Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Practice of the Week
Do Good, Avoid Evil, Appreciate Your Lunacy, Pray for Help

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Four-in-one this week! These four reminders -- slogans to try to live by -- fit together, and bring us back down to earth. If spiritual teachings are to really transform our lives, they need to oscillate between two levels, the profound and the mundane. If practice is too profound, it's no good: we are full of wonderful inspiring, lofty thought, insights and speculations but lack the ability to get through the day with any gracefulness or to relate to the issues and people in ordinary life. We may be soaringly metaphysical, movingly compassionate, and yet unable to relate to a normal human or a worldly problem. This is the moment when the Zen master whacks you with her stick and says, "Kill the Buddha!"

On the other hand, if practice is too mundane, if we become too interested in the details of how we and others feel and what we or they need or want, then the natural loftiness of our hearts will not be accessible to us, and we will sink under the weight of obligations, details, and daily-life concerns. We need both profound religious philosophy and practical tools for daily living. This double need, according to circumstances, seems to go with the territory of being human.

First, do good. Do positive things. Say hello to people, smile at them, tell them, "Happy birthday!" or "I am sorry for your loss, is there something I can do to help?" These things are normal social graces, and people say them all the time. But to practice them intentionally is to work a bit harder at actually meaning them when you do them, to actually cultivate a sense of caring and feeling for someone else that is as real as you can make it, paying attention to what you say, how you say it, and how you actually feel it, or don't. We genuinely try to be helpful and kind and thoughtful in as many small and large ways as we can every day. From a religious point of view, doing good also includes wholesome religious acts like chanting a sacred text, studying, meditating, or giving money and other gifts to the spiritual community. All of these intentional positive actions, directly religious and not, generate virtue. They create a positive attitude in the mind or heart that will strengthen us for the good.

Second, avoid evil. Pay close attention to our actions of body, speech, and mind, noticing when we do, say, or think things that are harmful of unkind. Having come this far with our mind training, we can't help but notice them, we feel bad. In the past we might have said to ourselves, "I only said that because she really needs straightening out; if she hadn't done that to me, I wouldn't have said that to her. That's why I did it, it really was her fault." But now we see that this was a way of protecting ourselves (see "Stop Blaming"). Now we accept responsibility fr what we have done. I'm not speaking of terrible things. Most of us probably do not do terrible things on purpose. This practice mostly references unkind thoughts or words that do not seem so bad and yet erode our sense of integrity if we don't pay attention to them. So we do pay attention to what we say, think, and do -- not obsessively, not with a perfectionistic flair, but just as a matter of course and with generosity and understanding, and finally we purify ourselves of most of our ungenerous thoughts and words.

Third, appreciate your lunacy. Indo-Tibetan Buddhist practice includes making offerings to demons. Psychologically, it's the same idea: bow to your weakness, your own craziness, your own resistance. In fact, congratulate yourself for them, appreciate them. Truly it is a marvel, the extent to which we are selfish, confused, lazy, resentful, and so on. We come by these things honestly. We have been well trained to manifesst them at every turn. This is the prodigy of human life bursting fort at its seams. It is the effect of our upbringing, our society, which we appreciate even as we are trying to tame it and bring it gently round to the good. So we make offerings to the demons inside us, we develop a sense of humorous appreciation for our own stupidity. We are in good company! We can laugh at ourselves and everyone else.

Fourth, pray for help. Pray to whatever forces you believe in -- or don't believe in -- for help. Whether you imagine a deity or God or not, you can reach out beyond yourself and beyond anything you can objectively depict and ask for assistance and strength for your spiritual work. You can do this in meditation, with silent words, or out loud, vocalizing your hopes and wishes. Prayer is a powerful practice. It is not a matter of abrogating your own responsibility. You are not asking to be absolved of the need to act. You are asking asking for help and for strength to do what you know you must do, with the understanding that thought you must do your best, whatever goodness comes your way is not your accomplishment, your personal production. It comes from a wider sphere than you can control. In fact, it is counterproductive to conceive of spiritual practice as a task that we are going to accomplish on our own. Remember: "Be Grateful to Everyone." There is no way to do anything alone. Not only does it make sense to pray for help, not only does it feel powerfully right and good to do so, it is also important to do this so that we remember that we are not alone and we can't do it by ourselves. Sometimes we forget this point and fall into the habit of imagining an illusory self-reliance.

Do good, avoid evil, appreciate your lunacy, and pray for help. Simple everyday instructions.

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


CUUC Music: Sun June 18 reports: "Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in the attic."

The father of twenty children and one of history’s greatest composers, J. S. Bach epitomizes the juncture between music and paternity. The Two and Three-Part Inventions were written by Bach as a gift to his ten-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann as a guide to mastering keyboard techniques and a model of polyphonic composition. In honor of Fathers’ Day, a group of these perennially beloved teaching pieces opens the morning’s Prelude.

The CUUC Choir is on hand with a special valedictory offering for the final service of the “official” church year, along with anthems related to the monthly theme of Freedom and the eternal longing for peace. Tchaikovsky’s “June”, a seasonal offering written as part of a monthly commission for the St. Petersburg music journal Nouvelliste, rounds out Sunday morning’s music.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Two-Part Inventions Nos. 1, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 13
                                                            J. S. Bach

Introit: CUUC Choir, directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
And Wherever You Go
                                                            Douglas E. Wagner

Flying Free 
Don Besig

June: Barcarolle, Op. 37, No. 6
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Let There Be Peace On Earth   
Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, arr. by Mark Hayes 



Practice of the Week

Category: Worth a Try (Can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)

adapted from Marta Morris Flanagan in Everyday Spiritual Practice, Ed. by Scott Alexander
"I want to fast to help me
slow down and connect with myself,
to be more conscious of my decision,
not only about food, but about all the ways
that I "stuff my feelings, my spirit.
I want to live more consciously."
--Matt Muise
I fast at least once a year, for three days at a time. I abstain from all solid food and limit myself to drinking fruit juices, herbal tea, and water. This juice fast prevents dehydration and provides many vital nutrients while still inviting me to abstain and feel that emptiness of body and openness of soul.

