Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pam's Presence Minister's Column (April 2011 Newsletter Content)

Reaching Out

Egypt. Iran. Libya. Japan. Pakistan. Darfur. Israel. Palestine. Uganda. Iraq. SB1070. Haiti. Afghanistan. Is anyone else overwhelmed? I want to offer a few ways to respond to the various crises of our world.

One more obvious and publicized way is to contribute financial support. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is an organization with a long history of providing immediate funding to local, grassroots organizations who are already in the midst of efforts toward recovery, rescue, aid and promoting rights for areas in tremendous need. For more information about what they are doing to help Japan, to promote environmental and economic justice, to support civil liberties and to respond to humanitarian crises across the world, please visit their website: www.uusc.org.

Another way is to stay informed and engaged about the realities of our world. We have a great many news sources available to us and we need informed citizens.
I also want to caution against taking in too much information. Recently one of our wise members told me that she decided to go on a "news diet" recognizing that she had probably taken in enough for the time being. It can be overwhelming to continually read, hear, watch, listen to stories of violence, oppression, and devastation. I like her plan to "diet" from those high levels of input. Part of how we care for others involves caring for ourselves along the way.

Let us also cultivate loving kindness and compassion in all our relations. As Unitarian abolitionist and minister Theodore Parker offered a great many years ago, "be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere." May our actions of peace, our reverence for life and our compassion for family and stranger alike, spread across the land bringing light and warmth into places struck by devastation and violence.

Many of you have been asking me about prayer in a Unitarian Universalist context. What I often do is imagine holding people in light and love and sending them healing energy. It is a form of prayer practiced by both Quakers and Buddhists. We don’t even need words, just imagine someone or some place and surrounded in radiant light and use your imagination to send them loving kindness and compassion.

Sometimes I like to write down exactly what I hope for people (peace, healing, friendship, creativity, etc..). I have a special prayer journal just for those thoughts that a younger (and very creative) member of our congregation made for me. I use it as a centering practice and a way to hold the intentions of our community in my heart.

My friend and colleague (Scottie McIntyre Johnson) likes to "color in prayer." Using different colored markers she will write a person's name or a place's name and then in a quiet, contemplative mood color around it with designs or lines or shapes. I have loved doing that practice with her and it is so good for our inner spirit who needs care too.

Recently I went to Juliet's Jewels and bought a small string of Tibetan prayer flags for the people of Japan. It was an impulse decision after feeling like I needed to do something more. When I was participating in a Tibetan Buddhist group in Berkeley, the meditation room had large spinning prayer wheels that created a peaceful hush in the room and spun all the time in prayer for compassion, harmony and peace. The institute says, "Prayer wheels (also known as Dharma Wheels) contain the words of the Buddha, teachings of wisdom and compassion, printed on rolls of paper glued together and wrapped by hand. Two thousand years ago, the famed Buddhist master Nagarjuna determined that setting the Buddha’s printed words in motion activated the same blessings as reciting them with the human voice. In Tibet, prayer wheels became a part of daily life, turned at every opportunity in order to activate the blessings of compassion, promote harmony and peace, and prevent natural disasters." (www.nyingmainstitute.com/page/prayer-wheels)

In the same way, I feel that these prayer flags blow in the wind and send their blessings to each person in Japan who suffers and to each of us who ache for them. Maybe we could make our own prayer flags—each panel holding a different intention, perhaps including a quote or prayer or image that we wish to send out into the world.

Unitarian Universalist Association staff member, Erik Walker Wikstrom, wrote a book called "Simply Pray" in which he wrote, "Let us think of prayer as an opening of one’s self to the depths of life—your own life and the greater Life of which we are all a part. Whatever else it might be—a conversation with the Divine, an internal dialog with your own inner wisdom, a practice of calming and centering—prayer can be understood as a movement into and through the Mystery of Life."

I look forward to exploring more with you the practice of prayer in our Unitarian Universalist faith. If you have a prayer practice that you’d like to share with our congregation, please let me know. I might include it in a service on prayer. Send your thoughts to me by e-mail at minister@dentonuuf.org or give me a call at 940-381-2457. You could also write a note for me and put it in the church mailbox.

In this time of heightened awareness of suffering and devastation, may each one of us and all around the world find their peace, their healing and their deep connection to the Mystery of Life.

In faith,
Rev. Pam