From the Minister, Sat Apr 20

Somewhere along the line, you probably learned a certain interpretation of Easter – an interpretation that theologians call “substitutionary atonement.” It goes roughly like this: “Jesus' suffering on the cross is redemptive. He suffered and died that we might have life (i.e., he substituted for us in order to atone for us). Real love manifests as complete submission and self-sacrifice. God required of Jesus -- and may sometimes require of us -- passive acceptance of violence.”

As widespread as this interpretation is, I don't think this is really the message of Easter. The Easter message is to be risen, to be resurrected, to be transformed – to become more fully who you are. This is no easy thing because we carry shame. We are afraid. We have, in various ways and in varying degrees, been silenced from the full expression of who we are.

The Easter story, as I read it, is about making the courageous choice to break the silence, tell your truth, rise up out of shame, bear witness to the stories of others as they seek to break silence imposed by perhaps greater fear and shame. The death from which we may rise, from which we can help others rise, is specifically an entombment in fear and shame.

Crucifixion was the most cruel, violent, humiliating, and shameful punishment the Roman imagination could conceive. It was designed to instill fear, and to make anyone associated with the victim feel ashamed of themselves. For some of Jesus’ followers, it worked. Many of them abandoned Jesus and scattered after the crucifixion. The humiliation was too much for them. In their fear and their shame, they fell silent about the promise Jesus had made them believe in: a new social order, a Kin-dom of God.

Others, though – women, at first – broke silence. They broke silence first to simply lament what had happened. Giving voice to our lamentation begins to reclaim our own dignity and worthiness in the face of our loss. They broke silence to remember, to say a name, against all the shaming, fear, and humiliation that would bury it in silence. They broke silence to begin to tell stories that represented that the hope found in this man lived on. They broke silence to transcend fear and affirm community, to overcome violence by sustaining hope. They transformed humiliation into the strength of connection and in so doing resurrected life from death.

Against all violence to body or to spirit, against all fear and shame endured by us and by others, against all the protective strategies we ourselves devise to be safe, may we rise to accept and affirm and speak who we are. There is yet the possibility of transformation into who we are, unobscured by fear or shame. There is yet the possibility of justice, an end to violence, a new social order, a Kin-dom of God. This, I believe, is the message and the hope of Easter.

Yours in faith,

Practice of the Week: Practice When You're Distracted It's not that practice is directed, serious, and important and that distractions are something else. Practice is life, including everything in your life, even the distractions. When you think you are distracted, when you think you have forgotten about your practice, remember this slogan: Practice when you're distracted. You may well be distracted. But there's nothing wrong with that. As soon as you know your state of distraction, you are practicing. You have remembered your practice. READ MORE

Your Moment of Zen: Honor You owe it to the world to be you. The debt continuously accrues.
This is true: the debt is unavoidably, continuously paid; you can't help but be you. Yet this is also true: it takes practice to be you. Sometimes the practice happens, and sometimes the payment of yourself to the world is made more consciously and mindfully than other times. Shall we call this honor? Might as well.

One evening Porcupine asked, "What is the place of honor in the practice?"
Raven said, "To be truly Porcupine takes practice."
Porcupine asked, "Come on, Roshi, you don't mean just to be true to myself!"
Raven said, "To everybody else."
The river, delivering
its tributes to the sea,
doesn't remember its
million years of practicing,
or how its canyon formed.
Or maybe
the current is the memory.
Case by Robert Aitken, adapted; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon

Practice When You're Distracted

Practice of the Week
Practice When You're Distracted

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

As we have been saying, we're in training. We are training the mind, and training takes discipline. We have to try to pay attention, to stick to our commitments, to repeat the training disciplines (the slogans) many times, keeping on with them even when we don't feel like it.

But discipline is not what we think it is. It's not an unpleasant yoke administered by a drill sergeant, an obsessed and mean-spirited guy who screams at us when we fall down on the job, or by a harsh, scary Zen master with a big stick. Aggressive discipline like this isn't very effective for most people. It usually inspires its opposite. Every force produces a counterforce, and the harsher the discipline, the more inspired we are to rebel.

The discipline of mind training isn't like this at all. It's gentle, permissive, and easygoing. Because of this, it doesn't inspire rebellion. In fact, mind training understands that distraction and noneffort or countereffort is inevitable and must be used as part of the effort we are making. We don't struggle against it, we cooperate with it.