When I fast, I pay greater attention to life. I am more mindful. Some practice fasting as a time of repentance and self-sacrifice. For them, like other ascetic practices, fasting involves the denial or withholding of pleasure. But for me, fasting is not a form of suffering, because I do not find suffering in and of itself a useful spiritual discipline.

Instead, I fast to make more room for God. When I want to deepen or reawaken my sense of the Spirit, it is helpful to let go of something else. When I fast, I create more room for God in my life, sometimes simply by the large amount of time that is freed from thinking about, shopping for, and preparing food. My hunger during the fast also serves as a visceral reminder of my own deepest yearnings.

We are all hungry people. It is often difficult to be in touch with our spiritual hunger if we are satiated with food. Try to meditate on a full stomach! Often we stuff ourselves with food in a vain attempt to feed another kind of hunger that cannot be satisfied with food. Often we fill our hungers with food, with drink, with busyness, with distractions like television. Fasting is a time-honored spiritual discipline that awakens us to the deeper hungers within.

During a fast we give up anything that has become a habit that might harm the body during the fasting period: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, sweeteners o all kinds, drugs, and medicines, as far as possible. Fasting is not appropriate for people who battle bulimia or anorexia or those with special health problems. But fasting for a short period of time is healthy for most others. It cleanses the body of toxins. Some medical doctors have advocated fasting for purely physical health reasons. I find that the first twenty-four hours are the hardes physically. I can feel tired and have headaches. But there is a sense of freedom that comes to me on the second day.

In the beginning of a fast many people are fascinated by the physical aspects of the experience. But more important is to monitor the attitude of your heart.

Fasting is spiritual discipline known to every world religion. The Jewish calendar includes several fast days, most prominently the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, while Muslims fast between dawn and dusk during the month of Ramadan. In the Christian tradition, fasting was once a common discipline, continuing from the early church up to the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, it became associated with excessive ascetic practices involving rigid regulations and extreme self-mortification and thus fell into disfavor. In recent years, fasting has attracted renewed interest.

Moses, David, Zoroaster, Kongfuzi (Confucius), Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Buddha all fasted for spiritual reasons. Like Elijah, who was fasting when he heard a still small voice, we are more open to the Spirit when we fast. And like Jesus, who was fasting when he was tested in the wilderness, we realize depths of faith and personal powers when we fast.

Why fast?

Fasting reveals things that control us. We often cover up what is inside us with food. When we fast, these things surface. While fasting we may feel the sorrow, anger, regret, or pride we have been hiding from ourselves.

Fasting is a way to bring awareness to what we do. Many of us eat for emotional comfort. It becomes an automatic impulse.

Fasting helps us pay attention, and when we do, our relationship to things changes. We see more and see more deeply. We are present to the moment.

Fasting helps us return to a balance in our lives. How easily we let the nonessential take precedence. How quickly we crave things we do not need.

Fasting is a time to write in a journal, pray, meditate, walk. These are all ways of being receptive to grace.

When fasting, it is helpful to keep daily concerns and distractions to a minimum. I do not watch television when I fast. Instead of relying on stimuli from the outside, it’s best to try living with yourself. Let yourself be directed from within.

When fasting, do whatever does your body good. If you are tired, sleep. If you like physical activity, exercise. Do things that please you: read, dance, or listen to music.

When you fast, it is helpful to reflect each day. Ask yourself:
  • What was hardest about today’s fast? What was easiest?
  • What surprised me about fasting today?
  • In what ways did I become aware of the deeper hunger of my soul today?
  • What were the inner demons I encountered today on this fast?
  • What special grace did I experience today?
You may give your fast a focus. Some people are mindful that two-thirds of the world go hungry every day. They fast as an act of concern and identification. The money saved from this experience goes toward hunger. I know of one person who was so struck by an insight into himself during a therapy session that he spontaneously observed a twenty-four-hour fast to help him remember and deepen that insight.

Beginning and ending a fast is important. Gathering with others to observe a fast’s initiation and again to break the fast can be helpful. In one breaking-fast ritual I have participated in, we each brought a reading, a poem, or a passage that spoke to us during the fast. We also brought a piece of fruit. Silently, one by one, we approached the table and prepared our piece of fruit, placing the pieces on china plates, one for each person. One of us would slowly cut a banana and distribute slices to the plates. Another person would peel and divide the sections of an orange, and so on.

When we all had gone forward in silence and prepared our fruit, we were left with a plate for each of us with an array of fruit. It was a wondrous offering of food. Slowly, mindfully, and with great intention, we broke the fast by tasting the fruit before us. And always after the silence of our meditation, there was laughter as we ate together. It was good.

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


CUUC Music: Sun June 4

Church music through the ages is represented in Sunday morning’s Prelude by the juxtaposition of J.S. Bach’s Chorale “Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring” with “A Simple Song” from  Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, written for the opening of the Kennedy Center. Elsewhere, the Affirmation of our Third Grade Class is marked by a duet performed by Tycho and Christian Force as well as excerpts from Robert Schumann’s Scenes of Childhood. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with a celebrated number by the Beatles as well as a medley of beloved African-American Spirituals. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Lisa Meyer, soprano; Adam Kent, piano
Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring
                                    J. S. Bach, arr. by Harold Bauer
A Simple Song from Mass
                                    Leonard Bernstein

Special Music: Tycho and Christian Force, duo piano
The Juggler
                                                Mauro Giuliniani

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arr. by Audrey Snyder     

From Scenes of Childhood, Op. 15
1.     Of Foreign Lands and Peoples
5. Important Event

Song of Freedom   
Traditional Spirituals, arr. by Victor C. Johnson  


Find Your Calling

Practice of the Week
Find Your Calling

Category: Worth a Try (This can be an occasional or one-time enhancement for your spiritual life -- or could become a regular practice for your deepening and enriching.)
"The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you've presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you've missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you're bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren't helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Frederick Buechner)
What is your calling?
Is a new calling trying to be heard?
Try the "Billion-Dollar List" test!

