From the Ministers

December – From the Minister

Posted by on Dec 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

On a Wednesday evening here, we sat in a circle, about eight people, very quiet, very still. It was a perfect silence, companioned and deliberate. We heard the rain outside, clattering softly into sleet. We heard cars on the road. We heard a distant dog. We heard someone laughing in the Social Hall. We heard the heat come roaring on. We heard the choir practicing, and the clamor of chatter and farewells. We heard children racing in the hallways, and the clink and clank of dishes in the kitchen.

These were not intrusions, just signals of our common life, its right location in the midst of hustle-bustle. We rode the silence, and it held us. After a time, we opened our eyes. No one rushed to speak, but when someone said “Thank you, thank you all,” we were ready to return, ready to join our solitudes in noisy, glad communion once again.

This busy season, don’t forget to listen for the silences. Don’t forget to stop talking, texting, thinking, shopping, planning. Don’t forget to leave a margin on the crowded page, the crowded screen, of every day. Don’t forget to guard the coastline of your spirit. Don’t forget to remember who you are, and what you are, and where you come from, which is where all things come from, the deepest and most holy quietude. Maybe this is prayer or meditation, maybe quiet walking, or just three conscious breaths before you fall to sleep. Don’t forget to listen for the still small voice within you, speaking without words, singing silent music, the music of the spheres and stars, the rocks and snow, the frozen waters and the waiting, sleeping earth. Don’t forget to breathe before you set your hands again to all the work of joy and peace and love that the days ahead require and deserve.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

November – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 31, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I am terrible at remembering people’s names. When I first meet someone, I try and try, I know all the tricks, but until I see their name and their face and put the two together several times, I am likely to forget. The name. Not the person. Because I am actually really good at faces. Once I’ve seen someone and spoken with them, once I’ve noticed something significant about you, I will remember you. If you show me a piece of yourself, I will remember you.

It’s one of the complexities of work like mine, relational work, where what matters is how you know people, and how they know you. I want to know the deep stories that make up your identity. And I forget your name, one of the basic identifiers of you. And that’s how it can be with Identity. We can know each other’s stories, we can share our deepest parts, and still not quite remember some basic facts.

Identity is both the name tag that you wear (or forget at home) and your face, both the story of the name that was given to you, and the deeper, even more meaningful stories you tell about yourself. It’s more than one thing. It’s not even static—identity shifts and changes as we grow, as we change. The sculpture of our identity gets uncovered more and more as the chisel of life chips away the unnecessary stone around the internal structures. As we learn, as we meet people and love them, get our hearts broken open, as we find ourselves dropped from great heights, and held by warm and loving hands, we shape and share our identities.

Our name, the most basic identifier of us—the two or three or more words that help us distinguish who is who—our name is not the totality of our identity, nor should it be. But it is significant and holy. And I will remember it better if you wear your name tag.

-Rev. Sara Goodman

October – From the Minister

Posted by on Oct 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.

These lines from Jane Hirschfield are from her poem, “Optimism, ” which is no sunshiny, easy thing in these darkening, disturbing times. Optimism, hope, resilience—these are hard choices in harsh days, religious in their rigor. Our theme this month is faith—not easy, breezy, witless wishful thinking—but the resilient resolve to stay focused and bright.

We say yes to the future, even when the present is very cloudy; we say yes to the present, even when the past has all but crushed our spirit. We go on faith more than we admit, not goofy faith in crazy out-sized outcomes, nor in fact in any outcome, but faith in this good day, this good earth, these good companions, good work, good bread. We place our trust in small habits of the heart, and in something larger than ourselves which might be God but might also be community, present, past and future, the good work of good and decent people. It might just be love.

We’re part of that same resilient earth the poet writes about. We’re wired for resilience, designed to turn toward light. Not like Pollyannas, but sequoias. Oaks. Sycamore. All the deliberate ferns that have persevered since prehistoric times—the seemingly delicate ferns, curled and brown as fall draws down, waiting to explode with life in spring.

What do you turn toward? What do you believe in? What saves your life? In what good ground is your faith planted?

-Rev. Victoria Safford

September – From the Minister

Posted by on Sep 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

The Sanctuary is quiet as I write this afternoon, nothing moving in the woods beyond the great window facing east, the steady oaks and cottonwood still sparkling from the drenching rain that came at last this morning. No deer today, no Cooper’s Hawk, none of the monarchs that have come back to us in golden clouds this summer, flashing hope around the milkweed near the stream. It’s quiet here today, as if the house were waiting for its people to come home.

