CUUC

CUUC

2016-11-29

Music: Sun Dec 4


CUUC’s Choir is on hand this Sunday with joyous, life-affirming selections to herald the holiday season. Choir Pianist Georgianna Pappas also offers seasonal favorites by Tchaikovsky as well as beloved Peanuts music by Vince Guaraldi. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Georgianna Pappas, piano
Nutcracker Suite
          Overture
           March of the Wooden Soldiers
          Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies
           Russian Dance

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Light, You Will Have  
Amy F. Bernon

Offertory:
Linus and Lucy.     
Vince Guaraldi

Anthem:
Exultate!* 
 Mary Lynn Lightfoot 
*Translation: Rejoice in God, our helper.  Be joyful unto God.
                         Let us give thanks, give thanks to God.  Rejoice!



2016-11-23

Aspire Without Attachment

Practice of the Week
Aspire Without Attachment
'I once heard Thich Nhat Hanh described as “a cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.” Hearing him speak I couldn’t agree more. He is so soft, gentle, and egoless, yet surprisingly powerful.' (Kozo Hattori)
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing. [Order a copy for yourself: HERE]:

To live is to pursue goals. Out of healthy self-interest and kindness to yourself, it's natural and fine to seek security, success, comfort, enjoyment, creative expression, physical and mental health, connection, respect, love, self-actualization, and spiritual development.

But is your pursuit of your goals driven and stressed? Or do you pursue goals with outer effort and inner peacefulness? If your pursuit is driven and stressed, then you are attached to an outcome. If, however, you are rewarded by the journey itself no matter the destination, then your pursuit is one of aspiration without attachment.

The difference between attachment and aspiration got really clear for me one time in Boulder, Colorado, where I'd gone with my old friend Bob for a week of rock climbing. Our guide, Dave, asked us what our goals were, and I said I wanted to climb 5.11 (a stiff grade) by the end of the week; at that point I could barely climb 5.8. Bob stared at me and then said this was crazy, that I'd only get frustrated and disappointed (Bob's pretty driven, and doesn't like falling short). I said no, that it would be a win for me either way: my goal was so ambitious that if I failed to reach it there'd be no shame, and if I did manage to fulfill it, wow, that would be a ton of fun. So I kept banging away, getting steadily better: 5.8, 5.9, easy 5.10, hard 5.10 ... and then on the last day, I followed Dave without a fall on solid 5.11. Yay!

At the heart of attachment is craving -- broadly defined -- which contains and leads to many kinds of suffering (from subtle to intense). And while it may be an effective goad for a while -- the stick that whips the horse into a lather -- in the long run it is counterproductive, when that horse keels over. On the other hand, aspiration -- working hard toward your goals without getting hung up on the results -- feels good, plus it helps you stretch and grow without worrying about looking bad.

Paradoxically, holding your goals lightly increases the chance of attaining them, while being attached -- and thus fearing failure -- gets in the way of peak performance.

If you sit on the couch your whole life and never take care of or go after anything important, you can avoid the pitfalls of attachment. But if you have a job, intimate relationship, family, service, art, or spiritual calling, the challenge is to stay firm in your course, with dedication and discipline, centered in aspiration.

How

Aspiration is about liking, while attachment is about wanting -- and these involve separate systems in your brain (Berridge and Robinson 1998; Pecina, Smith, and Berridge 2006). Liking what is pleasant and disliking what is unpleasant are normal and not a problem. Trouble comes when we tip into the craving and strain inherent in wanting, wanting, wanting what's pleasant to continue and what's unpleasant to end. So learn to recognize the differences between liking and wanting in your body, emotions, attitudes, and thoughts. I think you'll find that liking feels open, relaxed, and flexible while wanting feels tight, pressed, contracted, and fixated.

