Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Begin Again . . . .

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
He grew whiskers on his chin again.
He shaved them off but they grew in again.
Poor old Michael Finnegan.  Begin again.

There was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
Ate all his dinner from a tin again.
When it was all done he'd fill it up again.
Poor old Michael Finnegan.  Begin again.
                                         From a Children's Song

I remember my grandfather singing the first verse of this song to me when I was watching him shave.  I asked him why he shaved every single day.  The song was his reply.  He rarely sang, so just hearing his gravely voice try to create a tune was a hysterical joke to me.  When I begged him to sing it again, he refused and sent me to my grandmother to have her sing it to me.  She complied and sang not just one, but several verses to the song.  I was delighted to learn a new song with such a catchy tune and wonderful rhyming phrases.  Grandma and I even made up some of our own verses about cooking, cleaning, sleeping. . . . each and every verse ending with  begin again.

It wasn't until I was an adult singing bits of the orginal song and making up new verses with my children that the profundity of the simple song hit me.  Begin again.  Every verse tells us to begin again.  It doesn't say one more time, or number how many times, it simply reminds us to begin again.  And again, begin again.

Yesterday this song came to mind as I had a conversation with a young man about an upcoming project we're working on together.  He was so enthusiastic - for me.  I on the other hand, I was thinking of Michael Finnegan.  Exactly how many times can I, can anyone, begin again?  Where can I find a similar energy of my own to tap into to meet this young man where he is?  When does one stop beginning again?  It didn't take me long to catch up with his enthsuiasm.  Michalel Finnegan reminded me to begin again.  And again.  

As I ponder when to stop beginning again, I know the answer to that.  I will no longer begin again the moment I draw my last breath.  For now, I have a lot of "things" to beginning again . . . . getting up everyday, hugging my family every opportunity I have, finding joy and meaning in the work I do, loving the opportunities and challenges that each day brings, simply-waking each day.

May you find joy in all that you begin again today.

The was an old man named Michael Finnegan,
He slept each night and woke each morn again.
Worked for justice, peace, and love within.
That lucky old Michael Finnegan.  Begin again.
                                                         My Latest Verse

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Silence? Not always golden.

Today, while catching up on Facebook posts, something was tripped in me that made me decide it was time to write another blog post.  You see, growing up in the Midwest, I have mastered the art of being "Midwest Nice."  If someone says something that is offensive and demeaning to me, or even to a large portion of the population, I let it go so that I don't hurt the speaker's feelings.  For example, this particular Facebook post.  A friend who lives in Nebraska posted that reading the news made her brain hurt, then she added a link to a story about the Nebraska Supreme Court (Six white men over the age of 60 and one white women perhaps a bit younger than 60) ruling that a sixteen year old is not mature enough to have an abortion.  Seriously.  (  There are a lot of details here ...  she told the court that she was pregnant, and that she would not be financially capable of supporting a child or being "the right mom that [she] would like to be right now,"  according to the court ruling.  But she also told the court that she feared losing her placeent in foster care if her highly-religious foster parents learned of her pregnancy.

There were a couple of responses to this post that I "liked" about the story being outrageous, and then there was the comment from Julie S.  I don't know Julie S.  Julie S. doesn't know me.  Julie S. commented that "no" person is mature enough to have an abortion.  She then told of her recent attendance at a fundraiser for a particular ministry that reaches out to the "abortion-wounded."  She shares how these poor women were told that their lives would "return to normal" after the abortion, how the abortion was the "best thing."  Now these sorry women, even 40 years later, are still carrying the burdens of that decision.

With my pulse rate and blood pressure perhaps double of what it was before reading her post, I began pounding my response to her post.  First attempt - too sarcastic.  Second attempt - too angry.  Third attempt - didn't even complete it.  Instead I erased everything, reminded myself to be nice, and kept scrolling down reading more Facebook posts.  But as I scrolled I thought, who's going to speak up and let people know that Julie S. can't speak for everyone?  It is not true that no person is mature enough to have an abortion.  And there is no such diagnosis as abortion wounded, it is a thing made up by these so called ministries.  Please!  And the lies about all these physical effects that linger for decades?  Nope, have to say something.  So, I scrolled back up to Nebraska friend's post and wrote the following response:  I know many, many, many incredible/wonderful/ethical/moral/whole/powerful/fun/spiritual/successful women who have had abortions.  For those who have bought into the shame and baggage that others want them to carry - I pray they find a counselor (or sista) to help them shake off propaganda-filled and emotionally charged phrases like "abortion wounded."