The room is rarely empty, though, even in the summer now, this sacred space we cherish, this home we call our own. Yesterday guests gathered here all day for a mindfulness retreat with Buddhist monks from Plum Village; the day before the room was filled to overflowing for a funeral, the gracious walls holding safe the people’s sadness for a man who died too young. Weddings filled the space all summer, and memorials, and a fancy quinceañera for a shy 15 year old, whose congregation from St. Paul said, Thank you. Gracias. God bless you a hundred times that day for the simple welcome that they found here. De nada, we said. It’s the least we can do—and that’s the truth, in fact. What else could our space be for, than to be filled with life and love and celebration? Piano students sneaking in to practice. The drumming circle once a month on Tuesday nights, inviting all the stone and wood and glass to echo back the beat. Solitary meditators at all times of day. And on summer Sunday mornings, the powerful voices of guest ministers, seminary students, music, joined in August by the strong and steady presence of Sara—your new minister. The space holds all of this, all of us, and more: the memories, dreams, and wonder of a gathered people.

The Sanctuary is our refuge, our safe harbor, and the point of departure for lives called to service and gladness and hope. Here we rest and restore and replenish, we renew our commitment to sacred resistance, and our covenants with one another and with all that’s sacred.

Welcome home. Welcome back. Come, come, whoever you are – ours is no caravan of despair, but a house of hope and history, made holy by your presence.

With gratitude and love, Victoria

Summer 2018 – From the Minister

Posted by on Jun 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

In her extraordinary and prescient sci-fi novels, The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler wrote about a beautiful, dystopian word, like and yet unlike our own, and set in what was, at the time, the not-toodistant future: the early decades of the 21st century. Writing more than 30 years ago, Butler saw with eerie clarity what for her was not far-fetched to imagine, the rise of a boorish tyrant in the midst of American uncertainty, numbing the people with platitudes and terrifying them with reckless, ego-laced, crude, cruelty. One of the books’ most intriguing inventions is a genetic human ailment, causing those afflicted to experience a kind of hyperempathy. They are nicknamed “sharers:” people who feel the pain of others literally, in their bodies, their nerves, their muscles and bones. It is a risky condition, easily exploited by others, and thus hidden by those who carry it. It’s also the source, in these books, of some of the characters’ deepest wisdom and wildest creativity, for “sharers” must always be imagining how other people feel, and above all, how to avoid inflicting harm.

“Wonder” is our summer theme: the practice of opening the windows. It’s about imagination and reverie and lazy, hazy dreaming. “Wonder” in the summertime means hammocks in the afternoon and Northern Lights at night, paddling in silence for hours with a friend, or listening to your taste buds sing with joy at the first peach, tomato, watermelon, sweet corn. Summer wonder holds questions that the anxious winter can’t contain or bother with: How long can loons stay underwater? What happens if we take that trail? What human, living where, was the first to see the Perseid meteor showers and what was their response? When will these berries be ripe? Sometimes, with enough open space in a day and in your mind, wonder just happens, which is why it feels so summery, so childlike and free.

But wonder is also a serious spiritual practice. You can cultivate it, hone that flabby muscle into readiness, learn to see and hear and smell and taste —and feel—as if the windows of your heart and mind and soul were open, not slammed down and shuttered against anything that might catch you by surprise, or startle or confuse you. We can cultivate the open heart and mind and soul, and relearn how to be astonished, how to be amazed.

It’s a risky business. Like the “sharers” in those novels, we’re wary of feeling too much these days, seeing too much, learning too much, holding too much rage or grief or fear for the daily devastations of the earth and all the people on it. If you open the windows of your heart and let the world rush in, you could be swept away with sorrow, swept up in despair. But the risk of staying closed is even greater. I think part of why we come to church on Sunday morning and at other times, is to open our closed and weary spirit, which sometimes is a fearful spirit, to the wonders of life in community; to spacious, wide ideas and other points of view; to the joy of saying yes to helping someone else, when all along we thought we were too busy or too tired; to music, poetry, silence; the quiet breath, and even tears, and even joy, of other people.