The discipline of mind training doesn't assume that relaxation and easygoing effort is counterproductive to the task or that it is possible for us to be on the beam all the time. The assumption is that we need to relax, we need to be spacious and open, and that this will help us train. Distraction isn't a problem. We have to learn how to practice even when we are distracted, to make the distraction part of the practice.

Serving a cup of tea requires a certain kind of effort. If you are too tense, you'll pour too much into the cup, and grasping the cup with nervous fingers, you'll spill scalding tea all over yourself. Instead, you need to be loose and easy. On the other hand, if you are too loose and easy and aren't paying attention to what you're doing, you'll lose your grasp on the cup and drop it. Finding just the right amount of ease and looseness, not too much, not too little, is a key element in the training. We have to learn how to keep the thread of our training going even in lax times, even when we're daydreaming, losing track of ourselves, or enjoying the ball game or a glass of wine. We have to stop thinking that at times like that we have set our practice aside and are taking a break – stop thinking that we are practicing when we are meditating or reciting the slogans and not when we are not. Make practice your whole life. There are no breaks. Or to put it another way, practice is just one long break from the tension and anxiety that we used to take for granted as the essential flavor of our lives.

You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be on the beam every moment. Discipline isn't like that. There's a time for hard focus and a time for soft focus. It's not that practice is directed, serious, and important and that distractions are something else. Practice is life, including everything in your life, even the distractions. When you think you are distracted, when you think you have forgotten about your practice, remember this slogan: Practice when you're distracted. You may well be distracted. But there's nothing wrong with that. As soon as you know your state of distraction, you are practicing. You have remembered your practice. Distraction, laziness, indulging in stuck emotions like anger, jealousy, and so on, are all part of the practice. You fall down on the ground and you use the ground to get up. Using the ground to get up is remembering to notice the state you are in. As soon as you know your state, whatever that state is, you are practicing this slogan. You are back on the beam. You never actually lost track of it anyway. There are no distractions, after all.

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When you begin to practice, one of the first things you notice is how distracted you are. It can seem as if a veritable avalanche of thoughts, fleeting moods, memories, plans, judgments, and all sorts of mental folderol is pouring through your mind continually. People say such things as “I was fine before I started meditating, but now my mind is just a jumble.” However, none of that is really new, it was just you never noticed before.

Practice uncovers how flighty the mind can be and how easily it is captivated willy-nilly by whatever arises: a thought, a sensation, a sound, any old thing. As we continue to observe the workings of our mind, its bobbing and weaving become familiar territory.

So what could it possibly mean to practice even while distracted? Isn’t the idea not to be distracted?

Here is where the interesting twist of this slogan comes in. Instead of waging a kind of battle with distractions you can co-opt them as supports for your practice. It is like setting a default tendency toward mindfulness so that the moment a distraction arises, it brings us right back. The instant we notice we have lost our attention, we have regained it. So for a well-trained mind, when sudden distractions arise, they do not interrupt your practice, but reinforce it.


During your daily activities, pay particular attention to the points at which you lose your mindfulness or your openness or your kindness. Notice the process of losing it and coming back.

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Religious Education News: Sun Apr 21

There have been many moving services conducted here at CUUC, but Sunday, April 14, was particularly noteworthy as we honored our companion friends in life with an Animal Blessing. What a delight to see several congregants with their dogs and cat, the animals happily mixing with everyone and announcing their presence with an occasional bark. Didn’t hear any feline opinions! The music performed by Adam Kent and guest cellist Caleb van der Swaagh was exquisite and lent such a serene and uplifting presence to the service.

I was privileged to speak on my reflections of this day, since a very large part of my life has been centered around animals. Their care has been my avocation as well as vocation, particularly when I was directing animal shelters. I have experienced moments and events that simply make one’s heart soar with joy, as well as actions that depict the baser side of humanity and break one’s heart into a million pieces. It is said that you pay a high price for love, especially with animals, but it has proven to be so, so worth it. I spoke about my cat, Brooke, who visited with the children during their service of the previous week. As a victim of unspeakable abuse at 2 years of age she has reached a milestone at 14, due in part to medical care but more importantly as a product of her resiliency and strength of spirit, which transcended any injustice leveled at her.