Imagine you suddenly won or inherited a billion dollars. What would you do? Maybe you'd throw a big party, take your dream vacation, buy a nice house. Then what?

Retire? You might think you'd want to retire, but most billionaires continue to passionately pursue their work. In fact, the one thing rich people tend to have in common is that they love their work. By imagining what you'd do with a billion dollars, it's possible to gain a better idea of what you yearn to do in the world, the important work that you are called to offer the world.

When you become clear about what you really love to do and what you consider to be important work, you become more focused and capable. Twenty-five years ago, I was living in a 1967 Dodge van, making $400 a month. It seemed unlikely I would ever have a bestselling book and speak to millions of people a year. Yet, by consistently pursuing what I love, it happened. Even if I didn't make much money or have much success in my field, I would still be enjoying what I do. I love teaching and writing. I'd definitely do it for free. Had I made the mistake of pursuing a different line of work just to make a lot of money, I'd probably be miserable. Many people make the error of putting their desire for money before their desire for meaningful work. Usually they end up paying a big price. Yet by figuring out what you'd do with a billion dollars, you can easily learn and start to pursue your true passions in life.

A billion dollars is one thousand million bucks. That's a lot of money. Would you want to help end starvation? Would you go into politics? Would you become a writer, inventor, or musician? What line of work seems like it's so fun or so important that you'd gladly do it for free? Take a few minutes now and write down a few answers to that question.

When I first looked over my billion dollar list, I became a bit depressed. After all, I wasn't doing any of the things I had written down. I had never done any writing, never been on TV and was afraid of public speaking. Yet I figured I'd start in small ways. I began by teaching a personal growth class to a few friends for free. I started writing things down just for my own benefit. As time passed, I got better at what I did. Before I knew it, people were paying for my workshops, publishers were buying my books, and TV producers were calling me to be on their shows. Since I really loved what I was doing, it was easy to be dedicated to it, even during times when I wasn't having much success.

Once you've written down what you'd do with a billion dollars, begin in small ways to incorporate some of those activities into your life. For example, if with a billion dollars you decided that you'd work to end the abuse of animals, then why not start to work in that area now? You don't need to quit your job to do that. You can begin by writing letters to your congressman, joining an animal rights group, or volunteering at an animal shelter. I know many people who started doing such things after they wrote out their Billion-Dollar List, and later found themselves in a paying job working for the cause for which they had previously volunteered.

The Billion-Dollar List helps you to think in a new, expanded manner. As you wrok in ways that are in line with your values and passion, you'll feel a sense of inner fulfillment. Many people report that initially making less money at a job is a small price to pay for work that is truly rewarding. Once you've made your list, you'll have a clearer sense of the direction you ultimately want to go in life.

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

CUUC Music: Sun May 28

Music about love is featured this Sunday morning at CUUC, in recognition of the renewed wedding vows of Janet Press and Bob Indra. As a special treat, Janet’s granddaughter Isabella sings “A Whole New World” from Aladdin as part of the ceremony. Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg’s “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” was written as a 25th anniversary gift to the composer’s wife, evoking a Norwegian country wedding procession. Writing about “The Maiden and the Nightingale” Spanish composer Enrique Granados counseled interpreters to think more about the jealousy of a wife than the sadness of a widow. Felix Mendelssohn’s Song without Words known as “Duet” and Isaac Albéniz’s celebrated Tango in D both depict a couple’s intertwining voices. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Quejas, ó La maja y el ruiseñor from Goyescas (Laments, or The Maiden and the Nightingale)
                                    Enrique Granados
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65, No. 6
                                    Edvard Grieg

Opening Music:
Tango in D
                                                            Isaac Albéniz

Song without Words in Ab Major, Op. 38, No. 6 “Duet”
                                    Felix Mendelssohn

Interlude: Isabella Okelberry, soprano
A Whole New World (Aladdin’s Theme from Walt Disney’s Aladdin)
                        Alan Menkin/Tim Rice


Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Practice of the Week
Put It in (the Ultimate) Context

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

The previous three [of the practices adapted from Fischer's Training in Compassion] -- Turn All Mishaps Into the Path, Stop Blaming, and Be Grateful for Everyone -- fit together. Grateful to everyone and everything, we are willing to acknowledge whatever happens as an opportunity, which we accept with complete responsibility and receive with joy. Moreover, these three depend on a conventional understanding of beings as we usually conceive of them, self and other, you and I, them and us.

"Put it in context" entails a deeper sense of what we are. The context we're talking about is not just one more relative context. Rather, this practice involves going beyond conventional or relative understanding. The isolated self of our concepts does not and could not exist. The distinction between self and other is an empty illusion. From an absolute perspective, there is no self and other. There's only Being, and there's only Love, which is Being sharing itself with itself without impediment and with warmth. It just happens to look like you and me to us because this is how our minds and sensory apparatus works.

"Put it in context" means seeing your situation and what you are experiencing in the context of -- indeed, as a part of and an integral manifestation of -- this love without boundary. "It" includes all the disturbances of your life -- all your confusion, which is to say, your resistance, your pain, your fear, your grief, your frustrated desires, and so on. Usually we hope any such emotion or reaction will eventually go away and we will be free of it. Instead, by placing it in context of the absolute, we take a different perspective, and we take it to a deeper level. We look at its underlying reality. What is actually going on when we are upset or angry? What is happening? If we could unhook ourselves for a moment from the blaming and the wishing and the self-pitying, and could look instead at the actual basis of what is in fact going on, what would we see?

