul. And the key to who you are is your soul.

That makes perfect sense to me. To offer a blessing is to reach down into your depths, which some may call a soul. This practice for these months has felt expansive and deeply loving, touching down into my soul depths. Deep gratitude to John O’Donohue for offering these blessings to us all.

Who I Am

This website brings together many aspects of my ministry work, so some explanation of what that work is and what you will find here:

I am a Spiritual Director, offering one on one spiritual direction and companionship to clients, meeting over zoom.

I am an ordained Interfaith Minister and called to the work of Eco-Chaplaincy, addressing the spiritual aspects of the reality of climate change and the loss of nature and our connection to it.

I am a long-time religious educator, from a Unitarian Universalist setting, offering curriculum that I have written for the use of others.

You will find resources and links here for these ministry projects, and below you will find blog posts as I write and share about my ministry and my own spiritual path and practice. Thank you for visiting the site.