Of couse there were responses to this. A "like" and a supportive comment, then Julie S., again.  She wrote that the women she has met (I assume she is talking about the women she has met who have had abortions, but then, how would she know if a woman she meets has had an abortion?) are hurting and are blessed to have found help.  There it is, the "H" word.  Those poor women need help.  Hell, honey, we all need help from time to time, doesn't matter what our abortion-having status is!  Then Julie S. throws a distracting comment about miscarriage and how some women feel as though they have lost a child when that happens.  Huh?  Of course we all react differently to similar experiences.  We have different ways of healing, and sometimes not healing.  Then she says I should not criticize those with whom I do not agree?  WTF?  Julie!  Can you not see that you were criticizing anyone who does not feel they need abortion woundedness intervention?  Did you not just say NO ONE is mature enough to have an abortion?  Sounds pretty critical and judgmental.

This is when the conversation usually goes something like, "well, whatever works for you."  But I can't do that nice shit anymore.  Now, in your face I say, whatever works for you and you and you and you . . . . as long as:  1.  Men or women who have no relation to you do not decide what you should do with your body and with your life.  2.  Men or women who do have a relationship with you and want to help you in your decision-making process do not use abuse, coercian, threats, guilt, power, religious or political authority, or any other unethical means to get you to do what they want you to do with your body and your life.  3.  At all times in the process there are opportunities for grieving, healing, gratitude, compassion, anger, empathy, and joy.  4.  No person appoints themselves or others as an authority on what your path in life should be.  5.  Affirmation of YOU as the authority on your life, your decisions, and your feelings is held up at all times.

So, friends, all I can say is this - speak up.  Do allow your Midwest, Southern, Western, Tropical, or Whatever "nice" you have to get in the way of sharing the truth that there are many, many ways to live a holistic and healthy life.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


[ˈzeːnzʊxt]   Today I graduated from a Spiritual Direction formation program - Prairie Fire.  Prairie Fire is a joint project of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and Mt. St. Scholastica's Sophia Center.  I was asked to share a reflection of my past three years, time in this program.  Here is an excerpt from what I shared:

You know, you all know, that I will talk about yearning today.  That is all I have talked about throughout this program.  In fact, yearning is all I've talked about since I was a child, I just didn't always know that wondering why was called yearning.  For my reflection today, I wanted to do more than say, "I want to know the answers to all of life's mysteries."  I wanted to be able to say, "I know all that I need to know, I yearn no more!"  But, alas, it is not so.   My experience of yearning is like being on a spiral path - moving closer to than farther away from my yearning - I feel a déjà vu, but not really déjà vu.  Everything seems at once familiar and yet so strange.   And so the dance with trying to understand the yearning goes, only now, after three years in this program, I feel that the yearning has been transformed into something that is not a struggle, rather that is a way to live life.

This yearning has been transformed, perhaps has transcended, into something known as Sehnsucht.  Sehnsucht is a German word that is often, mistakenly, interpreted as deep longing or yearning.  But that is not all it is.  It is a deep longing or yearning  for something that is intensely missing.  Sehnsucht is a word for thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect - combined with a yearning for ideal experiences, for a personal utopia.  Sehnsucht is also sometimes referred to as life's longing, life's search for happiness, life's search for the ideal.  All this searching happens while one copes with the reality of their unattainable desires.  These feelings, these longings, these realizations of realities - can be profound.  The feelings will be positive or negative or both positive and negative at the same time.  Sehnsucht is longing for something unknown, but - something that we believe we will recognize as "home" when we find it.  Yes, my more immature and simple yearnings have been transformed to Sehnsucht.

Researchers have worked to define Sehnsucht as part of spiritual and psychological development.  In doing so, they have identified six core elements of Sehnsucht.  The elements are:  1.)  We all have a concept of a utopian way of being - we cannot define our utopia fully, but we believe we will know it when we find it, see it, or feel it;  2.)  Knowing that we are not living our utopian life, we feel a sense of incompleteness and imperfection;  3.)  Our focus on, and understanding of, time conjoins past, present, and future;  4.)  We have ambivalent or bittersweet emotions about life in general;  5.)  We are able to reflect on and evaluate our life with honesty and objectivity; and 6.)  We find symbolic richness in the life we have.