I came to the conclusion that the very attitudes intrinsic to animals align perfectly with our values as UUs and with values of all faiths. They demonstrate the example to us to accept everyone without exception, show genuine unconditional love, have patience and tolerance, be able to forgive, and take on the role of protecting the weak and innocent. When I look at animals both domestic and in the world at large, I often find the need to say a prayer for them. The operative word I assume for me is for, not to them or to a person. A prayer for me is an expression of love; my prayer tells the earth’s creatures that I will protect them and care for them. As I asked everyone in the congregation, hold your pets close to you and pray that you will love and protect them always. If your pet has passed, then pray that your love will abide always and that they will live in your heart and memory. For all those creatures that are lost, broken, and neglected, pray that they will find their way safely to refuge or a loving home. In the service there was an opportunity for the members of the congregation to express what they thought their pets would say to them if they could speak. The microphone was passed and many of the remarks were quite humorous, such as “Why do pills have to be shoved down my throat?” “I’m up, when do I eat?” etc. We also had congregants iterate what animals in the wild, sanctuaries, and farms would say, and many of the comments were poignant, such as “Why do you torture me?” “I lived here first for a long time,” “I have feelings, I experience pain,” etc.

The simplicity and deep spirituality of this service came through with a resounding message that could not be ignored: if we make a covenant with all living creatures to rescue them, protect them, and be their voice, I believe we not only uplift our humanity, but simply become better people. To quote St. Francis of Assisi, “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it.”

Michele Rinaldi
RE Coordinator

Looking ahead...

RE This Sunday, April 21
All grades start in the sanctuary for our Easter worship service.

2019 Variety Show Fundraiser, Sat May 4, 5:00pm
Help us get ready for the fun! Buy RAFFLE TICKETS on Sunday; PERFORMERS (adults AND kids) sign up in the RE lobby; BAKE SALE sign-ups: Contact Benetta Barnett (benettabarnett@hotmail.com); RAFFLE PRIZE DONATIONS: Contact Kate Breault (ksnobro@gmail.com).


Music: Sun Apr 21

Easter and the spirt of Regeneration are embodied in the richly contrapuntal, harmonically complex, spiritually enlightened music of J. S. Bach. The hyphenated Bach works allude to Ferruccio Busoni and Egon Petri, pianist-composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who arranged Bach’s organ and choral works for solo piano. The CUUC Choir is also on hand, with stirring selections to match the burgeoning season. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
Prelude and Fugue in E Major, W.T.C. I
                                                J. S. Bach
“Awake, the Voice Commands”
“I Call on Thee, Lord”

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Come to the Music    
                                                Joseph M. Martin    

“Sheep May Safely Graze”

Set Me As A Seal        
                                                             René Clausen    


