Music: Sun Feb 5

Three rags by the iconic Scott Joplin are featured in the Prelude this Sunday morning at CUUC, as a kick-off to Black History Month. The Offertory is a touching, delicately scored chorale prelude by J. S. Bach, arranged for solo piano by the English pianist Harriet Cohen. “Beloved Jesu, We Are Here” seems to be an appeal for grace and peace. CUUC’s Choir is also on hand, with Latin-language exhortations to love and celebration. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Heliotrope Bouquet                           
                                                Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin
Peacherine Rag
The Easy Winners      

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas

Si Vis Amari
Jerry Estes 

Beloved Jesu, We Are Here
                                                J. S. Bach arranged by Harriet Cohen

Gaudeamus Hodie*
Earlene  Rentz
*Translation: Let us rejoice today, Halleluia!
                 Rejoice! Let us rejoice today!



Practice of the Week

Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
"Each of us has the task of taking the scraps of our lives, the beautiful satins and velvets, the plain everyday calicoes, the bumpy corduroys, the dark shades as well as the bright, and making them into a thing of unique beauty." (Laurie Bushbaum)
Adapted from Laurie Bushbaum, "Quilting," in Everyday Spiritual Practice

When I was thirteen, I inherited an unfinished quilt started by my great-grandmother. A few years later, I finished it as best I could. I used it on my bed all through high school, and it was stained and bedraggled by the time I graduated. Still, it was precious to me, so I tucked it away in a closet. Fifteen years later I painstakingly took it apart, stitch by stitch, to salvage a few of the squares that were in better condition. I wanted to use these squares in a new quilt I was making called "Four Generations Handed Down," in which I honored my creative genealogy: four generations of textile artists in my family.

In the process of finishing that first quilt from my great-grandmother, and the many that have followed, I discovered that quilting can be a powerful metaphor for the spiritual life on both the personal and collective levels. Each of us has the task of taking the scraps of our lives, the beautiful satins and velvets, the plain everyday calicoes, the bumpy corduroys, the dark shades as well as the bright, and making them into a thing of unique beauty. It is a neverending project. At times it is too much to do alone. The old quilting bees remind us of that; the women gathered together, sometimes for days at a time, sharing their food, their stories, their families and lives, all the while stitching, stitching.

Eventually, quilting became more than a metaphor, but it took me many years to finally name and claim quilting as my spiritual discipline -- my prayer and meditation. Needle through thread, up and down, is my rosary, my mantra. It is my path to comfort, clearer understanding, and renewed compassion for the world.

Even as a child, working with fabric was not primarily a way to expand my wardrobe, but a way to explore my mind and spirit. In college, I remember standing outside the art building having been told by a faculty member that I could not do an independent study in quilting because there was no faculty member who could supervise such a class. And though quilting might be interesting, it was not real art and didn't belong in the department. I was stunned and confused.

In seminary, I was excited by the ideas and words of several theologians in particular, but I was also drowning in words. I longed for a hands-on way to pray, to enter into the Mystery. I was drawn to religious art of many kinds, but I knew that I was not a Russian Orthodox icon painter, a Shaker furniture maker, or a practitioner of Japanese ikebana (flower arranging). The quilts of the Amish spoke deeply to me, but quilting then was still an extracurricular activity for me and I didn't have time in seminary life to do what I most needed.

Slowly, I have come to understand that quilting for me is about worship. The word worship comes from an old word meaning, "to shape things of worth." One aspect of worship is transformation, transforming the ordinary into the Sacred, the remnant into the Holy. For me, quilting as spiritual discipline is giving shape and color and texture to my inner life. It is about making beauty from what is at hand.

Whatever else art may be, it is primarily work of the soul. Art is very much a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. Art is not so much what we make, but how we relate to the world. Quilting has been a way for me to use a particular discipline as a means of discovering that it is not the art creation itself that matters so much but what the process of creation teaches.

The spiritual discipline of quilting taught me, first, the beauty and necessity of pattern. Pattern is a fundamental part of our human experience, as basic as day and night, as complex as theology and mathematics. Patterns mark time and space, inner as well as outer. Pattern is the background against which we can see Revelation, with which we can balance constancy with change. Spiritual discipline is knowing and recognizing the patterns in one's self changing them if necessary and possible tuning one's self to the larger cosmic patterns, and gracefully resting in this beauty.

Quilting has taught me to respect the wisdom of the elders of paying attention to early lessons. For many years I made traditional quilts. It was all I knew. I delighted" in being part of this communion of saints, women (and a few men) who through time have made beauty out of next to nothing. After several years though, I hit a wall. I was suddenly bored. I didn't want to follow anybody else's pattern. I had mastered all the basic skills, but needed a new way to use them.