Yes, Prairie Fire moved me to begin living in this more mature yearning, this Sehnsucht, as a way of being.  This way of being opens paths for what may seem to some to be a dichotomous existence.  But for me, that is not a bad thing.  Ambivalent is an okay thing to be from time to time.  You do not have to seek to be filled with joy and understanding at all times.  Sometimes it is good to question, to feel the reality of life's sorrows.  An example of this dichotomy and ambivalence is found in the section "On Sorrow and Joy" from The Prophet  by Kahlil Gibran -

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. . . . .

. . . . Some of you say "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with  you at your board,
Remember that the other is asleep in your bed.

You are suspended like the scale that weighs your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When a treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver,
Verily, then must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Prairie Fire has challenged me to use the teachings of mentors from this program and from wider circles to inform my discernment and decisions in my life.  Prairie Fire has affirmed, and showed me how to affirm, the richness of the symbols - divine and ordinary - that are omnipresent around me.

So, my Prairie Sisters, my Women of Fire that you are - I thank you for the shared journey.  In parting, I return to Gibran's "The Prophet,"   sharing a part of the passage where the prophet is bidding farewell to the See-er Almitra and the people of Orphalese -

It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer even dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

So may it be.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

High Ropes

The biennial high ropes events.
Where grade seven and eight students
Don harnesses and plastic helmets
To show just how damn brave they are
As they learn more about themselves,
Their strengths, their limitations, and
Their trust in the man holding the safety line.

My son and I participated in this ritual.
Both of us years away from grade seven or eight.
The same safety harnesses expanded to fit
Twice the weight, twice and four times the age.
I don't know about him, but I know that
Swinging from a rope is no darn proof for bravery.
Holding the safety line, even for those we don't know, is.


Friday, April 5, 2013


My usual morning fog was abruptly burned away today.
No wall of protection from my first cup of coffee when I read the news.
I'd not been invited.
They'd had a family gathering without mentioning it to me.
Facebook.  I found out on Facebook.

As the coffee begins to brew, I start my daily routine.
Put away the dishes - did they discuss inviting me?
Sweep up the floor - did they forget to invite me?
Start a load of dark clothes- did they decide not to invite me?
Pour my coffee and sip - do they know anything about my life?  About me?

As I sip, I pick up the tin pig watering can and fill it with water and Orchid food.
The six smooth streams of water pour from the snout to the Orchids in their pots.
I can feel their gratitude, I can imagine their roots being quenched.
The blooms and buds on the stalks quiver as the water is poured over the leaves.
My tears release as I take in the beauty (and think of my family).

Orchids.  My relationship with them works.
I water and fertilize them when I am not too busy,
Too busy with work, and making ends meet, and Molly.
My Orchids don't cry and call me selfish when I state the obvious.
They don't withhold their blooms because I disappoint them.

Oh, the Orchids (and my family) know a different side of this story.
There is validity (in their words) that they are not my first priority.
Why can't I commit to water (call or visit) them on a regular basis?
Could I just quit blaming them for not blooming (being there) for me every day?
Would it kill me to act like the Orchids (my family) were  always perfect?

The last sip of coffee reminds me it's time to get busy.
I put the empty pig on the shelf until I will fill it again to quench the Orchids' thirst.
Will that be next Friday?  Ten days from now? Tomorrow?
It will be when I can not resist the beckoning of their blooms.
My family could learn a lot from my Orchids.  Me too.

©  <llen 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Today is a good day because . . . .

1.  It's great to be alive.  I realized that as I was walking for the 15th day in a row, breathing in the crisp air in this amazing little Midwest city.  There are great trails in the great parts.  Ah - breathe in,  breathe out . . . . repeat.

2.  The plumber is here.  Ever since I moved in, the tub and shower in the guest bathroom have been a challenge.  The outdated two-handle faucet had no stopping or staring point.  One had to guess when  the faucets were fully opened or closed.  And recently, I could not get them to a point where there was enough water pressure to divert the faucet stream to the showerhead.  My goal was to limp along with the plumbing in this state until I had the funds saved to redo the entire bath - it's an old yellow fiberglass tub and three piece surround.  I would love tile and a white porcelain tub.  But, it's not been an option yet.  With family coming for a week, I felt compelled to have a decent shower for them.  So - I've opted for a "get by work around" that includes new handles, faucet, and shower head.  I won't have to apologize for the wimpy water pressure or do orientation sessions for people wanting to shower when they stay here.  Thanks Huff Mechanical.

3.  Ian is subbing for the Ames Public School District.  He graduated from ISU in December and is now a teacher.  Hopefully he'll find a full time teaching position for next fall, but for now he's getting a lot of calls to work as a sub in Ames.  Yeah Ian and his family.  Heather is well and writing more and more research articles all the time, and the girls are growing up so fast, becoming real little people with distinct personalities.