Then, see if you can stay with liking without slipping into wanting:
  • Help little alarm bells to go off in your mind -- Alert! Caution! -- when you get that familiar feeling of wanting/craving, especially when it's subtle and floating around in the back of your mind.
  • Relax any sense of "gotta have it." Feel into the ways your life is and will be basically all right even if you don't attain a particular goal. Seek results from a place of fullness, not scarcity or lack.
  • Try to remain relatively peaceful -- even in the midst of passionate activity -- since intensity, tension, fear, and anger all fuel strong wanting.
  • Release any fixation on a certain outcome. Recognize that all you can do is tend to the causes, but you can't force the results.
  • Keep the sense of "me" to a minimum. Success or failure will come from dozens of factors, only a few of which are under your control. Win or lose, don't take it personally.
Along the way, watch out for the widespread belief that if you're not fiercely driven toward your goals, you're kind of a wimp. Remember that you can have strong effort toward your aims without falling into attachment to the results. Consider the description I once heard of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who has accomplished many things as a peace advocate and teacher:
A cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.
For Journaling

How do you understand aspiration without attachment? Write out how you would explain it to someone else.

The distinction between aspiration and attachment parallels the distinction between request and demand: If the answer is "no," then the degree to which you are bothered or upset is the degree to which you were demanding/attached rather than requesting/aspiring. In your journal one morning make a list of all the things that you would like to achieve or have happen in the day ahead. List 10-20 things. Then put a rating beside each item on your list, from 0 (you won't be upset at all if that doesn't happen) to 10 (you'll be very upset/bothered/disappointed/despondent if that doesn't happen). Reflect on your list and the ratings you gave. Using the tips above in the "How" section, can you lower your "upsetness" ratings?

Rick Hanson on Aspiring Without Attachment:



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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

Music: Sun Nov 27


Seasonal favorites by Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg, Edward MacDowell, and Tchaikovsky mark the end of a festive holiday weekend at CUUC. The Prelude also includes atmospheric works by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz and the Russian Dmitry Shostakovich. Read on for programming details, and check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARDh-G45d_8 -- or see video below -- for Adam Kent’s rendition of Albéniz’s brooding Evocación.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Thanks, Op. 62, No. 2
                        Edvard Grieg
Prelude in Ab Major, Op. 34, No. 17
Prelude in c# minor, Op. 34, No. 19
Dmitri Shostakovich
Evocación from Iberia, Book I
            Isaac Albéniz
Opening Music:
In Autumn, Op. 51, No. 4
                                    Edward MacDowell
Offertory:
November, Op. 37, No. 11
                        Pyotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Interlude:
Autumn Song, Op. 37, No. 10
                                    Tchaikovsky



2016-11-17

Church and Politics

ON THE POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT OF FAITH CONGREGATIONS
Meredith Garmon

The Supreme Court recognized in Walz v. Tax Commission, back in 1970:
“Adherents of particular faiths and individual churches frequently take strong positions on public issues including vigorous advocacy of legal or constitutional positions. Of course, churches as much as secular bodies and private citizens have that right.”
What the congregation can’t do, under IRS regulations for nonprofits, is advocate for or against any specific candidate for elective office, or any political party. But churches, temples, synagogues, mosques – congregations of any faith – may certainly engage on issues of public policy -- including elected and appointed political leaders.

So I will not, from the pulpit, or in CUUC newsletters or emails, or in CUUC-connected blogs, speak for or against any specific candidate or party. When communicating through those channels, I have avoided even saying the name of either of the major party nominees for president. When communicating through certain other channels, such as social media, I haven't been shy about naming names and expressing my opinions of candidates, but I do so as an individual citizen, not as the CUUC minister.

Since Nov 8, however, Mr. Trump and Sec. Clinton are no longer candidates. We, as a nonprofit, may express our support or our opposition for any elected or appointed leader, as well as any policy issue or legislative proposal. Until such time as Mr. Trump announces that he is running for re-election in 2020, he is not a candidate. We, as a nonprofit faith community, may vociferously and explicitly denounce or support his actions or his words.