Religious Education News: Sun Apr 14

Sun Apr 7 was an opportunity for me to facilitate the children’s worship for RE classes K-7 in Fellowship Hall. In anticipation of the Sun Apr 14 Animal Blessing service, I chose to explore animal-related issues. After we lit the chalice Rev. LoraKim Joyner spoke to the children about her mission as a veterinarian rescuing parrots in Central America. We showed a brief documentary on the work being done to save and rehabilitate these gorgeous feathered creatures, and protect them from harm and possible extinction at their hands of poachers. The K-3 classes returned to their classrooms and the remaining 4-5 and 6-7 students engaged with me in a conversation about animal care and animal rights. I conducted a very animated activity on whether certain animal “facts” were true or false, such as “Cats and dogs misbehave out of spite”; “Cats get cavities”; “Cats sneeze when they get a cold”; “Dogs need jackets in the winter”; etc. The children were quite good at this game and were surprised at some answers. They were particularly insightful when they related stories of their own pets. We then talked about my background as a veterinary technician and the things vet techs do nursing animals. I have also served as the director of an animal shelter so we discussed the important rescue work done by shelters and what supplies shelters need most. I proposed that we sponsor two shelters in the area, the Humane Society of New Rochelle and Paws Crossed in Elmsford. I placed cards in a basket, which the children then pulled out and identified as items on a shelter wish list that we could collect and bring to the shelters. Our UU principles came into play as we talked about compassion and respect for others and why animals are so important to our world and to people. I showed the kids a short YouTube documentary on people who are homeless and have pets. The children responded deeply to it and, I feel, really understood the plight of the people in the video and the love they had for their companion animals. The last discussion of the morning addressed the actions of people, how some are kind to other humans and animals, and others are not. The children were again reminded of the need for compassion and the belief that there is recovery, hope, and even resiliency in some cases. I then described the true story of a 2-year-old cat brought into a NYC shelter where I happened to be one day. She had been rescued by a young construction worker who had chased away some kids who had been kicking her. I took her back to my shelter where she eventually recovered from several fractures but was left with brain damage and neurological deficits. I adopted her and with much love, attention, and medical care she has lived to be 14 years old. She is blind in one eye and loses her balance but my little “slip and slide” is a survivor. At the end of my story I asked everyone to sit on the floor in a close circle and told them I’d be right back. To the kids’ surprise and utter amazement, I came in with my Brook, who I had brought in especially for this lesson. She became the center of attraction, was petted by everyone, and reciprocated with loving head butts. The students got to see and enjoy a literal miracle of rescue in every sense of the word. Brook, like so many animals, pets, and wildlife who are broken and abused, survives sometimes due to the enormous strength of their spirit and their love for us humans. It was a wonderful exercise for the children to experience the intrinsic bond that we have with animals and to understand the need to respect our shared place on this planet. I was so proud to witness the love, concern, and true understanding demonstrated by all the children. In that Sunday’s lesson in particular, they were young warriors and ambassadors of the very principles that Unitarian Universalism is founded on.

Michele Rinaldi
RE Coordinator

Looking ahead...

RE This Sunday, April 14
All grades are in the sanctuary for our multigenerational Animal Blessing service.

Faith Friday, Fri Apr 12, 6:15pm, Fellowship Hall
Our evening of learning, spiritual growth, and community. 6:15pm Pizza & Salad Community Dinner; 7:00pm Programs; 8:30pm Coffee. Programs include Adult RE and Family Journey Group. Adults may also just come for a slice and unstructured social time together. All are welcome to stay after the programs to share coffee and a chat. RSVP to CUUCevents@gmail.com by 12:00 noon on Fri Apr 12.

2019 Variety Show Fundraiser, Sat May 4, 5:00pm
Help us get ready for the fun! Buy RAFFLE TICKETS on Sunday; PERFORMERS (adults AND kids) sign up in the RE lobby; BAKE SALE sign-ups: Contact Benetta Barnett (benettabarnett@hotmail.com); RAFFLE PRIZE DONATIONS: Contact Kate Breault (ksnobro@gmail.com).


Music: Sun Apr 14

Besides animal-themed solos by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg and the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, this morning’s musical selections include one of Beethoven’s greatest chamber works performed by guest cellist Caleb van der Swaagh. To learn more about Caleb, visit calebvanderswaagh.com. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Caleb van der Swaagh, cello; Adam Kent, piano

Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2
                            Adagio con molto sentimento d'affetto -- attacca -- Allegro fugato
                                                  Ludwig van Beethoven

Opening Music:
“Little Bird”, Op. 43, No. 4
                                                  Edvard Grieg

Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2
                          Allegro con brio

“The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals
                                                Camille Saint-Saëns

“The Elephant” from Carnival of the Animals


Walking as a Spiritual Discipline

Practice of the Week
Walking as a Spiritual Discipline

Category: MIGHT BE YOUR THING: These practices are not for everyone -- but one of them may be just the thing for you! Any of these might also be, for you, in the "Occasional" category, but are listed here because they are good candidates for being a central practice.

In 2011, my partner, Jane, and I undertook a pilgrimage on Spain’s Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route since the Middle Ages. Each day brought a new adventure. We traveled alongside olive groves or eucalyptus forests, luxuriating in nature, or beside a crowded highway dangerously close to traffic.

We walked for hours every day. Meeting basic needs for food, water, and bathroom breaks required more planning and energy than we were used to. And each afternoon, we stopped at an albergue, a Spanish hostel for pilgrims, and followed our routine: showering, washing clothes, resting feet and treating blisters, having dinner. Yet each place was different. We were strangers, but we had a place, a role: pilgrims – recognized by natives and fellow pilgrims alike.