4.  Mallary and her family are coming to Ames on Saturday!  They're spending their spring break in Ames.  What a great plan.  Another child I am so proud of, and excited for their future.  Yeah Mallary and her family.  Doc is writing Mine Craft pages on FB and teaching at SIU.  Mallary is finishing her dissertation at SIU.  Mica talks to me while she lays in bed at night - I understand her mostly.  And Victor dictates a grocery list to me for their visit.  He laughs when I ask him questions like - how many cans of spagettios?  25 or 100?  He chooses 100.  More personalities evolving here.

5.  Molly.  Well, gee.  Just Molly.  She keeps me real.  We're going to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tomorrow.  It stars one of the past "idols."  We're excited.  Thanks for the tickets, Kent.

6.  Me.  I love my life.  There are parts that could use some shoring up, but I'm liking the present, aware of future needs, and assimilating the past.  What more is there?  Oh, and I love my job.  Who else gets to remind middle schoolers that they're made of stardust?  Yeah.  It's amazing.

7.  Friends and family.  You're the mirrors that remind me to comb my hair, and wear a little make-up.  Or not.  What else is there to say?

That's it.  For now.  These are the reasons I think today is a good day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


If we tend to things at their deepest level, our repair will be so much a part of who we are that there will be no scar. - Mark Nepo

The cold, strong wind made conversation difficult so we mostly walked in silence today.  Above the wind we could hear the groaning of the shallow river as the ice stretched and claimed more purchase of the flowing waters.

I could hear my companion's breathing singing a dissonant chord with the river.  Just as the river groaned at the discomfort of water turning to ice, so did her body protest in puffs at the lungs' request for more oxygen.  I imagined the dark blue carbon dioxide laden cells waiting impatiently in a cue to receive more oxygen as she breathes in.  When the oxygen arrives, they drop the carbon dioxide, grab the oxygen, and head out the door to find their way to the heart to learn where they will be sent.

The body is an amazing machine.  I am always so awed when I remember that even though we all are very different in size and appearance, our insides all look and work pretty much the same.  Breath in, breath out.  Heart beats, beats, beats, beats, beats, beats.  Repeat.  When parts of the body don't work as they're intended to, we have solutions for that.  Broken bones get set, hormones can be administered to alter or support organ function, surgery can remove organs that we don't have use for or that are causing problems for us.  The functions and cures of the physical body can be planned and mapped in very similar ways for everyone.

Then there is the non-physical part of us - emotional, spiritual, mental - all the aspects of us that are as prone to disease and breakage as the physical body, but lacking the clearly prescribed treatments for physical healing and physical wholeness.  These obscure and less easily mapped parts of us come already assembled inside our amazing physical self when we arrive on the planet as infants.  We have instincts as well as nurturers to help us grow into beings who can take care of our own physical and non-physical selves.  But oh my!  The experiences we have and messages we get before (if ever) we learn to be our own care-takers and nurturers . . . . . . fill in your own story here. 

I have spent great amounts of time working on healing and growing past some of my early experiences.  In my honest assessment of my life, I also acknowledge that my children, now adults, spend time working to heal and grow past some of their experiences handed to them by me in their early years.  There will always be scars of one sort or another on my body, in my mind; on their bodies, in their minds.  My goal for me, whether scars can be seen or not by others, is to see the scars as a part of the beautiful landscape that is my body, my soul.  The scars, regardless of how faint or pronounced, are part of my landscape. Under them all is that wholeness I arrived on the planet with all those years ago.

My friend's breathing and the river's groaning was not the only labor I was aware of this morning on our walk.   I noticed that trees with limbs broken in this year's storms worked to keep their movements in check so they'd incur no more loss; the ground had frozen scars to protect any remaining plant life where wheels and feet peeled away turf; large and small stones, like well trained sentinels, stood their ground to hold the whole landscape down so it would not blow away; and me, I consciously worked to transform thoughts in my mind to feelings in my body. Every one of us called out our greetings.  "Hang in there," we all said.  "Don't let the cold overcome you.  Hold each other however you are able to hold and be held."

All the while, I thought the annoying wind was trying to drown out our collective voices when really,  groaning like the rest of us, she was trying to get our attention.  "Notice me," she blasted.  "I am a part of all of you.  I want to be held, too."  Then she ran ahead of us, waiting to demand tribute at our next turn.