We would see time passing. We would see things changing. We would see life arising and passing away, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. Moment by moment, time slips away and things transform. The present becomes the past -- or does it become the future? And yet right now there is no past or future. As soon as we examine "now" it is gone. And we cannot know how or where it goes. This may sound like philosophy, but it doesn't feel like philosophy when you or someone close to you is giving birth. If at that moment you are standing in the delivery room or are yourself, in pain and joy, giving birth -- in that first bursting-forth moment, you are amazed. This small life you think you have been living, with its various issues and problems completely disappears in the face of the miracle of visceral life springing forth in front of your eyes. Or if you are present when someone dies, you know then that this emptiness is not just philosophy. You may not know what it is, but you will know that it is real. And that this reality is powerful and makes you see your life, and the whole of life, quite differently in that moment. A new context emerges that is more than thought, more than concept. When you view your daily human problems in the light of actual birth and actual death, you are putting your experiences in absolute context.

Every moment of your life, even (and maybe especially) your moments of pain or despair or confusion, is a moment of your own inherent wholeness, your inherent perfection. This is a fact, whether you see it or not. Learning to see it is the path of wisdom.

Attend births and deaths whenever you have the chance. Accept these moments as gifts, opportunities for deep spiritual practice. But even when you aren't participating in these peak moments, you can remember and reflect on the ultimate context within which all your concerns and anguishes occur. And when your mind is confused and entangled, you can take a breath and try to slip below the level of your desire and confusion. You can notice that in this very moment time is passing, things are transforming, and this astonishing, inconceivable fact is profound, beautiful, and joyful -- even as you continue with your misery.

For Journaling

Describe the most confusing -- sad, annoying, upsetting -- moment of the past 24 hours. Then describe your feeling in the context of the ultimate.

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

Music: Sun May 21

“What does the May monthly theme of ‘Joy’ have to do with ‘White Supremacy?’” you ask?

The joys of music, creativity, and self-expression can be an antidote to discrimination, as the CUUC Choir’s performances of “Shenandoah” and the Beatles’ hit “Good Day Sunshine” will suggest this Sunday morning. Solo piano selections include works by composers of African descent from the traditions of Ragtime and Spirituals, musical forms which gave hope and solace in times of oppression. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child             
                                                Traditional Spiritual, arr. by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Elite Syncopations
Maple Leaf Rag
                                                Scott Joplin

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
American Folk Song, arr. by Brad Printz
Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?
                                                Traditional Spiritual, arr. by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Good Day Sunshine     
John Lennon and Paul McCartney, arr. by Kirby Shaw



Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers." --James Baldwin
Adapted from Julie-Ann Silberman, "Art," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

Artwork is my daily spiritual practice. My goal is not to create masterpieces, but to get more closely in touch with my interior spiritual life. In my life, I use words a lot, I read a lot, and I think a lot. I need a spiritual practice that will take me away from those things and get me in touch with what is happening at the core of my being.

I was a painter and an art major in college, but then my focus changed, and I left that behind. When my father died, I was sad and lonely and wanted to express the feelings raging inside me. I could feel an aching in my arms and heart. I could see images in my head, but I wasn’t letting them out. I needed a vehicle for the day in and day out process of grieving. So, I returned to the tried and true longing of my body. I went into my basement and dug up some old pastels and oil paints.

Buying new art supplies is part of the spirituality of art and one of the first steps to take in making artwork a spiritual practice. Buy supplies that excite you and that will work as a vehicle for your self-expression. The next step is to put your supplies out in a place where you spend a lot of time! If you spend time at your kitchen table, put the art supplies there. If you spend time in front of the TV, put them there. Initially, you are more likely to be able to tap into the creative aspects of your everyday spirituality if you try to create in the places where you usually spend time. Eventually you may want a special place for creating, but in the early stages of developing your spiritual discipline of creation, it is important that your practice be a part of your daily existence.

Spirituality is not about separating myself from my life. It is about getting more deeply in touch with the sacred in my daily living. Human life is sacred; therefore, what we do and how we fill our lives is sacred. So when you are doing your ordinary things, tap into the sacred. Listen to your soul. Use that to make your art.

Don't try initially to create representational art; rather, try to use color to express your feelings. Often I begin by closing my eyes. Usually in that darkness I see colors, and I begin with what my inner eye has selected. As I continue to work, I will frequently close my eyes and explore the image in my mind's eye, how it changes and develops. It is easier to change things in your head than it is on the paper or canvas. Perceiving images guided by inner awareness is important to understanding creation as a spiritual discipline.

Art as a spiritual discipline is the chosen need to find center. Finding center in an emotional sense is vital to the quality, depth, and meaning of your work, whatever the medium.

One of the pitfalls of art as a spiritual discipline is that others often expect us to display our work or to share it with them in one way or another. Creations that come out of an inner listening are intensely personal. They are every bit as difficult to share as journal entries, personal prayers, or the content of meditation. The advantage of those other disciplines is that very few people expect them to be shared in a public way. To keep your artwork for yourself takes some strength.

There may also come a time when you are ready to share your creations, and this too presents questions. Choosing to share your creations requires you to be comfortable with the work and its place in your life, so comfortable that the responses of others do not change the meaning or the place of the work in your own life and practice. When you are at this point, then you can decide how and with whom to share your work. We must remember that creativity is about the process, not the outcome, especially when it is being used as a spiritual discipline. Creativity is about the experience, the identifying and releasing of feelings and core responses to the world around us.

