December 31–Hope: The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman
    “The Work of Christmas” in The Mood of Christmas & Other Celebrations (1985)

The UUCG choir sang this song during the 7:00 service on the 24th and I could hardly get through it. The first time we practiced it I welled up with tears as I read through the words and their meaning which struck me like a truck. And it was like that every time we practiced the music. I had to remove myself from the lyrics so I could lay down the melody in my head and my memory. And then, a bit at time, allowed the meaning of the lines back into my head.

The stories and traditions we celebrate during this time of cold and dark are as varied and unique as the way we take our coffee. I have learned to open my eyes and ears and heart and take in more than my childhood traditions during this time of hope and celebration.

These words bring everything full circle for me. As my children continue to grow up and start their own traditions and celebrations I find myself revisiting my own and figuring out what to keep and what to purge. As I repack  the hand made ornaments and precious photo ornaments safely away for next year – I will say goodbye to the random filler pieces bought to fill empty spaces on the tree and the mantle and let them bring joy to someone else. I will let go of old habits to make room for more meaning and purpose.

My work begins now. My intent to live the principals of my life carries on. To find the lost, to heal the broken, to release the prisoner, the rebuild the nations. To bring peace and to make music. Here in my own circle of family and friends – the work of Christmas begins.

Lydia Patrick

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December 27–Hope: Friendship

A friend recently reminded me of a quotation from the Roman orator, politician and philosopher, Cicero’s philosophical essay on Friendship.  In that essay, he notes that there are many benefits of friendship, but the greatest of those benefits is that it shines a ray of hope into us and does not allow our souls to falter or grow weak.

As I read that quotation again after many years, it rings true in me.  I can think of individual friends, but I find myself drawn to something else that friendships tend to imply:  community. We likely all find ourselves parts of more than one community, but is it not true that friendship is what weaves us into community?  Perhaps we enter a community through any variety of doors, but I suspect that what keeps us in that community or at least what brightens and strengthens us in that community are the finding and making of friends there.  When that community gathers, will I see this person or that person?  Once in the community the surprise of an unexpected visit from a friend–these things do brighten and even enlighten our souls, and the forward lean into them–we call that hope.

Pay tribute to hope today.  Let us ponder our friendships and the communities they weave us into, and be grateful.

Bob Patrick

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December 26–Hope: Not Blame

What is the opposite of hope?  My first thoughts were hopelessness.  Hopelessness is still strangely in the realm of hope.  To be hopeless with all the pain and struggle implied by that experience still requires a hope–a hope that one has currently lost.

I am considering blame.  Hope by its nature has us leaning toward the future out of our present.  It creates a possible communion between now and the future.  Blame, on the other hand, locks us into the past.  It fixes us on a situation and more often a single person whom we hold irrevocably responsible for some pain in our lives.  Blame locks us in our tracks and poisons every present moment with the old bitterness and pain.

There will be horrible examples of pain and tragedy linked to a situation or a person.  Even then, there are often circumstances and events unknown to us that we can never account for–that if we were able to–would mitigate how we view the whole event.

Sr. Helen Prejean is the Catholic nun who has worked tirelessly both with those on death-row and with the families of murder victims.  She has noted in her work that the killing of a death row inmate does not bring the victim’s families any sort of peace or healing.  This is probably the ultimate case against blame.  At some point, even in the worst circumstances, we have to let go of blame so that we can heal.  Forever blame is a self-inflicted hell, and there is no way around it.

What to do with that event or person?  However horrible it was, it holds something in it from which to learn, to grow and to move forward.  That is called hope.

Bob Patrick

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December 21–Hope: Change

It’s been cold and wet and gloomy for many days now.  We even had a day of snow.  Today is a day of change.  Physically.  Globally.  The earth has tilted as far away from the sun in the northern hemisphere as it can, and today it begins its slow shift back towards the sun.  The change will come slowly.  Most days it will feel like no change is happening at all. Today is the Winter Solstice.