Monday, February 18, 2013


We think that accomplishing things will complete us, when it is experiencing life that will.  - Mark Nepo

This morning I woke a bit earlier than usual to meet a friend for a walk in a nearby park.  The idea for a daily morning walk percolated into my mind after having my 1,359,032nd lifetime conversation about health, weight, or exercise.  It was about the 456th conversation with this particular friend.  What I realize as these conversations continue to seep into my life most days, is that they are changing.  The conversations I used to have about exercise and weight (I rarely used to involve health) were all about how many pounds I wanted to lose and what size jeans I wanted to fit into.  I would begin a fitness program with enthusiasm, not only anticipating the size 6 jeans, but also imaging an ideal weight that would translate into ideal hair, accessories, intelligence, personality, and my life situation in general. All these things became the positive side effects of losing weight.  That had to be how it worked since I named my excess weight the cause of all that I did not like in my life.  (Self-loathing: strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt; harsh criticism of perceived faults and mistakes.)

I have a few regrets that I put so much energy into the goal of losing weight . . . . since I was a teen.  The preoccupation with the possibility of life being lived at an optimal weight has been my constant companion.  This preoccupation, like a codependent partner, fools me into thinking from time to time that it has my best interest at heart.  Instead of encouraging me to take risks and pay attention to the stirring of my heart and soul, the preoccupation just kept pointing out that what I was wearing made me look fat.  So much of the beauty and joy that was, has always been, standing right beside me each day of my life was unseen and unrealized because I was trying to get a glimpse of my thinner life that was neatly folded and waiting for me with the size 6 jeans in the back of my closet. 

I tell myself, that's all changing.  And most days it is.   I won't lie - I'll always dream about smaller jeans,  But, today, I woke a bit earlier than usual to meet a friend for a walk in a nearby park.  Today, my goal was not to start another bid for weight loss, not to improve my health, not really even to exercise.  Today my goal was to get outside and be part of the larger community of life that I am part of.  Done.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Winter Tales = Winter Fails

Well, not really a fail, more like a cancellation because of an ice storm.  Today I was to "shepherd" the service at the UUFA, but as you must know by now, it was cancelled.   Because I think stories are sacred and incredible tools for learning and growth, it was going to be a service of stories.  Children from the UUFA and their teachers - along with our Sunday Program Facilitators and a Guest Story Teller were on the program.  I decided that since we all missed these incredible tales, and since we probably won't get a make-up day, I will post the full order of service here, complete with all but one story, and of course, sans the music.  All the songs are our old favorites.  As you're reading, take a break and sing out loud when you come to a hymn.  Enjoy!

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames
January 27, 2013
Winter Tales

Welcome 9:15 Jamie Gurganus; 11:00 Ralph Gandy - Oh sadness . . . . along with welcoming you all the the service, they would have invited you to stay for our chili cook-off. . . . we'll get back to you if there is a new date for this.
Growing Our Spiritual Home, A Reflection Dave Sly (I read Dave's reflection.  I don't have a copy, but it was SO touching.  He talked about how much this community has come to mean to him and his family - his life Melissa and daughters Morgan and Madison.  He only wish?  That they'd joined the UUFA a few years earlier.  I'm glad you're here now, Dave.)

Opening Words     Why We Tell Stories - Lori Allen  Of course, I give an intro to the service :-)
Buddhist tradition says that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever tracking the right teller, stalking and watching, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce and turn the listeners into the tellers. It is amazing and holy to watch the children, and adults, in this community turn from listeners to tellers of stories. Our stories we share today are from the Buddhist tradition the children have been learning about in January and the experiences of living and surviving in winter. We hope our stories and our telling will inspire you to be tellers of your own stories.

Chalice Lighting . . . . . Imagine these voices welcoming you to join us in our sacred listening as they light our common chalice . . . . . and go ahead, light a candle or chalice while you read these stories!
9:15 Luke Schmidt & Hayden Pritchard; 11:00 Ralph Gandy & Sarah Carlson
Crow's Advice to Weasel, Barry Lopez
If you should have the good fortune of being in a possession of fire, care for it, do not neglect it. But learn to give it away to those who need it. Follow this same advice for the stories you may come to own.” Today we light our chalice, giving away the fire of our community to those who need it.
  • Song #000 Enter, Rejoice, and Come In
The Mustard Seed Story Grade 4-5-6 Class - Imagine these youthful voices . . . .
9:15 Ana Denison, Aliya Gurganus, Aleca Coffman, Caylee Fuqua and Ian Coffman
11:00 Mark Witherspoon, Latifah Faisal, Amyra Faisal