I have found artwork to be a very powerful spiritual discipline, one that has allowed me to reconnect with parts of myself that I had long negated and devalued. Having integrated artwork back into my life, I feel a sense of wholeness that I had lost. I have also chosen to share my work through a public showing and found it to be a powerful affirmation of the balance in my life. That balance was brought about in large measure for me through the spiritual practice of creativity.

No matter what media or methods you explore, or how you choose to share your art with others, personal authenticity is the most important aspect of art as a spiritual practice. Listen to yourself. There are no limits. Use what you have, experiment, and eventually find what you like. This spiritual practice is based on tangible, tactile responses. If you do not feel in touch with the medium, if it in any way holds you back from self-expression, get rid of it and try something new. If you don't like painting on canvas, try painting on rocks. If pastels on paper don't work for you, see if crayons on fabric do.

The most important things are to find yourself and to let it out. Pay attention to your dreams and the inner workings of your mind and even to the colors you see. The more you pay attention to what you see and how you respond to it, the more material you will have for your creative endeavors. Artistic expression is from the soul, and no one else knows what yours contains, so let it out in your own way.

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


Music: Sun May 14

Jazz great Valerie Capers teams up with bassist extraordinaire John Robinson in a program of sensitively chosen and artistically re-imagined classics this Sunday at CUUC. Among Dr. Capers’ selections are several works selected in honor of Mother’s Day. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with inspirational numbers in folk and jazz idioms. Read on for programming details, and consider attending our Jazzfest! Concert next Saturday evening at 8pm for more of Val Capers’ enchanting music.

Prelude: Valerie Capers, piano; John Robinson, bass
Some Other Time
                                                            Leonard Bernstein

Opening Music:
A Child is Only a Moment
music and lyrics by Earl Brown

Interlude: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
Come in from the Firefly Darkness
Amy F. Bernon    

Isn’t She Lovely?
                                                Stevie Wonder

What A Wonderful World    Music by David Weiss, Lyrics by Bob Thiele, arr. by Mark Brymer  

In a Mellow Tone
                                                Duke Ellington


Enjoy Your Hands

Practice of the Week
Enjoy Your Hands

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)
"Studies suggest that knitting - and crafting in general - can actually act as a natural anti-depressant, as well as reduce stress and even protect your brain from aging." -- The UK Daily Mail, 2014 Mar

"The real action of compassion is touch. . . . Regrettably, we are a touch-deprived culture in the west." -- Dacher Keltner

"To touch is to give life." -- Michelangelo
Adapted from Rick Hanson, Just One Thing.

Sometimes it's worth remembering the obvious: you engage the world with your body — often with your hands.

Human hands are unique in the animal kingdom in their dexterity and sensitivity. Their capacity for skilled action helped drive the evolution of the neural networks that handle sophisticated planning, decision-making, and self-control.

Your hands reach, touch, caress, hold, manipulate, and let go. They type, stir pots, brush hair, wash dishes, shift gears, scratch ears, open doors, throw stones, hold loved ones, and help you snuggle into bed. They may not be perfect, and with aging, they may sometimes be in pain, but they're always lovely and vital.

Appreciating your hands makes you appreciate living. Being mindful of them — paying attention to what they're feeling and doing — is a simple and available way to drop down into a more sensual, in-the-body connection with the world, including the people you touch.


Right now, take a moment to be aware of your hands. What are they doing? What are they touching? They are always touching something, if only the air. What are they sensing? Warm or cool? Hard or soft?

Move your fingertips. Notice how incredibly sensitive they are, with about 20,000 nerve endings per square inch. Play with the sensations of your fingers stroking your palm, your thumb touching each finger in turn, the fingers of one hand caressing the fingers of the other one.

Soak up the enjoyment your hands give you. Use your hands to draw you into pleasure such as the warmth of holding a cup of coffee, the relief of scratching an itchy head, or the satisfaction of getting a pesky button through its hole.

As appropriate, touch others more. Feel the grip of a handshake, a friend's shoulder, a lover's skin, a child's hair, a dog's or cat's fur.

Buddha Okays All Beings
Feel the skillfulness of your hands: steering a car, writing a note, replacing a lightbulb, sawing wood, planting bulbs, measuring garlic, peeling an onion. Feel their strength in holding a knife, making a fist, lugging a suitcase.

Watch your hands talk: pointing, rising and falling, opening and closing, thumbs-up, okay, waving hello and goodbye.

Many times a day, try to sink awareness into your hands.

Feel them feeling your life.

For Journaling

For your journaling today, copy this sentence into your journal: "Wow, my hand is amazing." As you copy it, pay close attention to how all the muscles of the hand coordinate their motion to allow you to write that sentence.

Make a list: "Things my hands did today that I wouldn't normally have paid any attention to at all."

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Dacher Keltner on touch:

Rick Hanson on enjoying your hands:

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

Music: Sun May 6

Floral imagery abounds in Sunday morning’s musical selections at CUUC this week, in celebration of our annual Flower Communion service. Sopranos Laura Sehdeva and Kim Force team up with Christian Force and Adam Kent in an arrangement of “The Rose”, popularized by Bette Midler. Elsewhere, a rag jointly composed by Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin memorializes the heliotrope blossom, Tchaikovsky’s flowers waltz away, and Mendelssohn’s bees pollinate every bloom in sight at their wedding. Read on for programming details….

