Sunday, 26 December 2010

UKSpirituality Forum

The new UK Spirituality Forum is up and running. We hope that people will use it to discuss spirituality, share and explore spiritual practices, keep in touch with other members and event attendees, give feedback on events, and make new friends.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, and remember, it's the spirituality and values of the event that are the most important aspects, not its literal truth.

What is true for me is that, in the peeling away of all the layers of history and pageantry and holy wars … and all the rest, peeling away until we’re back to the message Jesus brought, and seeing Jesus there with those he loved, the hungry, the poor, those in prison, the weak, those who were persecuted, and we catch sight of something of the hope they must have felt. Jesus burst into this world like a flash of hope. That is why we sing this month. That is why we light candles. This is what a Unitarian Universalist does with Christmas, does at Christmas. We sing. We light candles. We hope for a better world.

~ First UU, Concord

Unitarians were calling for the public observance of Christmas by about 1800. They did so in full knowledge that it was not a biblically sanctioned holiday, and that December 25 was probably not the day on which Jesus was born. They wished to celebrate the holiday not because God had ordered them to do so but because they themselves wished to.

~ Stephen Nissenbaum

Be ready at all times to give those you love the simply abundant gifts of Spirit. If you do, they’ll give you Christmas gifts you’ll never forget: happy smiles and contented hearts. And you won’t want to exchange them.

~ Meister Eckhart

“All religious stories are mythological stories, where asking ʻDid it happen?ʼ, ʻWhen did it happen?ʼ, or ʻWhere did it happen?ʼ, is completely irrelevant. They are stories to help you understand what life is all about”.

~ Father David Paterson of the Sea of Faith, speaking on Channel Fourʼs History of Christianity series.

Christmas is not so much a matter of explanation and interpretation, as it is a mood and a feeling. It is a time in the cycle of the year set apart by hope and fellowship and generosity. Christmas is the season of the heart.

~ Gordon B McKeenan

The Wicked Fairy At The Manger by U.A. Fanthorpe

My gift for the child:
No wife, kids, home;
No money sense. Unemployable.
Friends, yes. But the wrong sort –
The workshy, women, wimps,
Petty infringers of the law, persons
With notifiable diseases,
Poll tax collectors, tarts;
The bottom rung.
His end?
I think we’ll make it
Public, prolonged, painful.
Right, said the baby. That was roughly
What we had in mind.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Bridge of Light

a celebration of the full equality and dignity of all people

Location: Global event
Start Date: 26 December, 2010
Finish Date: 1 January 2011

Welcome in the new year with Bridge of Light, a new holiday honouring LGBT culture and spirituality.

People celebrate Bridge of Light by lighting seven candles, one for each color of the LGBT rainbow flag, on New Year’s Eve -- or from 26 December to 1 January, one candle per day.

Each candle stands for a universal principle and its expression in the lives and history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people:

Red - The Root of Spirit (Community)
Orange - The Fire of Spirit (Eros)
Yellow - The Core of Spirit (Self-Esteem)
Green - The Heart of Spirit (Love)
Blue - The Voice of Spirit (Self-Expression and Justice)
Purple - The Eye of Spirit (Wisdom)
All Candles - The Crown of Spirit (Spirituality)

The candles are intended to provide a starting point for individual and group meditations on the meaning of spirituality in our lives.

Kittredge Cherry worked with Joe Perez, the founder of Bridge of Light, to revise the principles to include the chakras. You can read their discussions at the Gay Spirituality Blog. They’re open to future revisions, so let them know what you think!

Bridge of Light resources

Jesus in Love blog: Bridge of Light

Gay Spirituality: Bridge of Light

Joe Perez: Bridge of Light

Dance of the elements: words of inclusive love (a prayer and benediction for Bridge of Light)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice

Yes, Virginia, axial tilt is the reason for the season... and the perpetual mystery of the light being born from the darkness. The light of the sun, the darkness of night; the light of the divine spark in each one of us, born from the joyous mystery of flesh; the light of consciousness welling up from the dark waters of the unconscious.

One of the reasons why the celebration of the solstice runs so deep in the human psyche is that people feared, deep down, that the light of the sun might not return. It's also a moment of jollity and colour in the midst of the wet, cold, dark winter.

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. Just about every culture has a festival around the winter solstice.

One of my favourite sites about the winter solstice is Candlegrove, which has reflections on Solstice, Sacaea and Saturnalia, Yule and celebrating the solstice today.
"Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding."

--Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas

Monday, 20 December 2010

Food Blessings

Rev Naomi started a conversation on Twitter about blessings for food. If you want to see it, the tag is #tablebless. It's a great idea for integrating spirituality with daily life, so I'm really interested in what people come up with.

I suggested the Pantheist Grace and a Pagan Grace by Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits.