We may find ourselves unsettled, unhappy, perhaps even outraged with various things in our lives and in our world today.  When those kinds of feelings are strong and/or have been going on for a long time, we may begin to feel like there is no hope for change.  Sudden crises do happen, but most often the difficulties we face take a long time to develop.  We did not arrive at the current state of meanness, oppositional, fractured and cruel way of being in this country and world over night.  This current darkness was a long time in coming.

But, everything is always changing.  Everything.  Always.  And that gives me some, even if sobering, hope.  In the ancient divination system of China known as the I Ching, even the most propitious and auspiciously good sign is always touched by the change that comes immediately on it.  And the worst, most foreboding sign is always touched by the change that comes immediately on it.

And you and I, we are forces.  Since everything is already and always changing, how shall we use our lives, our forces, to bring about something better?

Bob Patrick

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December 18–Hope: Directional

Binary thinking is something that pervades our culture.  It sets up every problem as a choice between two things and what’s more, it sees them as opposed to each other. The binary “screen” on life does not just see two options, but two options each of which wish to annihilate the other.  The toxic outcomes are predictable.

Daniel Priestly notes another option,  what he calls “directional thinking.” Directional thinking engages us in ” moving forward, a step closer, lighter grey/darker grey, an experiment, an opportunity to learn, smart-ish, safer, right-ish, wrong-ish, finished-ish.”

Sound familiar?  It’s the appeal of Unitarian Universalism, to offer another way of pondering life besides what is served up in our culture–maybe even in our brains.  There is some scientific speculation that binary thinking is hard wired in our reptilian brains (the most ancient part of us, evolutionarily speaking).  It may be a part of our evolution that no longer serves us in a modern society.

Hope is future oriented.  It relies on a sense of moving forward, a step closer, to options of this way or that way but with some sense that we head toward a better way.

Directional thinking.  A new way of hoping?

Bob Patrick

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December 18–Hope: Gratitude

If there is a God, a Supreme Being, a Divine Source of all that is, then surely that One hears and receives all offerings of thanks and gratitude.  How could any sort of thanksgiving go anywhere except to the Source of all that is?

And is there a religion in the world, or has there ever been one, or is there any sort of spiritual practice, or is there any human being alive or who has ever lived who has not even once felt gratitude?

And if there is no God, does it matter?  The instances of gratitude that rise up out of the human heart in all times over so many human experiences are in themselves a single unifying force.

This is my Unitarianism.

Bob Patrick

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December 14–Hope: So Much Mercy

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And Applaud,
And Applaud
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!

A young man comes to Hafiz for spiritual guidance.  Feeling strong and brave, he asked the Master to tell him the truth about all of his attachments.

Hafiz addresses him as “sweetheart.”  And then he tells him that he can clearly see how much effort he has put into protecting all of the attachments of his life–like a great brothel to house all of his pleasures.

Just take about 30 seconds to think about the things you are attached to.  The Master Hafiz continues.

You have even surrounded the whole
damn place
With armed guards and vicious dogs
To protect your desires
So that you can sneak away
From time to time
And try to squeeze light
Into your parched Being
From a source as fruitful
As a dried date pit
That even a bird
Is wise enough to spit out.

Wow!  Be careful what you ask for.  So, I find myself, as I read this poem, bracing for the annihilation of the young man who asked for the truth about his attachments.  And what comes next is what Hafiz gives him.

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And Applaud,
And Applaud
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!

What mercy, compassion, and tenderness!  The regret of the past is a crushing enemy of the human spirit.  What if we were to offer this kind of mercy, compassion and tenderness–to ourselves–and one day, before we die, learn how to extend it always to everyone we encounter?

Bob Patrick

*I want to recommend the book of Hafiz’s poetry that these lines have come from, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy, Daniel Ladinsky, translator.  If you order it on Amazon, be sure to use this code so that a portion of the proceeds will benefit UUCG.

