Living the Questions: September 2012

Theme for September: Renewal—the practice of returning

Questions for contemplation and conversation on your own,
around the dinner table, in your journal, with each other

Download 09-12-questions

renewal - the conversion of wasteland into land suitable for use of habitation or cultivation; filling again by supplying what has been used up


  • What does renewal require? Does it happen only through the death of something or the end of something and, if not, what other triggers or elements are essential?
  • Does renewal imply change? Can renewal involve returning to a previous state?
  • Why is it becoming more and more important in our fast paced society to experience renewal? To refresh and begin again? To return to rootedness? To sweep the mind of all its clutter?
  • What are some qualities you recognize in yourself or others that are key self-renewing ingredients? How can those be taught/modeled in the community?
  • Does returning each Sunday to religious community renew you?  In what ways?
  • What intentional effort is required to experience renewal? In what sort of circumstance might it simply ‘happen’?


To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.
—Chinese Proverb


There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
—Nelson Mandela


“Renew thyself completely each day.”
—Henry David Thoreau


Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.
—Mahatma Gandhi


“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
—Joseph Campbell


Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”
—Joseph Campbell


Personal transformation can and does have global effects.

As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.

The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.
—Marianne Williamson


“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.”
—The Buddha




Crossing from a chore as the day

was packing it in, I saw my long shadow

walking before me, bearing in the tilt

of its thin head autumnal news,

news broadcast red from the woods to the west,

the goldleaf woods of shedding branch and days

drawing in like a purse being cinched,

the wintry houses sealed and welcoming.


Why do we love them, these last days of something

like summer, of freedom to move in few clothes,

though frost has flattened the morning grass?

They tell us we shall live forever. Stretched

like a rainbow across day’s end, my shadow

makes a path from my feet; I am my path.

—John Updike



Often rebuked, yet always back returning

To those first feelings that were born with me,

And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning

For idle dreams of things which cannot be:


To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;

Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;

And visions rising, legion after legion,

Bring the unreal world too strangely near.


I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,

And not in paths of high morality,

And not among the half-distinguished faces,

The clouded forms of long-past history.


I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

It vexes me to choose another guide:

Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;

Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.


What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?

More glory and more grief than I can tell:

The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling

Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

—Emily Jane Bronte



Excerpts from an essay posted on UUA website at Audio Essay Series:

Volume 3: SmallCongregations, Track 4 (MP3, 5:52 minutes)

Author: The Reverend Karen Brammer, Small Church Specialist in the Northern New England District


No person is perfect. That’s true enough. It only makes sense then, that in our Unitarian Universalist congregations we will have to learn to live our values together. We can count on the fact that we will fall short and make mistakes along the way.

Many congregations have created covenants—statements of how we intend to be with one another in our communities of faith. A covenant expresses what we hope and expect of ourselves and each other in relationship.

Once the covenant is written and shared widely, it offers a vision to move towards. It sets the bar high for how we want to learn to be in the world. A covenant can help us take a breath before we do something difficult. Read before each meeting, it can remind us to bring our best selves into the work. It is also what we return to when we have strayed.

Think about what it is like to get so frustrated or defensive that you say and act in ways that are not clear, not compassionate, and not helpful to the group. We have all done it. Think about choosing not to tell a difficult truth because of habit or a desire not to be unkind. Remember what it was like in anger to fall short of your ideals of being in good relationship. We have all done it.

So what do we do to prepare for when—not if—this happens? How do we hold each other accountable? How do we return to covenant?

We prepare realistically. We practice. We get better and better at it.

How we ask each other to return to covenantal relationship may be different in each area of the country because we have different cultures and traditions. But regardless of our regional differences, we can help one another find ways to hold each other accountable and still feel true to our cultures.

A congregation that writes its covenant, then practices in their own way returning to covenant again and again, may find over time that they do not need props anymore. Developing these skills helps us recover from our mistakes more quickly and forgive more readily. We laugh more when we feel we are moving together with fewer unaddressed injuries. We get more done without unspoken issues roiling under the surface of our agendas.

Writing a covenant is important and powerful. Living it is quite another thing. It takes practice. It takes commitment, and when put to use, it can transform who we are together, which in turn will help us transform our world.