How's it Going?
So, how's it going? Have you been doing your spiritual practice regularly? I'm not intending to heap guilt on you, just kind of curious. Your comments would be interesting here--for everyone to read.
I have switched my spiritual practice(s) this Lent away from specifically meditation to meditative things. I am reading fewer schlock mystery thriller novels, and more books that are based on spiritual pursuits. I am learning more about instruments that have not been my primary ones. And I have been acknowledging my body more and working to overcome some of the maladies that I have lived with for the past couple of years--with more verve and commitment than has been my history of late.
Sometimes these things do not feel like spiritual practices. They just seem like a part of my everyday life. But I am doing them with spiritual intention. That is, I am using these things to pursue the spiritual principles of faith, awareness, creativity and commitment. I am cursed with a focus on awareness, so I don't need to spend too much time on that. But the reading focuses me on the exploration of my faith through the explorations of others. The music focuses me on creativity and reminds me that creativity is not a fixed thing, but a process that makes something from nothing. And the focus on my body, as it always does, tests my commitment.
What I have found is that each supports the other, and since they are all zeroed in on my spiritual well-being, they are all elevating me to a greater sense of my connection with how I act spiritually. I also find that the more I put my mind to my spiritual well-being, the more compassion I feel for those around me, the more forgiving I feel for the wrongs that others do, and the more willing I am to let humility take a leading role in my life.
It is all very nice, actually. So how have you been doing? Has anything changed for you? Have you been doing a spiritual practice? How has it worked for you? IF not, what makes it hard for you? And how do you feed your spiritual side--you faith, your awareness, your creativity, your commitment?
Time to Practice
Mardi Gras---fat Tuesday--the celebration of lent. Actually the debauchery the day before lent begins--filled with gluttony and excess--gumbo and Jack. By Christian tradition lent is the time when we sacrifice something (like gumbo and Jack)--when, in a sense, we do penance for, well, whatever, and prove our worthiness in the face of God by forgoing something that we feel is important. Historically, I was pretty cynical about lent, so I would give up things, like pomegranates, that I really never cared about in the first place.
But there is another way to see sacrifice--that is that we give up something in order to take on something better. So each year for the last four years I have asked you to use this Lenten season to concentrate on a spiritual practice--to forgo half an hour of TV, or reading, or something and exchange it for half an hour of doing something with spiritual intention. This could be just about anything that allows you to focus your intention on what you deem spiritual. Walking in the woods, meditating, playing music with spiritual intent, praying, even exercise--but always with the caveat that you are bringing yourself back to working at making whatever it is that you are doing into a spiritual experience.
As most of you know, I have been a meditator for quite some time. If there is anything I have learned about spiritual practice it is that the operative word is practice. Like being a doctor, there is never a time with spiritual practice when you can not improve on what you already do. After serious meditation for more than 25 years, it takes significant effort to reach 5 minutes of a mind that "goes with the flow" during any 30 minute attempt--30 seconds to 1 minute is more likely. Practice as I may, the rewards sometimes seem a bit slim. All the same, I have also learned that it is not the outcome, but merely showing up that is important.
So when I ask you to do you spiritual practice for this Lenten season, all I am asking is that you show up. Success is a fleeting master, and a difficult partner with which to stay connected. But intention, and committing to the process is pride building and eye-opening. It truly offers you a pathway to your spirit and it gives you the an opportunity to explore the beliefs about that drive your spiritual ground of being.
So rather than to just give something up for lent--take something on. Take on the challenge of getting to know your spirit better.
Peace and energy,
This Sunday we have our annual congregational meeting. All members and friends are invited to attend and participate in this important gathering. As a self-governing community that is entirely responsible for our own material and spiritual well-being, your input is important and valuable to helping your board makes decisions. Your contributions to the process make the board's job easier and assures that the needs of the congregation are met.
One of the most powerful things about our form of governing is the truly democratic nature of how we operate. The board needs your input to establish appropriate priorities and to create and operate with a budget that is both balanced and sensible.
Please make a point to come and give us your input.
A couple of other notes: we have added a section to the Website under "Schedule" called "Pastoral Availability." It points out my availability for pastoral counseling and or spiritual direction. Please remember that these services are available to you and your family as part of the mission of the church, and I urge to to take advantage of them as you see fit. Contact me for an appointment, or drop in every other Thursday (see chant schedule for drop-in dates).