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Heliotrope Bouquet
                                                Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin
Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker
                                    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Story Music:
The Bees’ Wedding, Op. 67, No. 4
                                                Felix Mendelssohn

Offertory: Kim Force, Laura Sehdeva, Christian Force
The Rose
                                                            Amanda McBroom


Music: Sun Apr 30

On the outskirts of Barcelona at the summit of Tibidabo, a peak of the Collserola mountain chain, is a playful amusement park known as “Parc d’attraccions”. The site and some of its divertissements are evoked in a charming suite for solo piano by Catalan composer Manuel Blancafort performed this morning. Tibidabo, based on the Latin “tibi dabo”—“I shall give you”---is taken from the Vulgate from the Gospel of St. Matthew. The Devil tempts Jesus, showing him a view of the world from on high—as if from a mountain peak—and suggests, “All these things I shall give you, if though wilt fall down and worship me.” As a tourist destination, Tibidabo features not only the quaint children’s rides and spectacular views of the city and the Mediterranean, but also the peculiar image of a huge statue of Christ overlooking the tiny Sagrat Cor church, His arms outstretched over the park’s gigantic Ferriswheel.

The CUUC Choir is also on hand with selections inspired by April’s monthly theme of Mercy, including references to divine compassion as well as poetry by Emily Dickinson.

Finally, song writer and satirist extraordinaire Roy Zimmerman—widely admired in UU circles—returns to CUUC with selections for the morning’s Offertory and Postlude.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude Adam Kent, piano
From Parc d’attraccions
   I.   L’Orgue dels cavallets (The Carousel Organ)
   II.  El tumult desvetlla recorts (The Tumult Awakens Memories)
   III.  Polka de l’equilibrista (The Polka of the Tight-Rope Walker)
Manuel Blancafort

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
"His Eye Is On The Sparrow" Music by Charles Gabriel, Words by Civilla D. Marin, arr. by Ruth Elaine Schram

Offertory: Roy Zimmerman
"Citizens United"

Anthem: CUUC Choir
"I Shall Not Live In Vain"   Music by Ruth Morris Gray, Words by Emily Dickinson

Postlude: Roy Zimmerman
"My Vote, My Voice, My Right"



Practice of the Week

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." --Yogi Berra
Discerning is different from deciding. Deciding can be a very rational process (carefully assessing pros and cons), or not rational (whimsical, impulsive). Either way, deciding doesn't put "who am I?" and "what is my highest purpose?" at the center of the process. Discernment draws upon intuition, but in a very careful and intentional way -- so it is neither primarily cognitive/rational nor whimsical or impulsive.

There is no foolproof way to definitely say that one thought is a trustworthy intuition and another is a delusion. There is, however, a process that can help separate true discernment from mental garbage.

First, before you present the question to your inner self, determine if you are willing to hear whatever answer you get. If you've already made up your mind about what's best for you to do in a particular situation, then you cannot enter a discernment process. Discernment requires openness to self-discovery, finding in self-awareness what you are called to do. Before venturing into such a process, I ask myself, "Is there any answer I might receive that I wouldn't be willing to listen to?" If there is, then I defer the process until I am open to hear any answer that might arise. I have made a "deal" with my higher self that just because I hear a particular answer doesn't mean I have to act on it. Knowing that I have this "safety valve" has helped me to be receptive to whatever answer arises.

Once I have surrendered to the possibility of any answer to my question, I take time to quiet my mind. I meditate or sit still listening some favorite music. Then I ask a specific question about a current concern for me. Generally, my question takes the form of, "What do I need to know or do to serve my highest purpose in relationship to _____ ?" Then I wait as receptively as possible. Whenever I notice my mind trying to "figure out" the answer, I take a deep breath and simply try to relax and let go. Discernment does not emerge from a rational thinking process.

People receive the voice of their deepest self in different ways. Some people actually hear a voice that sounds somehow unlike their normal inner dialog. Other people see images or symbols that indicate what they need to know. Most people simply get a strong sense of what "feels right." Often, this feeling of what is right seems to spontaneously arise from nowhere, yet there is a strong sense of certainty about it. It's like an "Ah-hah" experience. It's as if you knew the answer all along -- because you did, though you didn't know you knew it, and know you've discovered it within you.

Since people experience connecting with their intuition in different ways, it's helpful to remember how you've received intuitive information in the past. Think back to a specific time you felt like you received a trustworthy intuitive answer. What made you think that this was a true intuition? (Our intuitions are often wrong, after all.) Once you can identify how you were able to discern an answer in the past, you will know what to look for in the future. A trustworthy intuition usually comes not only with a strong feeling of "rightness," but often also with a feeling of openness or relaxation in the body and peacefulness in the mind. Like all skills, the more you practice, the more likely you'll notice subtle distinctions that differentiate discernment from normal thinking and feeling.

If you practice the discernment process and receive no answer -- or one that is unclear, there are a couple things you can do. First, you can ask that an answer become clear to you sometime during the next week. I've often had the experience of not getting an answer immediately, but spontaneously receiving an answer days later why walking my dog. When we are persistent in asking a question, the answer eventually comes. It may even come from an unexpected source, such as a friends conversation or a TV show. However the guidance arrives, there will likely be a familiar feeling of "rightness" -- a conviction that you now know what to do.

The second thing you can do when discernment is slow in coming, or you're not sure if what you've received is best for you, is to seek more information. You can pursue addition information in a linear, rational way by simply asking yourself, "Is there any person or resource that might know information relevant to my situation?" Once the rational mind is satisfied it has collected all the information it can, it is often easier to tune into your best intuition.

Some people make the mistake of asking for intuitive information merely because they're too lazy or afraid to research the relevant facts about their situation. For example, I had a client who kept asking his inner guide if he should buy a certain house. He secretly wanted to buy the house, and his desire was interfering with his ability to discern. I suggested he get the house inspected and appraised to see if it was a good deal. He initially resisted, but finally relented. The results from the inspection indicated that the house was on the verge of falling apart. You don't need discernment when rational decision-making yields a clear answer.

If, after trying these ideas and methods you're still not sure that the answer that arises is trustworthy, then set the question aside and focus on you primary spiritual practice for a few weeks. When you're better "aligned with your higher self" or "in touch with your true self," your discernment will be more clear.