Indeed, I believe that it is our obligation -- as a people of faith who covenant to affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion, and the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all -- to do so.

For more info, see: "The Real Rules: Congregations and the IRS Guidelines on Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections" (21 page PDF)

2016-11-16

The Magical Playlist

Practice of the Week
The Magical Playlist

How to Quickly Quiet Your Mind
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” (William Congreve)

While we all want to experience a deeper peace in our lives, many of us are unwilling to commit to practice a spiritual discipline. Meditation is powerful, yet there are quicker ways to get some of the benefit. The Magical Playlist helps people let go of their worries, and melt into the serenity of their heart and soul.

The Magical Playlist is simply an assortment of your favorite, most heart-oriented and meaningful songs conveniently placed on one playlist on your digital music player or smartphone. By having a playlist (or two) of all your favorite songs, you can easily have access to deep feelings of love and peace. Your personal favorite songs have the ability to move you into your heart, uplift your spirit, and help you feel a depth of peace.

In my own case, I originally created two magical playlists. On one are all my favorite instrumental songs. I use this playlist whenever I don't want to have to engage my mind in listening to lyrics. It's amazing how, after hearing just one of these songs, I enter into a totally different mood. On my second playlist, I have all my favorite heart-oriented songs with lyrics I particularly like. Often, I'll listen to one of these songs whenever I desire to to feel peaceful inside, or as a way to get me in the mood for meditation.

A man named Frank came to see me complaining of marital difficulties. As he entered my office, it was clear that he was very tense. He told me that his spouse was fed up with him because of how stressed he was from his job as an air traffic controller. When he went home each evening, he'd spend the first three hours in front of the tube -- just trying to unwind from his job. By the time he started to feel a bit relaxed and sociable, his wife was ready to go to bed. After asking him some questions, I learned that he enjoyed classical music. I suggested he make a playlist of his favorite classical works, and listen to a couple of songs in his car before entering his house each evening. When he returned to my office the following week, he told me that his wife reported, "You've become a new man." Apparently, ten minutes of classical music helped Frank unwind more effectively than hours of TV. By the time he walked into his house each night, Frank was relaxed, refreshed, and emotionally available for his wife.

For many people, music is an easy and amazingly effective way to become centered. I have coached many of my clients to carefully choose the type of music to play before key events in their life. Before an important presentation, they might choose a favorite rock 'n' roll song. Before a romantic night on the town with their mate, they may choose a favorite love song. Before a time of meditation or prayer, they may choose some New Age or quiet piano music. By knowing what mood you'd like to get into, and choosing an appropriate piece of music to assist in that process, many people find they can successfully manage their moods much more effectively than every before.

Of all the possessions I own, the music I carry in my iPhone is most treasured. By listening to these songs, I have almost immediate access to any feeling I want -- with no additional cost and no known side effects. In making the playlists, I looked through all the songs I own, and carefully selected the ones that have always had the most impact on me. Recently, I even created a couple of playlists of my favorite rock 'n' roll songs. It was a fun process.

Over the years, my two original playlists have blossomed into seven: two rock 'n' roll, three heart-oriented, and two musical compositions that help me feel peaceful. At east one time each day, I take a break from my activities and turn to my iPhone, tune into the music, and drop out of my mind's constant concerns. Whenever I meditate, I always listen to at least one song beforehand to help me get quiet inside. Try it -- you'll love it! After your five to ten-minute vacation, your mind will be clearer and your soul more soothed. With hardly any effort at all, you'll find that you're more centered in your heart and better able to handle whatever life throws your way.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-11-15