From Sophia Fahs, Unitarian Universalist minister and teacher: Fling wide the windows, O my soul! The bright beams of morning are warm.

May – From the Minister

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

This is the sixth year in a row that I’ve had to say goodbye to a community I’ve grown to love. And every time is as hard as the last. At the end of things, I think, “I’ll never love anyone as much as I love this community. ” And every time I am wrong. I spend the summer grieving and then begin again discovering the stories and dreams and heartaches of those I am with—and in this I love them. My heart is broken open again, perhaps a little more each time, and in gratitude I add my voice to the song of another beloved community.

One of my favorite movies, and a family Christmas tradition growing up, is The Sound of Music. (Maria Von Trapp was my first real crush!) At times like these— the ending of this part of our journey together—I am reminded of a line from the movie: “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. ” To me, this is the reckoning—the blessing in disguise, the silver lining, the balance the Universe enacts between heartbreak and joy. I should be grateful for the light at the end of the tunnel, the vision of a window opening into a new relationship with a new community.

But that’s not actually the sort of God I believe in. That theology doesn’t fit for me anymore.

I have been re-reading some J. R.R. Tolkien in preparation for a sermon I’m writing and came across the Ainulindalë, Tolkien’s account of the creation of the world. In this story the One gathers the Ainur, the Holy Ones, declaring to them: a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed…Then [the One] said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will know that ye make in harmony together a Great Music.

And the Ainur, in unison and harmony and yet each with their own distinct voice, sang the world into being, emboldened by the “Flame Imperishable” that the One had kindled within each. The Ainur, like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of dwelling were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

Throughout my life I’ve been a part of countless bands, orchestras, choirs, ensembles, and theater companies. Each performance, when everyone surrenders to the larger vision, is an intense experience of unity and harmony. Each individual offering flows into and out of all the others. Each player brings their unique gifts to the table. Certainly it was always hard to leave a group that I had these experiences with, but I never doubted that another opportunity would come along and that the moments of connection with them would be just as moving. All of this is to say, I’d like to believe that instead of closing one and opening another, Love is constantly offering us invitations to create Great Music with others. Sometimes this music is joyful. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s both. As Buddhism posits, suffering exists. Our grief and anger add depth to our songs and a power to any gratitude we may be able to muster out of heartbreak.

And so, once again, I prepare to say goodbye, gradually withdrawing my voice from the choir of this community, allowing us all to feel the sadness in that loss. In the letting go, we enable our hearts to begin listening for the notes of a different song, trusting that the breath of Spirit moves gently among us always, singing softly, an exhalation of Love.

With love, I thank you for letting me sing with you this year and for the work you do to create Great Music that echoes throughout the world. I am deeply grateful for this time with you and very much looking forward to listening from afar as your song continues with new voices, new harmonies, and new rhythms.

-Rev. Shay MacKay

April – From the Minister

Posted by on Apr 2, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

Our theme this month is Promise: the practice of creating the world. A promise is a kind of pact, a vow, a spoken symbol of intention—a giving of your word. We live in cynical and jaded times, when vows spoken and heard are easily retracted, pledges (on the campaign trail especially) are easily denied, and promises carelessly dismissed. The world we inhabit really is created and defined by promises honored and broken, silent and spoken. A promise is an act of faith, for everyone involved. Long ago, and in congregations still, a promise was a covenant.

A covenant is not a contract. It is not made and signed and sealed once and for all, sent to the attorneys for safekeeping or guarded under glass in a museum. A covenant is not a static artifact and it is not a sworn oath: Whereas, whereas, whereas…. Therefore I will do this, or I’ll die, so help me God. A covenant is a living, breathing, aspiration, made new every day. It can’t be enforced by consequences but it may be reinforced by forgiveness and by grace, when we stumble, when we forget, when we mess up. Every Sunday here we repeat in unison the affirmation of James Vila Blake, “Love is the spirit of this church… ” Each week, quietly, aloud, I promise that I will “dwell in peace, ” and then I don’t live peacefully at all: by Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the latest, I’m living fearfully again, or acting meanly or self-servingly. I say that I will “seek the truth in love,” and then proceed to act quite otherwise, closing my ears and shutting down my open mind and heart, seeking instead the validation of my own narrow, safe opinion. I say, “our great covenant is to help one another,” and then I forget to do it. I’ve “broken my vows a thousand times,” as Rumi’s line from the old hymn reminds me, and yet, because I am held in and hold to a covenant, with the people in my church and with others whom I love, with convictions I cherish and principles I mean to practice, I turn to a different page in the same hymnal. I sing the line, “We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love, ” and I remember: a covenant is a promise, it is an aspiration, to go deeper in relation to ourselves, to our best intention, to our God, and to each another. A member of our congregation told me once, “Covenant is a promise I keep to myself, about the kind of person I want to be, the kind of life I mean to have, together with other people, and with all other living things.”