And that is the next thing that this spiritual discipline taught me: to take risks, to listen to the still small voice urging me into new territory. Creation always involves risk whether it be the creation of a new piece of artwork, I new recipe, a new relationship. Many of my pieces have started out with a certain plan only to end up quite different than I imagined. Sometimes I have tried one color of fabric in a particular spot and ripped it out the next day. Even the quilts that I did many years ago that are no longer exciting to me are a V1sual testament to my journey, my deepening understanding, my growing experience and wisdom.

The spiritual discipline of quilting has also taught me the rhythms of the creation process. Many of my quilt pieces were started, partially completed, only then to spend two or three years on a shelf waiting for the vision to reappear or clarify. I used to panic thinking the piece was a throw-away. Or I would fight the fallow time and try to force the resolution. Slowly I have learned the wisdom of letting these things happen when the time is right. When the inspiration comes, it sometimes comes with such dazzling, simple clarity that I can only say a quiet "Thank you" for this amazing grace.

And this knowledge transfers over to my sermon writing. I have learned that my sermon writing also has a very particular pattern. Now, when I hit the wall in my writing, I know to do a load of laundry or a stack of filing or to wash the dishes. If I allow these seemingly empty spaces, the pregnant pauses, yet pay careful attention, the sermon does get finished.

When I am in my studio, I can forget my name, the time, the needs of my children, the tasks on my list of things to do. This is one of the benefits of spiritual discipline -- to be immersed in Holy Time, dissolved in Sacred Space. When I fully enter the work, I return refreshed, invigorated, as if I had traveled to a new land. I can return to my daily tasks with greater joy and deeper presence. The opposite is true, too. When I can't find time in my life for my creative soul work, it is hard for me to give to the world around me what I would like to give. For years I struggled, thinking that my artwork was selfish. Then I noticed the profound effects it has on everything else that I do. Though I quilt for myself, I have come to understand it as a necessary form of spiritual renewal, a way to fill my cup so that I may fill others'.

The most recent gift of my spiritual discipline is discovering that it can also be a gift for others. Only in the last few years have I begun to show my pieces in galleries and churches. I am amazed by what others tell me they see or feel from the pieces. The quilts invite contemplation, incite feelings of peace and hope, allow one to revel in beauty. Some very small, private image that I think I have tucked away in a corner often jumps out for others and speaks to their spirits, too. Sometimes I have done something in a quilt piece totally unconsciously, only to have a viewer walk up to it and immediately point out what was too close for me to see. It is both humbling and exciting to speak to another's spirit and heart without words, to be reminded that there is a language of image and color and texture.

By simple definition, quilting is merely sewing pieces of fabric together into a whole. But as spiritual discipline, it is a careful attention to the details of my life. Quilting as spiritual discipline is entering the sensual richness of the universe, creating order out of chaos, beauty out of the simple, wholeness from the scraps, and in the midst, being transformed.

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


Music: Sun Jan 29

This Sunday at 10am, the Prelude begins with a special Music for All Ages preview of Sunday afternoon’s Music at CUUC Concert with violinist Claire Chan, cellist Sibylle Johner, and Music Director pianist Adam Kent. With help from members of the Youth Group, this interactive presentation focuses on Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor. The upcoming monthly theme of Grace is illustrated in the composer’s ability to extract a wealth of varied thematic ideas and complex musical development from the humblest beginnings, a simple five-note pattern.

CUUC’s Choir is also on hand with fascinating settings of texts by William Shakespeare and traditional African sources.

Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Claire Chan, violin; Sibylle Johner, cello; Adam Kent, piano
Music for All Ages: Building a Cathedral from the Humblest Stones, with excerpts from Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101
                                                            Johannes Brahms

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
How Like A Winter    
Ruth Elaine Schram, words by William Shakespeare from Sonnet 97     

Piano Trio No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 101
            II. Presto non assai

Takadamu (Lead the Way)    
Sally Albrecht and Jay Althouse


Music: Sun Jan 22

Music intended to evoke associations with evolution is featured this Sunday at CUUC. The Prelude and Offertory include works by Beethoven and Mozart rich in variation technique, in which a simple musical idea is developed through a series of permutations and elaborations. Unitarian composer Edvard Grieg’s Bell Ringing is a surprisingly modern sounding experiment in growing resonance out of chiming open fifths. Debussy’s Prelude La puerta del vino alludes to one of the entryways into the famed Alhambra palace complex in Granada, Spain. The piece develops increasingly complex patterns and layers of sonority over an habitual Habanera rhythm in the bass. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
Bagatelle in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 1
Sonata No. 12 in A-flat Major, Op. 26
I.               Andante con variazioni
Ludwig van Beethoven