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December 11–Hope: American Christmas 2017

For certain ones of our public figures to call themselves Christians is not only absurd, but obscene. Regardless of your belief in the literal Christ, the metaphorical Christ has a story that is true and life-affirming. Christmastime focuses on Christ as a child. It is imperative that he comes from humble beginnings. The irony (which is lost on many) is that humility is the pathway to power. Only by overcoming the fears of the ego can we enter into communion with the true Self we were created to be. Too many in the churches these days have no interest in humility, and in turn, have no interest in Christ.

I believe in the Hindu concept of Karma. Energy put into the world comes back. While it’s important to fight for justice in order to help reduce suffering, the perpetrator of injustice will get what is due. That piece is not our concern.

American Christmas, 2017

What child is this, who when laid to rest
you snatched from his bed of straw?
The Supreme name, you’ve taken in vain,
each of you.
You shall seek, but you shall not find heaven.

What child is this, who when laid to rest,
you stole from him, gifts from the wisest of men.
You shall love the gold, your god, with all your
and be comforted only by metal.

Haste. Haste. The child grows to a man.
His innocence gives way to power.
My faith, it is this: Truth is written in
Life will damn you, for that is the law.

Lorena Griffin

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December 6–Hope: Finding My Voice

Going through airport security recently my carry on was pulled and I waited while the airport attendant went through my bag. She told me what she was about to do and that I could not add or remove anything from the bucket while she was searching. Did I have anything sharp in there? No Was there anything in there that would poke or cut her? No.

Is it my phone charger I asked – I have been searched for that before. No, she says. We saw that right away. Turns out it is the Good n Plenty I have packed – best thing for my nerves and stomach upset that I sometimes get during take off and landings. Yep that’s it. Apparently people hide other things in candy.

So, you’ve been stopped before? At the airport?

No, at the Courthouse. I’ve been involved in some protests and have had my purse examined a few times. She looks at me and one eyebrow goes up while she smiles.

I’ve found my voice I say.

Found your voice- I like the way that sounds she says. What have you protested?

I tell her about the Women’s March and the Healthcare March in Atlanta. I talk about the March at the airport when certain cultures were banned from entering the United States. I tell her about holding a sign at the Gwinnnett County commissionsee’s meetings when those awful things were said about John Lewis.

Impressive she said.

Not really. I’ve been silent for a long time and afraid to cause a stir, unsure of my footing should I stand up for something. It took many friends’ kind words of encouragement and a community of support at my church- but….. then it happened- I found my voice.

It was time to move on as another bag was coming along to be searched but as we said our farewells she said. I’d like to find my voice. Can you help me with that?

That makes me feel hopeful… finding my voice.

Sure I said. Here is my e-mail. Look me up and I can point you to some sites and connect you with some communities where all voices are heard. I look forward to talking with you again.

Lydia Patrick

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December 5–Hope: What’s cooking?

In yesterday’s post, I observed the 13th century origins of the English word Hope, and how the English roots seem to be specifically Christian terms for salvation from hell by God.  I suggested that as Unitarian Universalists, we might re-shape this future hope into a present concern for the worth and dignity of all beings, the search for truth and meaning, and the struggle for a justice that means surviving and thriving–for all beings.

There’s more.  Linguists list a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root for the word hope.  PIE is the reconstructed language that linguists believe lies behind most of the languages spoken in the Indo-European countries and those which extend from them.  They have reconstructed the word kwep as the root of our word hope.  Kwep means ” to boil” or “to smoke” something.

That’s an interesting idea.  Smoking and boiling is what we do with food preparation.   To hope for something in that context is to take the actions necessary to prepare food for ourselves, our family, our community.  I’m imagining preliterary cultures who used this word to describe the things they did every day to take care of themselves.  To kwep (hope) was some set of actions one did today so that shortly (enough) there was nourishment for the village.

It can be how we treat folks today so that shortly enough there is dignity for the village.

It can be how we search together today so that shortly enough there is truth and meaning for the village.

It can be how we engage in the world today so that shortly enough there is justice, equity and compassion for the village.

Our village.  Our world village.

So, let’s talk about hope.  Let’s talk about what we are cooking today.

Bob Patrick

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