Music: Sun Nov 20


Solo piano music by American composers is highlighted at this year’s Thanksgiving Service. In addition, the general call to U.U. congregations to make reference to Native American people at these services is reflected in excerpts from Arthur Farwell’s Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas and Harvey Worthington Loomis’s Lyrics of the Native American.
Edward MacDowell’s seasonal favorite A.D. 1620 and a nifty set of variations on Yankee Doodle round out the Prelude music. Two arrangements of popular songs by George Gershwin are included in the Offertory. The CUUC Choir is on hand with the Spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” and John Rutter’s embodiment of thankfulness in “For the Beauty of the Earth”. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
A.D. MDCXX from Sea Pieces, Op. 55*
                                                Edward MacDowell
Song of Approach from Impressions of the Wa-Wan Ceremony of the Omahas, Op. 21
                                                Arthur Farwell
Around the Wigwam from Lyrics of the Native American, Book I
                                                Harvey Worthington Loomis
Variations on “Yankee Doodle”         
                                                Anonymous American Colonial

*Prefaced by the following text in the score:
The yellow setting sun
Melts the lazy sea to gold,
And gilds the swaying galleon
That towards a land of promise
Lunges hugely on.

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
For the Beauty of the Earth
                                                John Rutter

Offertory:
Clap Yo’ Hands*
Who Cares?
                                                George Gershwin
*Ira Gershwin’s Lyrics:
Come on, you children, gather around.
Gather around, you children,
And we will lose that evil spirit
Called the Voodoo, Voodoo!

Nothing but trouble if he has found,
If he has found you, children!
But you can chase the hoodoo
With the dance that you do, you do.

Let me lead the way,
There's a new belief today,
But he'll never hound you;
Stamp on the ground, you children, come on!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everybody come along and join the jubilee!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Don't you lose time! Don't you lose time!
Come along, it's "Shake your shoes" time
Now for you and me!

On the sands of time
You are only a pebble.
Remember, trouble must be treated
Just like a rebel;
Send him to the Devil!

Clap your hands! Slap your thigh!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everybody come along and join the jubilee!

Anthem:
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?
                        American Spiritual arr. by Greg Gilpin

2016-11-10

Turn Things Around

Practice of the Week
Turn Things Around


Where there's confusion or pain in your life, make use of it instead of trying to get rid of it. Trying to get rid of it usually doesn't work anyway. It only makes things worse. (Of course, if your painful situation can be resolved somehow, resolve it. Spiritual growth and depth is not about acquiescence to bad situations that can be improved; it is about addressing the pesky facts and emotional states that are not so simply removed: grief, fear, and so on.)

There is a slogan from the Buddhist tradition:
"Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue."
"Turn things around" means turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue.

Three objects refers to three categories of objects, and object isn't exclusively a physical object (thoughts and feelings are "objects" of consciousness, as physical objects are objects of perception.) The "three objects," then, are: attractive, repellent, and neutral. Objects themselves do not have these qualities, but our reactions to the objects do. Whatever comes into our consciousness will spur a reaction in us, and this reaction will be one of these three: we will either like, dislike, or be neutral to the object.

Three poisons refers to greed, hate, and delusion. These are the emotional activities we indulge in response to the three objects. We are greedy for attractive objectives; we hate repellent objects; we are confused or indifferent about neutral objects.

The three objects and three poisons describe basic ordinary daily life. "Objects" constantly arise, and we are constantly trying to grab them and make them stay or push them away as soon as possible, depending on the style of our reactivity and emotion. The flow of these objects and emotions goes on constantly, usually below the level of conscious awareness. We wake up in the morning and feel too cold or too hot or just right. This makes us feel pleasant or irritated or neutral. Our coffee is tasty or not so tasty, and we're slightly pleased or annoyed. Our thoughts are pleasant or not so pleasant. All day long objects appear to our perception, feeling, and thought, and all day long we are reacting in simple, basic ways to each and every object: wonderful, let's keep this one; terrible, let's get rid of this one; neutral, I don't care about this one.

All day long this flows on, usually without much discernible problem. But occasionally our likes or dislikes become strongly activated by objects, and then we become powerfully happy or miserable, overcome with lust or desire or anger or fear.