Opening Music:
Bell Ringing, Op. 54, No. 6
                                    Edvard Grieg

Rondo in D Major, K. 485
                                    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

La puerta del vino
                                                Claude Debussy


Don't Know

Practice of the Week
Don't Know

Category: Slogans to Live By: Practices for everyone to keep in mind and pay attention to. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time. Just have the intention to grow stronger in each of these areas as you go about your day, and sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling. The titles of these practices are guiding slogans to live by.
“Not-knowing does not mean you don’t know. Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not." - Shunryu Suzuki

Once upon a time, a scholar and a saint lived on the same street, and they arranged to meet. The scholar asked the saint about the meaning of life. She said a few words about love and joy, then paused to reflect, and the scholar jumped in with a long discourse on Western and Eastern philosophy. When the scholar was finished, the saint proposed some tea, prepared it with care, and began pouring it slowly into the scholar's cup. Inch by inch the tea rose. It approached the lip of the cup, and she kept pouring. It ran over the top of the cup and onto the table, and she still kept pouring.

The scholar burst out: "What are you doing?! You can't put more into a cup that's already full!"

The saint set down the teapot and said, "Exactly."

A mind that's open and spacious can absorb lots of useful information. On the other hand, a mind that's already full—of assumptions, beliefs about the intentions of others, preconceived ideas—misses important details or contexts, jumps to conclusions, and has a hard time learning anything new.

For example, let's say a friend says something hurtful to you. What benefits would come from an initial attitude that's something like this: Hmm, what's this about? I'm not sure, don't entirely know.
  • First, you'd buy yourself time to figure things out before putting your foot in your mouth. 
  • Second, you'd naturally investigate and learn more: Did you hear correctly? Did you do something wrong you should apologize for? Is something bothering your friend unrelated to you? Did your friend simply misunderstand you? 
  • Third, she'd probably be more open and less defensive with you; a know-it-all is pretty irritating.
The great child psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that there are essentially two kinds of learning:
  • Assimilation — We incorporate new information into an existing belief system.
  • Accommodation — We change a belief system based on new information.
Both are important, but accommodation is more fundamental and far-reaching. Nonetheless, it's harder to do, since abandoning or transforming long-held beliefs can feel dizzying, even frightening. That's why it's important to keep finding our way back to that wonderful openness a child has, seeing a cricket or toothbrush or mushroom for the very first time: child mind, beginner's mind... don't-know mind.


For a few minutes, or for a day, a week—or a lifetime—let yourself not know:
  • Be especially skeptical of what you're sure is true. These are the beliefs that often get us in the most trouble.
  • In conversation, don't assume you know where other people are headed. Don't worry about what you're going to say; you'll figure it out just fine when it's your turn. Remember how you feel when someone acts like they know what you're "really" thinking, feeling, or wanting.
  • Let your eyes travel over familiar objects—like the stuff on a dinner table—and notice what it's like during that brief interval, maybe a second or so, after you've focused on an object but before the verbal label (e.g., "salt," "glass") has come into awareness.
  • Or go for a walk. Notice how the mind tries to categorize and label—to know—the things around you, so it can solve problems and keep you alive. Appreciate your mind—"Good boy! Good girl!"—and then explore letting go of needing to know.
  • Ask yourself if it's important to you to be a person with the right answers, the one who knows. What would it be like to lay down that burden?
  • This may seem a little cosmic, but it's down-to-earth: Look at something and ask yourself if you know what it is. Suppose it's a cup. Do you really know what a "cup" is, deep down? You say it's made of atoms, of electrons, protons, quarks. But do you know what a quark is? You say it's energy, or space-time, or sparkling fairy dust beyond human ken, or whatever—but really, do you ever, can you ever, actually know what energy or space-time truly is?? We live our lives surrounded by objects that we navigate and manipulate—spoons, cars, skyscrapers—while never truly knowing what any of it actually is. And neither does anyone else, even the world's greatest scientists.
  • Since you don't really know what a spoon is, do you even know what you are? Or what you are truly capable of? Or how high you could actually soar? Consider any limiting assumptions about your own life . . . how you've "known" that your ideas were not very good, that others would laugh (or that it would matter if they did), that no one would back you, that swinging for the fences just means striking out. What happens if you apply "don't know" to these assumptions?
  • Notice how relaxing and good it feels to lighten up about needing to know. Take in those good feelings so you'll feel more comfortable hanging out in don't-know mind.
May you know less after this practice of not-knowing than when you began.

And therefore, know more than ever!