Also notice that my chant schedule is in place.
Hope to see you Sunday,
Peace and energy,
Just Another Spiritual Practice
Very soon, you will be receiving a letter asking for a pledge to help support the church. And believe me, none of us really like having to put the money side of our organization in the forefront--but put it forward we must. As a UU church, we are entirely responsible for out material well being. No funds are forthcoming from the UUA or from any sources other than those we are able to create ourselves. Equally, we do not ask for a "tithing"--a specific amount related to your income. That makes your contributions to the well being of the church essential. In that light there are two things I would like you to consider.
First, your pledge and your weekly contributions to the collection plate are not necessarily the same thing. For the fiscal health of the church to be strong, we need to have a fairly clear idea of what we can count on in the way of contributions. This arises from your yearly pledge. and from this, the foundation of the budget is created. Pledges allow us to plan for the year to come. In a sense, your pledge is to the organization as a whole, and a way to show your commitment to the material well being of NCCUU.
Now, though you may choose, of course, to "amortize" your pledge each Sunday by adding it to the collection plate, I ask you also to consider that what we receive through your weekly offerings, though estimated as part of the budget, is not predictable. This is as it should be: some weeks you may feel flush and offer $20 and other weeks only $1--It is your choice, as it should be, but not something the board can count on.
At any rate, I urge to to think of these two ways we give to the church as separate things. One helps us create the foundation that keeps our fiscal health strong (yearly pledges), the other allows us to "paint the rooms" so to speak. With your pledge, you support the building and the community as whole. With your weekly offerings, you support everything that happens on Sunday. I urge you to be generous with both.
Secondly, I suggest that you to think of your giving as a spiritual practice. Any spiritual practice is at least in part about challenging ourselves to do more, push ourselves further, and to explore our limits by extending them outside our comfort zone. As well, part of our spiritual practice needs to embrace and support the community that supports us as we pursue our spiritual journey. The love we take is equal to the love we make.
So please consider both your pledge and you weekly offering carefully and be generous. Help us to continue to do good works for one another and for the greater community around us.
Peace and energy
3500 Miles Later.
Back in the good ole' days, a 3500 mile road trip was a walk in the park, and might take slightly more than 2 days of nonstop driving time.I remember once jumping my trusty '64 Volvo and driving non-stop from Portland, Maine, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a two day visit, and then heading straight back. Both directions in snowstorms.
Now-a-days, 6 hours is more than enough, and a good day is 4-5 hours with plenty of rest stops for the uptake and elimination of fluids. And on this trip, that is what we did. We had brief visits with a bunch old friends, some too brief, some too long. We had a couple of 2 night lay-overs that proved more than just a passing hello. But for more time than not, our waking hours were spent sitting side by side; Sarah navigating, knitting, trying to find radio stations that we could tolerate. Me driving and wondering how long I could last until the next rest stop. Both of us being somewhat mesmerized by just being away, alone together, and on the road.
We didn't solve any big problems, confront any big issues, or even have any significant spats. We didn't reconnect with one another, having not been unconnected. Nope, we just sat in the same place, side-by-side, no agenda, for most of two weeks with only miles to cover to reach our destination. And that was the point.
There is perhaps no better way to remember how important someone is to us as when we do nothing together. To exist in the comfort of one another's presence without the pressures of home or work or money is a gift to any relationship, and the kind of gift that it is all to hard to find the time to create. I recommend it.
And I thank you for giving me this opportunity with Sarah. Being with her, having time to just drive and let things be (meditation without the incense), and visit with old friends, all these things have given me some new energy and a whole host of new ideas of things to share with you, both personally and from the pulpit.
Thanks again and see you in church!!!
And on to the New Year!!!
SO, I will be gone for a couple of weeks of much needed R & R with Sarah. We will be hitting the road to Florida and back. I want to thank you all for this opportunity. Sarah and I have not had time like this for a very long time and the opportunity to spend time together without the hecticness of our usual life is a blessing--particularly for a couple of weeks.