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


Be Grateful to Everyone

Practice of the Week
Be Grateful to Everyone

Category: Keep In Mind (This practice is for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. It doesn't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in this area as you go about your day. Sometimes make it a focus of your daily journaling.)

Be grateful to everyone. Very simple but very profound.

I went to visit my grandson when he was six weeks old. He couldn't do anything, not even hold up his head, much less feed himself. If he was in trouble, he couldn't ask for help. If suddenly he found his hand in his mouth and began chewing, he didn't know what that was or who it belonged to. And if he liked the hand in his mouth and it fell out of his mouth, he couldn't figure out how to get it back in. He had no idea of anything in the world. He had his likes and dislikes, certainly, but he was powerless to do anything but experience them as the world changed every moment. He was completely dependent on his parents' care.

We were all at one time precisely in this situation, and someone or other must have cared for us in this same comprehensive way. Without 100 percent total care from someone else, or maybe several others, we would not be here. This is certainly grounds for gratitude to others.

But our dependence on others did not end there. We didn't grow up and become independent. Now we can hold up our heads, fix our dinner, wipe our butt, and we seem not to need our parents to take care of us -- so we think we are autonomous. We think there is no longer a need to be grateful to others for our lives.

But consider this for a moment. Did you grow the food that sustains you every day? Did you till the soil, milk the cow, gather the eggs, kill the chicken? Did you make the car or train that takes you to work? Did you make the road? Extract the fuel? Sew your clothing? Build your house with lumber you milled? How do you live?

You need others every single day, every single moment of your life. It's thanks to others and their presence and effort that you have the things you need to continue, and that you have friendship and love and meaning in your life. Without others you have nothing. You may think, "Well, yes, but I work and I make money, and I pay for everything. So they are not taking care of me; it's my money that takes care of me. Even the highways and commuter trains: I pay my taxes." But suppose you have a lot of money and there is no one else in the world but you, you and your gigantic pile of money. How would you survive? Could you eat the money? Could you make a house for yourself inside the money? The money is only valuable because others exist. Money makes no sense without others. Its value exists because others exist.

Our dependence on others runs deeper. Where does the person we take ourselves to be come from in the first place? Apart from our parents' genes and their support and car, and society and all it produces for us, there's the whole network of conditions and circumstances that intimately makes us what we are. How about our thought and feeling? Where does it come from? Without words to think in, we don't think, we don't have anything like a sense of self as we understand it, and we don't have the emotions and feelings that are shaped and defined by our words. Did we invent this language that constitutes ourselves? No, it is the product of untold numbers of speakers over untold numbers of generations. Without the myriad circumstances that provided us the opportunities for education, for speech, for knowledge, for work, we wouldn't be here as we are. And without all the people in our lives whom we know and who know us and love us and create complications for us and infuriate us, we would have nothing to think about. We would be beyond bored: our consciousness would be shattered by loneliness.

There could not be what we call a person without other people. We can say "person" as if there could be such an autonomous thing, but in fact there is no such thing. There is no such thing as a person. There are only persons who have cocreated one another over the long history of our species. The idea of an independent, isolated, atomized person is impossible. And here we are not only speaking of our needing others practically. We are talking about our inmost sense of identity. Our consciousness of ourselves is never independent of others.

Buddhist teachings speak of "nonself" and "emptiness." What these terms mean is that there is no such thing as an isolated individual. Though we can say there is, and though we might think there is, and though many of our thoughts and motivations seem to be based on this idea, in fact it is an erroneous idea. Every thought in our minds every emotion that we feel, every word that comes out of our mouth, every material sustenance we need to get through the day, comes through the kindness of and the interaction with others. And not only other humans. Our nonhuman companions, the wildlife that sustain ecosystems that sustain us, and the animals whose pain and flesh provides food for some humans all contribute to making us who we are. Indeed, the whole of the earth, the soil, the sky, the trees, the air we breathe and water we drink constitute us. We not only depend on all of this, we are all of it and it is us.

To practice gratitude to everyone, to train is this profound understanding, is to cultivate gratitude every day. Gratitude is the happiest of attitudes: you simply cannot be grateful and unhappy at the same time. If you feel grateful, you are a happy person. If you feel grateful for what is possible for you in this moment, no matter what your challenges are -- grateful that you are alive, that you can think, that you can feel, that you can stand, sit, walk, talk -- then you are happy and you maximize your chances for well-being and for sharing happiness with others.

For Journaling

Listing gratitudes, at least once a week, is an important part of journaling. Take some time to particularly reflect on your gratitude to (a) people you never met, (b) people who cared for and helped you and are now dead, (c) nonhuman animals, all beings, and all things.

See also, Practice of the Week: Be Grateful (Rick Hanson, with TED Talk by David Steindl-Rast)

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


Music: Sun Apr 23

Mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna treats us to a program of songs connected to the natural world in honor of Earth Day. Ms. Tonna also reprises several of the colorful, moving settings of texts connected to Cuba by the Spanish-American composer Joaquin Nin-Culmell performed at our Friends of CUUC concert last January. Read on for Ms. Tonna’s biography, Sunday morning’s complete musical programming, and translations of foreign-language texts.


Mezzo Soprano Anna Tonna has been described as mezzo heroine who "knows how to sing Rossini" by the Rossini Gessellschaft and as "showing off her warm, secure mezzo-soprano to maximum advantage" by the New York Magazine; accolades such as these explain her constant demand as a recitalist and opera singer in both Europe and the Americas. The combination of a highly developed coloratura with a full, balanced, flexible lower register have guaranteed her acclaim as a lyric mezzo, both in familiar roles Rosina, Carmen, Dorabella, as well as in more rare repertoire by Paisiello, Vivaldi, Mascagni, Zandonai and Giordano.