When we welcome babies in our church, when we welcome new members into the community, when we celebrate the love of beaming couples, when we ordain new ministers, we speak not in the binding language of contract, but in the life-sustaining fluency of promise, of covenant, from co-venir, to travel together. We will go together with you, child; we will travel together with you, friend; we will move together with each other toward the lives we mean to lead, toward the world we mean to have a hand in shaping, the world of compassion, equity, freedom, joy and gratitude. Covenant is the work of intimate justice, and we come to church to help each other keep the promises we’re proud of.

March – From the Minister

Posted by on Mar 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I remember Sunday mornings as a child, after getting dressed up and ready for church, sitting down at the kitchen table to fill out my tithing envelope. I had a box of them that were all my own, with my name printed on the front and a space for me to fill in the date. I would carefully take money out of my piggy bank, mindful of what felt “right” to give, and seal it into the envelope, which then went into mom’s purse for safe keeping. When offertory came around in the service, I would proudly place my envelope in the basket as it passed by, knowing that I was contributing what I could to the work of the church.

I wish I could say that I stayed that financially generous as I got older, but I soon left the church, and then went through periods of economic ups and downs throughout my 20’s and 30’s. And somewhere along the way I stopped believing that my small contributions mattered. I stopped believing that they mattered to whatever organization was asking for money—and I stopped believing that being generous somehow also benefitted me in any sort of spiritually significant way. Last week, I was driving home from work and came to a stoplight in Saint Paul. Just outside my window was a man with a sign that said, “Veteran. Homeless. Anything helps. God Bless.” It was 9 degrees outside that day, though the sun was shining. At first, I averted my eyes—I didn’t have any cash on me, nothing I could give. Laying on the seat beside me was a new pair of warm winter gloves. Generosity comes in many forms. So, I rolled down my window and handed them to the man.

This is soulwork. Opening our eyes to the world around us and then figuring out how the values we hold most deeply within us inspire us to be. These values are our center, the core of us from which we reach out into the world and affect everything.

I don’t know about you, but for me it’s never easy to “give generously.” Especially when money is tight. Our society values independence, self-sufficiency, making a profit. We have legitimate concerns about socking everything away in savings for college educations, downpayments on houses, retirement funds, emergency medical expenses. What is it that offers me a different perspective? Where do I find messages of abundance and interdependence and love? Where do I go to feed my soul so that it grows stronger and brighter— strong and bright enough to center me in my belief that we are all in this together, taking care of each other, creating the world we all want to live in?

When I was a child, the answer to these questions was most certainly “church.” For many years, in my young adulthood, it wasn’t. Then I found a faith that moves me— moves my soul to grow and my body to act. The homeless veteran on the corner doesn’t care what it was that moved me to give him a pair of warm gloves, but I do. I care because I know that if I give to this church then the work of growing our souls and serving the world will continue.

Sometimes, I wish we had little pledge envelopes for us all to put our money into every Sunday—crisp and white or recycled and rainbow-colored— instead of the automated on-line unmindful recurring debit from some imaginary pile of money. Sometimes, I wish that we could think carefully about how much, and why, we wanted to be generous with our finances every week rather than just once a year, especially when money is tight.

What is it that makes up the center of you? What is the work your soul is asking you to do? And where is it that helps you discern and do these things? Maybe for you the answer isn’t “church.” Maybe it’s time to reconsider that.

February – From the Minister

Posted by on Feb 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

An older couple I know and love are both in their late ’90s. Creatures of habit now by necessity, they are also no strangers to the constant disruptions of daily living and frequent betrayals by their physical selves of the vibrant people that they are still “inside.”