Quite often we cannot avoid losing what we find attractive and having to put up with what we find repellent. And in the biggest picture of our lives, we always end up losing what we want (our loved ones, our health) and having to put up with what we don't want (our aging, our illness, our death, and the loss of our loved ones). If we insist on trying desperately to control things we can't control, we eventually become very desperate and unhappy -- the world begins to seem like a very hostile and unjust place, and we can become quite paranoid and upset about almost everything. Once you decide that the world is a hostile and inhospitable place and the people in it untrustworthy and venal, things begin to get worse and worse and worse. So the three objects and three poisons are lamentable realities. If we don't pay attention to them, if we don't figure out a way to cooperate with rather than resist their pressure, they can ruin our lives.

Three seeds of virtue appear when the three poisons are turned around. We don't have control of much, but we do have control of whether to turn around the greed, hate, and delusion that appears in our lives.

Contrary to what we might think, the three objects and three poisons are not problems and traps. They are seeds of virtue. The basic human mess of likes and dislikes, in which we seem to be trapped and which seems to be so dangerous and troublesome, is actually wonderful, a real treasure. Our messes and our problems are our treasures! Our suffering, our troubles, our problems, the things that we really don't like and want to get rid of but can't, or the losses we feel, the things we wanted to keep and sadly cannot -- all of this is a treasure to us if only we can understand it in the right way. Everything painful and difficult has the potential to bring us great joy and deep spiritual riches.

We can turn toward and appreciate our suffering, our problems, and the suffering and problems of others. Given the power of our likes and dislikes and the intractability of the world (which doesn't organize itself according to our needs), it won't do not to deal with our likes and dislikes in some way other than simply trying constantly to fulfill them. So naturally we imagine somehow trying to modify or eliminate them. But this is not what "turn things around" means. It means something radically different. It means recognizing that our very likes and dislikes and the suffering they bring us, can be the source of spiritual growth.

How

Write down "turn things around." Contemplate it carefully. Bring it up when you find yourself annoyed or upset by instances of liking and disliking that are causing you suffering. This practice might help you to let go a little in that moment. Even if you don't believe it and are only a little intrigued by it, it can be helpful to practice this slogan. It will have the effect of causing you to stop your lamentation for a moment and recall that it might just be possible that there is something potentially good and positive in this agony in which you are right now enmeshed.

The earlier Practice, "Real Compassion" (SEE HERE), trains us to see and feel that our pain and difficulty in this life, and the pain and the difficulty of others, is the gateway that will lead us down the path of love. We don't need to avoid or protect ourselves from pain. Quite the contrary. When pain and suffering are present, we need to turn toward them, breathe them in. And through this practice of suffering, we can transform it, and transform ourselves. Turning things around -- turning the three objects and poisons into seeds of virtue -- fits with the sending and receiving of Real Compassion.

What a difference this would make in your life if you actually knew that when things happen that you don't like, that are difficult or painful, you don't need to complain and try fruitlessly to change them (when they can't be changed), and that you don't need to find someone to blame and then do battle with that blameworthy person, as if you were a victim, but instead you can have a profound and heartfelt sense of acceptance and love. You can breathe in the difficulty and transform it into ease and healing through your body.

The practice of turning things around requires cultivation over time, persistence, diligence, and strength. It requires keeping up the effort, all of the time, in everything we do.

Suppose you understood all of your pain and suffering as raw materials for transformation and healing. Your life would be completely different.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"