Reader 1 - The Buddha was walking on a dusty road one day when he stopped at the edge of  a river to splash cooling water on his face.  When he finished washing, he looked up and saw an old woman kneeling beside him.  Her clothes were ragged and her face was worn. 
Reader 2 - Oh, master.  I suffer so.  Please help me.
Reader 3 - What troubles you?
Reader 1 - The Buddha had compassion in her heart and in his eyes.  He wanted to hear what the woman was so sad about.
 Reader 2 - Look at me!  See my sad lot?  I am poor, my clothes are torn, I am ill.  Once I was prosperous, with a farm.  Now I am old and have only a bowl of rice to eat.  Please heal me and bring back my riches.
Reader 3 - Dear woman, you have described life as it is.  We are all born to suffering.
Reader 2 - No, no.  I won’t listen to you.  I was not born to suffer.
Reader 1 - The Buddha saw that the woman did not understand what he was telling her, but he knew of a way she could learn.
Reader 3 - Very well.  I will help you, but you must do as I say.
Reader 2 - Anything, anything.  What shall I do?
Reader 3 - Bring me a mustard seed.  And not just any mustard seed, it must come from a house that has never known suffering, trouble, or sorrow.  I will take the seed you bring me and use it to banish all your misery.
Reader 1 - The old woman was confused, but she did not question how this plan would work.  She hurried away to find the mustard seed from a house that had never known suffering, trouble, or sorrow.  The Buddha continued down the road.  Several weeks later, the Buddha was passing back along the same road.  He saw the old woman scrubbing clothes in the river and humming a song.  She seemed very happy.
Reader 3 - Greetings my friend.  Have your found the mustard seed? 
Reader 2 - Oh no, blessed Buddha, I have not. 
Reader 3 - You seem so happy.  Are you still seeking the mustard seed?
Reader 2 - I’ll do that later.  I have met so many people who are less fortunate than me.  Right now I’m doing laundry for a family with sick children.
Reader 1 - The old woman went back to her work of washing clothes and humming.  She looked as though the work was the most joyful task in the world.   And as the Buddha traveled on down the road, he thought to himself.
Reader 3 - She no longer needs the mustard seed.  Helping others is a great virtue.  She is on the road to becoming a Buddha herself.
Reader 4 - What color is the wind?
Reader 5 - What is the scent of sunshine?
Reader 4 - What is the most beautiful thing in the world?
Reader 5 - What is the right thing to do?
Reader 4 - What is the right thing to not do?
Reader 5 - Is the glass empty or full?
Reader 3 - The answers are all within you.
Reader 2 - The answers are within me.
Reader 4 - The answers are within me.
Reader 5 - The answers are within me.
Reader 1 - The answers are within you.

Milestones  - Think of what is in your heart today.  Take a moment before reading further to hold that emotion and know that we all hear you and send you affirmation and love.

Special Music 9:15 Only Grade 7-8  - While we most likely won't be finding a new time to share the stories, we will be finding a service for the Middle School students to share this inspired, original piece!
2'33”, by the Middle School Students

A Story in Poetry Ralph Gandy - Imagine Ralph reading this with some gentle music in the background from Jen Coppoc.  There's a link at the bottom of this document that you can click on to hear Robert Bly reading the poem.  Close your eyes - you'll swear you're listening to Ralph!

Last Night as I was Sleeping by Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart. 

Offertory with Special Music - Fellowship Voices Joined by Children and Teachers in the RE Program.  This was going to be so good!  The children are such great vocalists . . . .

Over My Head, trad African American, arr by Jim Scott
(Bethesda Food Pantry is missing out on our offering today . . . .)

A Winter Story  by Shelli Pitner - I do not have a text for this story, but we know it was going to be drawn from Shelli's personal experience and it was going to be wonderful . . .

* Song #000 Spirit of Life

The Fire That Would Not Burn  - Sarah Carlson  - hear Sarah's soothing voice as she tells a story of generosity first told by The Buddha.