Before I go, I want to say once again how blessed I am to be your minister. You may be a small group, but the what we accomplish is remarkable. Everyone is finding a little niche and doing what they feels right to them, and there is nothing more powerful in a church than that.
I particularly want to thank the board, Joe, Barbara, Jill and Kelli, for their dedication to overseeing the material well-being of the church. And to Gary for his long time efforts in a hundred different ways. And to Andrea for stepping into help out with music. I guess I could, and should be thanking everyone individually... suffice to say that everything happens at NCUC through a community effort, and that is what church is all about.
We are blessed as a little church to have such members. So I hope you will take time in the early part of the New Year, to count your own blessings. We are a church that is small in membership but huge in heart. Let's make it our resolution to let the world know that.
Blessings, and peace and energy to you all.
This is about the only time of year when we seem to breathe a big sigh of relief. For most of the year we muddle along, paying too little attention to what goes on around us, and focusing mainly on the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Then Christmas time comes, and there is a flurry of activity culminating with a feeling of being wrapped in wonder. But even as we struggle our way through the hustle and bustle, something seems a bit different.
I notice it most in Sarah. Generally, the last thing she would do is head to the malls in our area for any kind of shopping experience. It's not that she minds the stores, but the vast parking lots, the rampant consumerism and throngs of consumers are all things that irritate her almost more than I do. But yesterday she called me from her car, in the parking lot of the mall, where she had been waiting for more than 20 minutes just to get out of the parking lot. I expected a string of expletives, but what I received was a reasonable and sane person, not happy, necessarily, to be stuck in the mire of parking purgatory, but not at all overwhelmed by the experience.
And that's the way much of life seems at this time of year. Our tolerance grows significantly for the things that slow us down, or get in the way of our routine, or make us irritated, or feel like impositions to our everyday living. And I don't know about you, but it just plain feels good to me. I worry less. I live more in the present. I let go of things that at other times of year might nag me for days.
I suppose that what causes all this is that we expect to feel different this time of year. We expect people to be nice. We expect to be more forgiving. We expect to feel excitement and tolerance and compassion. And we are all focusing on giving; whether gifts of stuff to family and friends, or gifts of support to the needy, or gifts of love--giving is kind of the watchword at Christmas time.
It is arguably the most profound lesson of Christmas. It is not the size or expense of the gift. It is not actually anything material about a gift. It is from giving humbly and selflessly, with love and compassion, and with forgiveness, that we truly receive the greatest gifts; we receive the gift of tolerance, of inner calm and of a true love of humankind even that strengthens us even amid all the struggles of life.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we gave this way all year? It's not impossible.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year
This post also appears in Rev. Fowler's Blog--Eyes and Ears.
December 14, 2011
Well, we have just launched this new website and we are hopeful that this is the beginning of a push for growth of the church. We are, however, a much larger church than our membership indicates. This is most particularly true of the heart of the community. The compassion displayed by this group for one another and for the surrounding community is the most profound beauty of the people that I serve. Clearly, this church is WAY more about them than about me and WAY more about compassion than anything else..
All the same, the things that this congregation accomplishes over a year are amazing. This year alone we have sponsored 6 concerts. We have hosted a weekend workshop on scared chant. We have donated more than $1000 to the local food pantry through our fund raising efforts. At every event, we have had hospitality with donated goodies for intermissions. Additionally, the congregation has seen that the entire church is painted on the exterior. A new stonewall has been built in front of the church. We have had four services that included at least two trumpets, organ, violin, piano and guitar. We have had services with up to four guitar players. Several of our members have volunteered to play music for our services at other times. Whew, for the size of our membership, it is fantastic what we have done both for our own little community and for the community around us. And all this is aside from the pastoral care that our compassionate membership has offered to members of the church and to members of the community around us. I am awed.
I hope that some of you who do not join us regularly, or who are seeking a new spiritual community will come and give us a try. We would love to meet you and have you experience the open and loving community that we are. If you are seeking a community that will strengthen your spiritual underpinnings, we can be that for you.
See you in church, I hope!!
Faith, peace, and energy,
Rev. Ben Fowler
On this page I will occasionally make entries which will speak to the good works of the our church, to the spirit of our members or just to make observations about the nature of the spirit and life as I see it. Please make comments and add your own thoughts.