The journey is social, historical, cultural, and physical. What makes it spiritual? For me, it was the centering, what I came to call “Camino mind” -- a state in which I walk tuned into my surroundings and open to what may come, radically aware of unpredictability. We can't plan for each event that may happen. We can only bring our full selves to what happens, rejoice in gratitude for the gifts, and rise to the challenges.

There's a saying: you don't do the Camino; the Camino does you. We are made by the way that we go, shaped by the experiences we have. I bring this awareness to the walking I do every day -- and to the way I live my life.

Getting Physical

For me, the way to the spiritual is through the physical. Time at the gym calms and centered me. The discipline of tai chi taught me how to meditate. And the greatest and most versatile tool of all? A simple walk.

Walking as a spiritual discipline differs from, but can be integrated into, walking for transportation. Practitioners as diverse as Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh and Christian Bruce Epperly have written about the benefits of walking as meditation practice. A walk strengthens the connection with my body and with the world around me. It clears my mind, centers my emotions, and stimulates my imagination. It slows me to a humane pace and restores perspective.

Slowing Down

Contemporary Westerners spend most days at hyper-speed. Being trapped in such a culture, we forget that our species evolved in a much slower world. Recovering that slow pace opens us to our own beings.

Walking returns me to the slower-paced world. Often in daily life, I find my mind flitting here and there. When I slow down and walk, I try to be exactly where I am. It may take me ten or fifteen minutes to begin to slow down and let the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations engulf and capture me. I admire the texture of the bark of a tree, note the different shades of brick on a house, encounter wisps of the sweet smell of honeysuckle, feel the slants of the pavement beneath my feet, wonder at the diversity of angles of roofs in the same block, hear the giggles and shrieks of children as I approach the playground, feel the cool breeze or the hot sun on my skin. With this type of beginner's mind, searching for what is new or different, even the most familiar routes become an adventure.

Daily walks engage me with the passing of the seasons and changes in my neighborhood. I see the buds slowly growing, until one amazing morning a flower pops out. I notice the shop that's changed its color scheme and see progress in rebuilding the burned-out townhouse. I feel and hear the crunch of dead brown leaves beneath my feet.

I learn my neighborhood, its weather patterns and its people, my neighbors. I discover the native flora and fauna, even in the city.

Slowing to a humane speed as I move allows my brain to slow. Thoughts come, as they will, and I notice them, but do not engage with them. I label them as thoughts, and release them, letting them skim the surface layer of my brain like leaves floating on a stream or clouds traversing the sky. I notice where I am and what is right here before and around me.

Connecting with the Body

Walking, I bring attention to my body – notice my posture, rate of walking, how my hands and arms move. I attend to what my body may be signaling about what I’m feeling. As I age, I notice the twinges of arthritis. I've learned to modify my movement, maybe stopping to stretch, or massage a wrist that feels tender. What do I need to do to take care of this, the only body I have?

Changing the way I walk can adjust my emotions and open me up to deeper levels of awareness. When I notice my shoulders are hunched and relax them, lifting and opening my chest, suddenly I can see the sky instead of the side walk before me. As my body changes, my feelings change. I release the tension, anger, and fear and open myself to joy. I notice the clouds drifting across the blue sky and feel glad to be alive. As my posture changes, I breathe more deeply and find a centered calm as I move.

I practice balance as I walk, noticing as the weight shifts from one foot to the other. Where in my foot does the weight fall—heels, toes, in between? How does my body respond when I hit uneven ground? When I'm going uphill or down? How do I adjust my speed? My stance?
I learn about my body, how it's related to my thoughts and emotions, and how it responds to the world as I walk. I feel the connection of my skin to the movement of the air. I adjust my pace to meet the terrain. I become part of the world I am walking through.

The discipline of attentive walking brings me awareness, connection, and wisdom.

See also: Michelle Greene, "The Practice of Attentive Walking" (FlowingFree.org)

For Journaling

In your journal, whether you take up walking as a regular discipline or not, reflect on these questions:
  • How often do you slow down enough to really notice? What activities help you slow down and notice?
  • How does your body show you how you're feeling? How can you be more aware of it?
  • What would it mean for you to think of your next trip as a pilgrimage?

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