One of them lives increasingly with both hearing loss and memory loss; he can’t always understand why the world has gone suddenly so quiet. “Speak up! ” he shouts, to people in the room, to the Jeopardy contestants on TV, to the teller at the bank. His partner sometimes strains her voice, both with loud speaking and by constantly repeating her responses to his most simple questions, asked over and over when the answers slip through the screen doors of his mind. He’s still physically strong and hale; she is less so, and together they daily re-negotiate all the old familiar dance steps in the partnered waltz of their life: he adjusts his long stride and vigorous pace so they can walk together across a parking lot; she checks her ferocious independence, and her pride, and asks him (shouts at him) to help carry the laundry basket. He grieves whole-heartedly the loss of his driver’s license, although he gets it and does not complain; she misses deep conversation with him, and entire chapters of their shared life which his memory can’t retain, but still she cheerfully converses. This past year, they weathered two hurricanes, sheltering in place in their apartment for 10 days with no electricity, gas or running water, and when their cellphones were finally charged up again, both reported that they’d lived through worse. Every day, they readjust their plans and expectations to accommodate new and deepening afflictions – and amazingly, they do not stop planning. They are still vigorous and vital, in their way, still eager to wake up in the morning and still grateful to lie down at night, side by side.

There is something so poignant and so lovely in their constancy, in the way each has stayed true to the core of the self, the essence of character and spirit that defines them and has always defined them. They are modest in their needs, generous in their concern, alert to the world around them (including the worlds of politics, art and technology), and matter-of-fact about mortality. They are kind to each other and to others.

It doesn’t always go this way with memory loss and aging; often and understandably, people get crabby or depressed as they age – but not these two. He still rests his hand on her shoulder as he walks by, and ever more gently as her shoulders have sharpened and slumped; she still raises her hand to brush against his, murmuring “hello there” even though he can’t quite hear. They’ve been alive on the earth for 194 years combined, and they’ve known disappointment, disaster and disruption, from the Great Depression to the Second World War, from the deaths of their spouses, the loss of a brother, the loss of a child, to the loss of so much ordinary capacity. We think of “disruption” as disruptive, as if it were somehow the exception to the rule of orderly calm in this life, but these elders, and others, are teaching me that disruption – of plans, health, relationship, weather, everything – is the baseline and the ground on which we build our character. Nothing’s a given in this life, everything’s disruptable, yet some things stay the same, and more so, over time.

-Rev. Victoria Safford

January – From the Minister

Posted by on Jan 1, 2018 in Spirituality | 0 comments

I can’t think of a better time of year to contemplate discipline than the month of January in the North. A month for homebodies and introverts and mystics. A month for the weary and disillusioned. In its cold, dark embrace we can withdraw and reflect – whether in hopeless dismay or patient faith. January is a time of rest in the wake of the holidays – the race from Thanksgiving through Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and into the New Year. It is a time of waiting for the renewal promised in the coming of Spring. Allowing ourselves the luxury of rest in this busy world takes discipline. Being patient in the waiting certainly takes discipline. Even sustaining faith in the light’s return takes discipline. So, hunker down and hibernate, let yourself be still, and just breathe – you may just hear the whispers of your heart.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

~ Joyce Rupp, from Winter’s Cloak

Marion Zimmer Bradley once wrote, “To know you are ignorant is the beginning of wisdom. Then, when you begin to learn, you will not have to forget all the things you think you know. ”

There have been many times throughout my life when I have willingly admitted my ignorance, gracefully surrendering to the gentle (and not-so-gentle!) lessons life offers me at every turn. And, I admit, there have been times when I have very ungracefully tripped over my own two feet in my rush to share all the things I think I know.

The annual MLK, Jr. breakfast is coming up and I’m excited to be a part of this year with all of you. I’m reminded of something a colleague of mine recently said in a sermon – that sometimes courage looks a lot like silence. As we as individuals and as a society move forward in confronting white supremacy and racism, I’m beginning to think that sometimes courage looks like stepping back and realizing that all I think I know is not all there is to know. That’s a mouthful and takes some careful thought! Courage, sometimes, looks a lot like being quiet and admitting ignorance. And that takes discipline. For me, a middle-class, well-educated, white person, that can take a lot of discipline. Not only do I need to step back and listen to others, it also means slowing down and listening to my heart rather than my ego. Because, really, even with all the discipline in the world, none of this work we do will mean anything if it doesn’t come from a place of love. Now that’s something to contemplate during this cold January.

“Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long…There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
~ MLK, Jr.