For Journaling

Questions to reflect on in your journal:
1. Can you identify some beliefs that you cling to more tightly than you need to?
2. When have you, in conversation, assumed too quickly that you knew where another person was headed?
3. What limiting assumptions about your life do you make?
4. How does it feel when you lighten up about needing to know?

Rick Hanson on not knowing:

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

Music: Sun Jan 15

Martin Luther King Sunday is commemorated with music associated with African-American musical traditions. At CUUC. The Choir is at hand with a setting of a traditional Spiritual, as well as Amy Bernon’s inspirational “I Am the River. Music connected to African-descended cultures in arrangements for solo piano by the British-born Samuel Coleridge-Taylor are featured during the Prelude. May Aufderheide was perhaps the leading female composer of rags, and her “Dusty” Rag is the morning’s Offertory. Read on for programming details.
Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, Op. 59           
            9. The Angels Changed My Name (American Spiritual)
            3. Take Nabandji (South East African)
            8. The Bamboula (West Indian)
                                    arranged by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
I Am The River  
Amy F. Bernon

                                                May Aufderheide
Keep Your Lamps    
American Spiritual, arr. by Victor C. Johnson


Consciously Dwell in Mystery

Practice of the Week
Consciously Dwell in Mystery

Category: Occasional. These are practices suggested for "every once in a while." Some of them are responses to a particular need that may arise; others are simply enriching occasional enhancements to the spiritual life. All of them are worth a try at least once. And any of them might become a regular and central part of your spiritual practice.

There is something else present in everything you see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. It is the unspeakable – the silence inside the sound, the darkness inside the light, the stillness inside the motion. It is the mystery. It holds us always.

The Basic Practice

To be spiritual is to have an abiding respect for the great mysteries of life — the profound distinctiveness of other souls, the strange beauty of nature – the worlds of flora and fauna – as well as the ineffable complexity of our inner selves, the unfathomable depths of the universe, inner and outer. The wisdom traditions challenge us to live within a cloud of unknowing. To practice mystery means cherishing the baffling, curious, hidden, and inscrutable dimensions of your existence and the world around you. Live with paradoxes. Give up the idea that you can always "get it.”

What This Practice Is Good For

The practice of mystery enhances our understanding of the complexity of reality. It is an affront to the modern need have answers to every question and our tendency to create tidy systems with a cubbyhole for every problem and aspiration. Of course, some people simply ignore the mysterious because it lies outside the hallowed precincts of reason and logic. The antidote to these reductionist approaches is to rest in the riddle of not knowing. If you sometimes think that answers are wisdom, it is time to try practicing mystery.


1. Discern the questions – deep and meaningful questions that resist easy answers. Look at “What is...?” questions like, What is evil? What is love? What is faith? What is justice? Discern the questions that seem to you to point toward something mysterious. Discernment begins in taking some moments for quiet reflection, and continues throughout your day as you hold the question in the back of your mind. Your starter question is: What are my questions? As they emerge, it might be helpful to write down several questions in your journal.

2. Repeatedly ask yourself your questions, but without seeking an answer. If an answer pops up, make a note of it and set it aside. Keep repeating the question. The point is not to come up with an answer, but to simply delve into and be with the mystery to which the question points. You are yearning for understanding with all your heart -- yet are rejecting every articulable understanding that might come to you. (You aren't rejecting them as false, but are setting them aside as "not the full story, not even close.") In this way you cultivate abiding, inarticulable wisdom -- in other words, you come to be at home in mystery.

3. Use cues to remind you to practice mystery.

  • Sorting clothes and wondering what happened to the other sock: my cue to practice mystery.
  • Passing a funeral parlor or a cemetery: my cue to contemplate mysteries.
  • Hearing someone applying a system of explanations for good fortune or illness: my cue to remind myself to respect the complexity and mystery of life.

Create additional cues for yourself to bring yourself back at various points during the day to your intention to consciously dwell in mystery.

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


Music: Sun Jan 8

January’s monthly theme of Mystery is embodied in the piano works of Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin. Debussy’s music seems to suggest sensations and impressions, rather than provide the clear sense of narrative or precise outlines of much earlier music. Chopin’s A Minor Prelude is a tonally ambiguous work, which meanders through a maze of different tonal regions before cadencing in the home key. His Nocturne in Bb Minor, in its trance-like insistence, seems to anticipate the hazy sonic world of Debussy. Read on for programming details.

Prelude: Adam Kent, piano
The Sunken Cathedral, from Preludes, Book I
Ondine, from Preludes, Book II
                                                Claude Debussy

Opening Music:
Prelude in A Minor, Op. 28, No. 2                             
                                                Frederic Chopin

Nocturne in Bb Minor, Op. 9, No. 1               

The Snow is Dancing, from Children’s Corner