There was great trouble in the temple that was situated deep in the forest. The huge fire that had burned in the temple kitchen for years had suddenly gone out, and no one seemed to be able to light it again.
It was deep winter outside. The forest and hills were white with snow (AND ICE!), and the fountains in the temple gardens looked like tall ladies dressed in white cloaks. From the simple sloped lines of temple roof there hung long icicles, and inside the temple, where the walls and the floor were made all of stone, it was so cold that every one was blowing on their fingers and saying that something must be done at once about starting the fire in the temple kitchen.
The fire in the temple kitchen had been the warmest and the most useful fire in the temple, always bright and glowing and cheerful. It made the big kettle sing, and it cooked the food and painted pictures in the fireplace for all the monks who sat in front of it before they went to bed. Some said that the fire needed a special kind of fuel to keep it burning, and others said that it had gone out because it was such a hard, cold winter. Still others said that the monks were quarreling so that they made the atmosphere of the temple too cold for any fire to burn.
The Master sent two monks who worked in the kitchen out in the bitter cold (AND ICE!) to find coals from a nearby home to re-light the fire in the temple kitchen. As they ran along the road, out of the forest, up hill and down, they shouted, “Fire for the temple kitchen, share your fire with the temple kitchen.”
A great many people heard their calls. Everyone wanted to have a share in lighting the fire at the temple. Most wanted to help because they had all heard great tales of hidden gold, jewels, and treasures at the temple. Some thought that to share their fire with the temple would bring them rewards and riches.
"Here are glowing coals for you," said a wood cutter; "and tell the Master that I want as many gold pieces and blessings as there are lumps of coal in return, and some extra ones if he will add them."
So the monks, using their metal tongs, put the woodcutter's red coals inside his lantern. They had gone only a few steps, though, when coals turned cold and gray. They did not burn, so they had to throw them beside the road and search farther.
A bright light shone from the fire in the weaver's house. She wove cloth for the monks to sew into robes. When she heard the monk's call, she opened the door and asked them to come in. "Fill your lantern with my coals," the weaver said, "and they will surely light the fire in the temple. Tell the master though, that in return for the coals, he must never buy anyone's cloth but mine for as long as I am a weaver."
The monks took the coals and started back to the temple. They had gone but a little way when they saw that the coals from the weaver's fire were no longer burning. They had turned to gray ashes. So they emptied them out in the snow (AND ICE!) and went on down the road. The search was a hard one and cold task. None of the coals that the monks were given would burn, because no one wanted to give coals freely, without expectation for payment in return.
They were about to give up when came to a tiny bleak house on the side of a hill. The wind blew down through the old chimney, and the frost crept in through the cracks in the wall. The door opened at once when they knocked, and inside they found a young woman, stirring porridge over a small fire.
"A light for the temple fire?" she repeated when the monks told her what they wanted. "You may have as many coals as you like, although we have few large ones. I am my mother's and my father's helper. I tend this small fire so that the kitchen may be comfortable for them when they come home from work. I am cooking their supper, too," she said. "But do sit down and warm yourself, and have a bowl of warm supper before you start out in the cold again. Then you may have half of our coals for the temple fire."
The monks did as the young woman bade them, and then they lifted one small, bright coal from the fire, and put it in the lantern. "It will never burn all the way back to the castle," one monk said to the other. But with each step the coal grew brighter. It cast pink shadows on the snow as if the spring were sending wild roses up through the ground. It made the dark road in front of the monks as bright as if the sun were shining, and it warmed them like the summer time. When they came to the temple, the coal still burned and glowed. As soon the coal was touched to the gray logs in the fireplace, they burst into flames. The temple fire was kindled again.
Everyone wondered why the new fire made the kettle sing so much more sweetly than it had ever sung before? This new fire also seemed to warn the hearts of the monks so  -they forgot to quarrel! When these matters were discussed with the master, they decided that it was because love and generosity had come from the embers and coal of the cottage fire. They believed that same love and generosity continued to burn in the fire in the temple kitchen. And soon they learned, the fire burned brighter and warmer when the air in the temple was filled with love and generosity for everyone present. If you go to that temple today, you will feel the air of love and generosity the moment you walk through the great door, even before you find the fire in the kitchen that was started with the tiny coal from the young girl's hearth. May all your fires burn as the temple fire still does to this day.