2016-11-09

Music: Sun Nov 13


Sunday morning’s musical selections were chosen in consultation with Cathy Kortlandt, who won the chance to plan music for a worship service at last year’s Goods and Services Auction. Cathy requested works containing the life-affirming, awe-inducing expression “Alleluia”. In the midst of a month devoted to exploring the theme of Evil, in the aftermath of an election season which polarized our entire country, we hope that Cathy’s musical selections will provide a welcome, much needed antidote. Cathy provides the following comments:
Last year, I was lucky enough to win the privilege of selecting music for a service.  After much thought, I chose music with the theme of "alleluia".  I chose this theme because I find that it is somehow easy to postpone happiness and celebration, but grief and sadness always insist on being dealt with immediately.  "Alleluia" music reminds me to celebrate as fully and immediately as I grieve.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Lisa N. Meyer, soprano and CUUC Choir Director; Adam Kent, piano and CUUC Music Director;
Kim & Chris Force, vocals and piano
Battle Hymn of the Republic
                                                            Julia Ward Howe
Michael Row the Boat Ashore
                                                            Traditional Spiritual

Opening Music: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas; Kim Force, soloist
Hallelujah
                                                            Leonard Cohen (R.I.P.)

Offertory:
Halleluia from Messiah
                                                            George Frederick Handel

Interlude:
Alleluia
                                                            Randall Thompson
                                                           

2016-11-05

Days in Place Fauna List

Days in Place Fauna List



Could there have been a more beautiful day with the sun moving in an arc to paint all the colors of the trees?  In one tree, a nearly leave-less tulip tree, we spotted cardinals, house finches, robins, starlings, dark eyed-juncos, and a chickadee, many of them going to town on the seeds that rained down on our heads as we looked up.

Today marked the most species we have ever seen in one day - the place was hopping! 

So tomorrow when you come, look up, look down,  look far, for there is beauty all around you.



3 Grey squirrels (1 was black)
1 Red squirrel

5 Canada goose
2 Red-tailed hawk
1 Gull species
8 Mourning dove
2 Red-bellied woodpecker
1 Hairy woodpecker
1 Northern flicker
1 Pileated woodpecker
2 Blue Jay
3 American crow
1 Fish crow
1 Black-capped chickadee
1 Tufted titmouse
2 White-breasted nuthatch
30 America robin
4 European starling
1 Yellow-rumped warbler
5 Dark-eyed junco
1 White-throated sparrow
3 Northern cardinal
2 Red-winged blackbird
1 Common grackle
120 Blackbird species

13 House finch

2016-11-02

Face the Evil

Practice of the Week
Face the Evil
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)
The challenge, then, is to frankly acknowledge your own moral mistakes, empathize with those of others, and take appropriate action in the world.

A: Face Your Participation in the Sadness of the World

Journal each day for 10 days. At the end of the day, take inventory:
  • In what ways were you blind to that which is most life-giving?
  • Who or what did you refuse to see?
  • How or when did you neglect the magnificence of interconnected living?
Find a “spiritual buddy” and practice your confession. At least once in the middle of the 10 days and once at the end, face your own participation in the sadness of the world by speaking it aloud to someone else. (This may work better if your buddy is also doing this exercise and you can take turns confessing to each other.)

B: Answer Evil with Empathy

Martin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” So for this part of the exercise, empathize with people who do things that seem evil to you.

Every day for 10 days, collect or recall a story of a person doing evil. You might recall an infamous person from history who committed atrocities. Or you might leaf through the morning newspaper for accounts of people behaving in ways that strike you as evil. Or google “evil acts.” Begin by sketching in your journal each day one thing that one person did that struck you as evil.

Then: empathize. This is likely to be an exercise of your imagination. Imagine what the purported evil-doer was feeling and needing that produced the “evil” behavior? “Feeling” refers to emotions experienced -- sad, mad, glad, scared, and disgusted are the basic ones (SEE HERE for identifying emotions). “Needing” refers to any universally shared desire, keeping in mind that “universally shared” doesn’t mean “universally indulged or pursued.” Describe those feelings (which you, too, have felt) and those needs (the wants that you, too, are prone to have) that, as best you can guess, account for the behavior in question.

C: Do Something!

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” So after spending 10 days on "A" and "B," form a plan of action to reduce the evil in the world. Whether in your personal life, or in a more public sphere, do something beyond what is normal for you – something that lessens the impact of an "evil" in the world.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"