She has been heard in such roles as Adalgisa in Norma at the Teatro Metropolitano in Medellin (Colombia), Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Illinois, New Jersey State Opera and the Rountop Music Festival, Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana with New York Grand Opera, New Rochelle Opera and New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera, as Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Musetta in Leoncavallo's La Boheme with New York Grand Opera, Romeo in Capuletti ed i Montecchi with the Roundtop Music Festival, Maddalena in Rigoletto with the New Rochelle Opera, Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with the Teatro Nacional de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, as well as Dorabella in Cosí fan tutte and Angelina in La Cenerentola in Madrid.  She has sung North American premiere's of numerous works, including Paissiello's La Molinara in New York's Town Hall, Vivaldi's La Griselda, Rossini's l'Equivoco Stravagante at the Danny Kaye Theatre with the Bronx Opera in NYC, as well as Zandonai's La farsa amorosa  and Mascagni's Guglielmo Ratcliff both with Teatro Grattacielo in Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center under the baton of Maestro Alfredo Silipigni and Maestro David Roe respectively.

Ms. Tonna’s artistry has been recognized by the Liederkranz Foundation, The Gerda Lissner Foundation, National Opera Association, BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) from the Bronx Council of the Arts, and a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research in and perform Spanish Art Song in Spain, where she has established a thriving career. Recordings that have preserved some of these efforts include Las canciones de Julio Gómez with label VERSO and her new disc release España alla Rossini with iTinerant Classics.

Additionally, Ms. Tonna’s passion for and excellence in the recital genre have garnered her increasing acclaim in both the U.S. and Europe, particularly her path breaking explorations of the repertoire of composers from Spain and Latin America. Ms. Tonna’s recitals are a source of constant expectation and excitement in New York City, where she has performed at both the Alice Tully Hall and Rose Center of Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Bargemusic, Merkin Hall, New York's Town Hall, Weil Recital Hall as well as at the Hispanic Society of America, Museo del Barrio of NY, Museum of the History of New York, Italian Cultural Institute and Goethe Haus. The same excitement greets her appearances in Spain, with performances at the Auditorio Nacional de España, Museo del Romanticismo, and Festival de Segovia. She has collaborated with Casals Festival of Puerto Rico, Festival Iberoamericano de las Artes in Puerto Rico, Música de Cámara, North South Consonance, Joy in Singing, Elysium Between Two Continents among others.

Her recital of “Songs of post civil war Spain” at the Fundación Juan March of Madrid was broadcast on Radio Television Española and hailed as “a tour de force” by the Spanish newspaper ABC. It is to be noted her appearance in June of 2012 at the St. Anton palace in Valletta, the presidential palace of the country of Malta, for a command performance for his Excellency George Abela.

A native and resident of New York City, Ms. Tonna holds a B.A in Music from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida and a Masters in Performing Arts from the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

Prelude: Anna Tonna, mezzo-soprano; Adam Kent, piano
Two Afto-Cuban Songs
            Canción de Cuna Afro-Cubana

            La Niña de Guatemala

Si ves un monte de espumas

                                                Joaquín Nin-Culmell

Opening Music:
The Rose
                                                            Theodore Chanler

Ombra mai fu
                                                            George Frederick Handel

Del cabello más sutil

                                    Fernando Obradors
The Epitaph of a Butterfly
                                    Marion Bauer

Joaquín Nin-Culmell (1908-2004)

Canción de cuna (text by José Martí)
Afro-Cuban Cradle Song
Ogguere, Oggué [1]
The six o'clock bell
can be heard in the batey[2]
and the blacks of the dotasión[3]
will go to pray the prayer

Ogguere, sleep, that I have
to work, and after that sweep up
the hut.

La niña de Guatemala (Text by José Martí)
The Girl from Guatemala
I want to, on the shadow of a wing
tell this flowering tale:
of the girl from Guatemala
the one that died of love

There were flowering lilies,
and waves of silk
and of jazmin; we burried her
in a silken box

...She gave the one that had no memory
a small scented pillow:
he returned married;
she died of love

The pall bearers that carried her
were bishops and ambassadors;
the whole town followed,
all carrying flowers

She, in order to see him
went to the lookout point
he returned with his wife,
she died of love

Like the flaming bronze
the goodbye kiss was coined upon
her forehead - that forehead
which I have most loved in my life!

...she took herself that afternoon into the river.
a doctor took her out, dead
they say she died of cold,
I know that she died of love

There, in the cold vaulted ceilings,
they put her upon two  pillars
I kissed her small hand
I  kissed her white shoes

Silently and at while it became dark
the grave digger called me,
I have never seen again
the one that died of love!

Si ves un monte de espumas (text by José Martí)
If You Discern a Mount of Sea Foam
If you discern a mount of sea foam,
t is my verse that you see:
y verse is a mount and,
a fan of feathers.

My verse is like a dagger
at the hilt of
which a flower grows:
y verse is a fount from which flows
sparkling coral water.

My verse is light green
nd also a flaming red:
y verse is a wounded deer
eeking protection in the forest.

y verse is brief and sincere,
it will
appeal to the brave:
it is the
 strength of the steel
that forges the sword

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)
Ombra mai fu
Never was a shade….

Tender and beautiful fronds
of my beloved plane tree,
let Fate smile upon you.
May thunder, lightning, and storms
never disturb your dear peace,
nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

Never was a shade
of any plant
dearer and more lovely,
or more sweet.

Fernando Obradors (1897-1945)
Del cabello mas sutil
From That Finest Hair

From that finest hair
Which thou dost braid
I would craft a chain
To draw thee by my side.

A cup within thy house,
Dear maid, I'd pray become,
Wherein I'd kiss thy mouth
As oft as thou drink from ...

[1]   Afro Cuban deity
[2]   Communal living quarters of slaves
[3]   Group of slaves belonging to one owner