  • Song #000 This Little Light of Mine
Remembering the Strength in Our Stories - Lori Allen  - (If there is time, Lori tells a story that she's adapted from several wisdom tales with the same them.  This story is sometimes told as "The Rate Princess;" "The Woodcutter;" "The Best Listener;" and probably a thousand other titles.  But really, it's all about you - yes, you!)
Today, I hope you have found a bit of wisdom and whimsy in our stories. I hope that you have decided to become a teller of stories as well as a listener to stories. What's that? You think you can't tell stories well? You think only those with the gift for telling stories can do so? Guess what?  You have that gift. You, today, just as you are, have an incredible gift for telling stories. That gift might be the spoken word, a song or a painting. It could also be a hug, a handshake, a helping hand. Really – these are all ways we tell our stories. You still don't believe you have the gift for sharing stories? Well, let me tell you one last story to help you see that you are, in fact, a storyteller . . .
There once was a stone cutter. He worked very hard and was paid very little for his efforts, but he was able to keep food on his family's table and a roof over their heads. One day, he was working to carve an stone arch for an entrance to a nobleman's home. He peered into the house as he worked. Oh, how he wished he was that nobleman. He watched as servants were putting out food for a party in the great hall with all the paintings, tapestries, and fine furniture. Oh! How he wished he was . . . . the nobleman?

Oh my goodness, with that wish, he became the nobleman! How wonderful. He ate and danced and had a grand time – until he noticed the queen had arrived. There she was in her leather sedan, you know, the chair that's carried by four footman. They took her where ever she wanted to go. She did not have to move a muscle or walk a step. Man, he thought – I wish I was the queen . . . .
Then poof! He was the queen. So he ordered the footmen to take him back to the palace. He was going to live in a palace!  But on the way there, the sun shone very hot and bright and made him quite uncomfortable in the queen's leather chair. He looked up at the sun. Wow – I wish I were the sun, for it is the most powerful thing in the Universe.  As you might suspect . . . .

Shazam! He was now the sun! Glorious! He looked down on all the people on the earth - beaming and glowing.  Oh what power - the people must be SO impressed with the power!   What's that? They're shaking their hands and cursing the sun? Just because the sun dried up all the rivers and burnt their crops? Yikes.  The sun didn't  mean to be so cruel.  The sun can't help that it is the most powerful thing in the . . . .wait, what's this? A single storm cloud is trying to obstruct the mighty sun? And the people are cheering for the raincloud?  And now it is totally blocking the sun and providing welcome moisture to the earth?  Oh no!  If only I could be the rain cloud, even more powerful than the sun. Then nothing could make me happier! I want to be a rain cloud said the . . . 

Zowie! Now, as you're coming to expect, he was changed again.  This time into a rain cloud!  And the people loved that rain cloud! Look at them splashing about. The rivers are flowing again, and the earth turning greener with every drop. Ah, forever, I'll be a powerful rain cloud . . .  Hold it, what's that? Who's pushing me around? The wind? Wait, the wind is greater than a big rain cloud? That is not fair! I want to be most powerful. Now I wish I was the . . . .

Wind! Yes, I must be the wind!  (Blowing noises) Yes, I've been transformed again. Phew . . . . .feel my power!  I can blow for miles and miles. Nothing can stop me now (More blowing noise)  Ouch! Who's that? A pillar of stone? Outside a nobleman gate? How dare you stop me?!  I am the wind, the most powerful thing in the Universe!  (Strained blowing noise.)  I can't believe this, I need another wish!  I need to be transformed into stone, the most powerful element in the world, the universe. Okay, last time, make me into the . . . . .

Stone pillar. Yes! Oh my yes! I can feel my strength – stronger than the sun that beats down on me, stronger still than the rain that washes down me during storms, more powerful than the wind that tries to move me. Especially more powerful than the nobleman that walks into me when he is coming home late at night. Even more powerful than the queen whose orders for me to bow down before her, I ignore. Even more powerful than . . . . hey, what's that? Who's chipping away at me? Who is it that is more powerful than all these things? So powerful that they can chip me into pieces? Hey, I think I know him . . . . it's the stone cutter who thinks he is so meek and powerless. I must go back to him, I must let him know, he is more powerful, more brave, more necessary than anything else in the universe. I want to be . . . .

Zap! Whoa! The stone cutter. I want to be just who I am, for I have all the power and resources I need, just as I am.  Just as we all do.

May you go in peace, telling your story, just as you are.

Extinguishing the Flame - Hey - if you lit a chalice or candle, time to blow it out!  As you do, send love peace and love to your UUFA friends.  

* Please rise in body or spirit
If you are able, please help put away chairs after the service.
Presenter: Lori Allen & All Her Band of UU Story Helpers
Ushers and Offeratory Helpers: Grade 1-2-3 Students and Teachers
Accompanist: (for offertory and songs unless otherwise noted above)
Facilitators: Ralph Gandy, Sarah Carlson   Here is a Youtube site to hear the poem Ralph was going to read.

Thanks for all who were here in spirit together today and always.  See you when the ice melts!