Other offerings include:
  • "We thank every being that brought this food to our table. We are all a part of the web of life" (by me)
  • "Blessed be God who is our bread, may all the world be clothed and fed" (by chickpastor)
  • "Thanks for what we receive! With joy, may we give far more than we receive and bless the world." (by Rev Naomi)
  • "Rejoice in what gifts upon this table lay! Nourished here, may we go forth and feed the world." (by Rev Naomi)
  • "We give thanks for the life that sustains our life, and the web of which we are all a part." (by TrulySocial)
  • "For those who grew this food, those who made this meal, and for life that sustains us all, we give thanks!" (by Rev Naomi)
There's a collection of prayers before meals from various faith traditions at BeliefNet. Many traditions seem to have the impulse to honour where the food came from and to wish that everyone else will be fed too. For example, this Pagan prayer and this Buddhist prayer do that, and so does chickpastor's prayer (above). There are more ideas on the dance of the elements blog, where this post originally appeared.

Please add your ideas in the comments. Brevity is of the essence here - it needs to be easy to memorise and not make the food get cold!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina has four steps: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. The reading stage involves critical engagement with the text, analysing its meanings and metaphors. The meditation stage involves dwelling on the images that particularly resonate with you. This could be developed into a visualisation or journey into the scene described.

Lectio divina seems like a valuable technique for solo spiritual practice. And what books might you choose? I recommend Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, or the Tao Te Ching. There's lots of wonderful poetry out there, too. I'm sure you can think of your own examples.

The prayer part is difficult for me - I find petitionary prayer (asking the Divine, or deities, for things or qualities) meaningless and stupid. It's hard to ask a being whom you do not believe to be omnipotent or interested in your trivial problems for stuff. For this part, you could substitute focussing on the qualities you would like to develop (if, like me, you have a problem with asking for stuff). Or perhaps a bit of sympathetic magic.

Finally, contemplation - wordless communion with the universe, the Divine, or your chosen deity. This part works fine for me. I think it's always worth trying to see the Divine as immanent in all that is around us, too. Just relax and see the glow and sparkle in everything.

More about Lectio Divina
The Naked Theologian: God - only four steps away
Quaker Pagan Reflections: Another Kind of Lectio Divina?
UU Wellspring: Lectio Divina: a spiritual practice for Unitarian Universalists, by Tina Simson

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Spirituality is Simple!

Someone asked me recently what spirituality is all about.

This is the life I am blessed to lead in vital north London: I am surrounded by people who don't bring a load of biases and preconceptions when it comes to their interest in religion and spirituality. I certainly came to it with those biases from traditional religion!

Many, many people come to religion with wounds an burdens. My ministry is rather different. It is so freeing not to have to begin such a discussion with "no, I don't meanthat", where that is something that was taught to them early on and presented in an inflexibly doctrinaire manner.

So, I considered this fresh, unbiased question from a young adult who has grown up in a surprisingly secular western Europe. Every time someone asks something like that I think of it anew – partly because my memory is so bad that I can't possibly remember what I answered last time, but also partly because my perspectives continually change as I grow and (hopefully) mature.

I don't know what I said last time, but this time I suggested that spirituality is about two simple ways of being: awareness and appreciation. Maybe they're not quite so simple though. In fact, I want to use both of those words in their most expansive forms.

Awareness is not simply the state of being 'not blind' to everything around us, but rather a condition where our senses are almost tingling and reaching out to take in everything – to catch the smells and sights and sounds around us - everything – good and bad - and especially to take in our fellow beings.

And by appreciation I want to go much farther than the positive but superficial sense of “I really appreciated the card you sent” but rather the sense of that word as a full understanding of the meaning and importance. Appreciation is joy at seeing a flower. It is a feeling of awe at taking in a view of the clear night sky. It is sharing a sense of another person’s sadness to the extent that you feel it in your own guts.

Spirituality as awareness and appreciation connects us to each other. It connects us to everything around us. It brings us joy and sadness and allows us to live deeply and fully.

And that's the goal. That's the way of being that we're after in the spiritual pursuit.

What is the path to approach this goal? Ha! Trick question... I'm a Unitarian. There are many valid paths. These two qualities - awareness and appreciation - have been the goals of many spiritual teachings. Meditation is an obvious tool for increasing awareness. Prayer a well-known approach to increasing our appreciation. Praying five times daily as Muslims do or uttering a blessing for almost every act of the day as do Orthodox Jews - the potential to grow in a awareness and appreciation is enormous.

Some will disagree. The goal of spirituality, they may say, is to know God. Well, then, we must ask what it is to know this God? What is the effect of knowing God. Hafiz - the 14th century Persian Sufi mystic - tells us that the true vision of God can be identified as one that makes you "more human, more kind to every creature and plant that you know."*

Do you have a better definition of spirituality? I'd love to hear about it.

*Translated by Daniel Ladinsky