Monday, June 21, 2010
For my present work and writings please visit AmyFreedman.net.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Remember a time when you had a sense of this greater Unity with the world around you. In some of the most challenging periods of my life, I have walked the beach to remember that the world does not revolve around me. No matter how heavy my responsibilities or sorrows may seem, in Emerson’s words “the currents of Universal Being circulate through me.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts that most people have a very superficial seeing of the world around us. Often our minds are so full of future plans or reviewing the past that we are blind to our surroundings. He writes, “The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child”.
The first time I took my daughter Liza on the Cliff Walk she was about eight-months old. While unloading her stroller I imagined that she would enjoy seeing the ocean waves and feeling the sea breeze. In fact, Liza did enjoy the Cliff Walk. However, what she enjoyed was not the clear blue water or the sailboats on the horizon. She leaned forward smiling and connecting with all the people and dogs that crossed our path. Even more surprising, her little hand reached out from the stroller to feel the hedge as we went by. For me, hedges are nothing more than a nuisance, reminding me of the hedge that needs trimming at home. I followed her example and brushed my open hand against the hedge as we past. The tiny thick leaves were cool and soft; sensuous as velvet.
Communion with the divine is possible in nature. Liza reminds me that it is not necessary to travel long distance to exotic locations for this transcendent experience. Certainly, I have felt awe on the colorful cliffs of Aquinnah and surrounded by the great redwood trees of Muir Woods. But as Emerson writes, “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to one another; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” Liza recalls me to this sense of wonder and awe when she notices the play of light on a wall, the feel of grass through her fingers, the exhilaration of a rainy day.
In a poem entitled, “Each and All”, Emerson writes of a man who is so enraptured by the beauty of nature that he desires to possess it for his very own. In hearing a sparrow sing, he captures the bird in a cage. He collects seashells from the shore. He picks flowers along a woodland path. However, in taking these living things from their natural settings, he discovers that each loses their beauty. The sparrow sings but without the river and the open air, the song is not as sweet. The seashells are ugly and dry without the bright sunshine, sand, and tumbling waves. The beauty of the violets is somehow less without the dappled sunlight through the trees.
The poem concludes, “Beauty through my senses stole;/ I yielded myself to the perfect whole". As Emerson declares in Nature, "nothing is quite beautiful alone; nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace."
If there is something in human nature that causes us attachment and clinging, it is even more essential that we take the time to open our minds and hearts to our wider connection. Let us make it our practice to spend time in Nature not to capture it or collect it as our own but to remember that the whole “world is a mirror of the soul.” Then perhaps we can do as Emerson suggests and “Write it on [our] heart[s] that every day is the best day in the year.”
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
My daughter Liza turned one year old in December. Her birthday party had all the classic traditions like streamers, balloons, doting relatives, and a smiling girl with her face covered in chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. My husband, Peter and I enjoyed the party even more than Liza did as it was a celebration of the new family member who we had wanted for so long.
At our wedding at
As much as we both longed to be parents, it turned out not to be as easy as we had imagined. After spending years trying not to become pregnant, I discovered that conceiving was not as simple as no longer using birth control and took much longer than we anticipated. Once I was pregnant, I fully expected to carry the baby full-term. However, after a very public announcement, I suffered a miscarriage.
I recognize that it may be shocking for a minister to be so candid about this subject. However, the reason for my disclosure is that after the miscarriage, I discovered how many people experience similar heartache. The journey to becoming a parent is often not as smooth as it is commonly portrayed. Despite all the beaming couples on television, quite simply, a positive pregnancy test result does not necessarily mean you will have a baby. Twenty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. For many couples who are having children later in life, the odds are even higher.
Nothing had prepared me for the bereavement associated with a miscarriage. Even though the Doctor assured us that this was an isolated event most likely due to some sort of chromosomal error, it was hard to shake the feeling that I was somehow to blame. I was gripped by fear and doubt about our ability to conceive a child.
As I grieved, numerous women and men came forward to share their stories with me. Even though I knew many of these families intimately, I had no idea that so many of them went through the trials of delayed conception, miscarriage, and infertility. One couple thought they would never have a child after recurring miscarriages. However, they have a beautiful daughter who is an active member of our church. Someone gave me a book explaining natural ways to enhance fertility. Others described how adoptions made their families complete.
There is a weight of silence around the subject of conception that must be lifted. It is important for anyone who would like to be a parent to understand that miscarriage and complications are a common occurrence. There is no need to feel shame or anxiety in isolation. Chances are many people you know have experienced similar struggles.
Even those who choose to have no children, or are far removed from that stage of life, can relate for we never know exactly how life will unfold. It is difficult living in a place of cautious optimism. Each one of us is expecting whether it is a new job, a search for a romantic partner, learning a new skill, trying a new routine, overcoming addiction, healing from a loss, opening ourselves to new people or places or ways of being. Let us break the silence about the reality of failure and miscarriage. In so doing, we can support one another in healing and open our hearts to the miracles of living.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
For three years, Ross travelled with Justice Canada to examine and experience first-hand what is known as “Peacemaker-justice”. For example, instead of punishing a group of teenagers for vandalism while under the influence of intoxicants, the Elder Council sought to understand what led them to seek this terrible state of mind and called on the whole community to address the addiction problems.
This type of justice based on healing instead of punishment, highlights a belief in Native cultures of interrelationship. It is impossible to punish and isolate one behavior from the influence of the surroundings and other relationships. Just as it is impossible to punish and isolate one person without also affecting his or her community.
Our lives are based on relationships. Any betrayal, hatred, violence or injustice we experience does not arise because the other person is inherently bad or evil. Any wrong-doing that we perpetrate does not arise because we ourselves are inherently bad or evil. Instead, these harmful actions demonstrate Disharmony. Just like a disease, when the functioning of our bodies is disrupted by an injury or virus, disharmonies in relationships upset the healthy functioning of a person, which directly affects our community and our larger world.
As you prepare to sit down to the Thanksgiving table, I encourage you to be mindful of the quality of your relationships. Sometimes we celebrate the holidays with our closest friends and family members who are frequent companions. Other times, we gather with relatives or friends whom we only see in this season. Sometimes we hold little in common or sometimes old grudges and misunderstandings also come as uninvited guests. As we gather to give thanks, let consider ways in which we can strengthen ties with those assembled. Instead of a special activity set apart from daily life or the role of an Elder, let each one of us embrace peacemaking and healing as our task; finding ways simple and profound to connect, to promote greater harmony, and to express gratitude.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us remember that as human beings we are dependent on all. The Ojibway hierarchy of creation is not based on intelligence or beauty or strength or numbers, the four orders of creation are based on Dependencies. In the first place is Mother Earth and her life-bloods the waters for without them there would be no plant, animal or human life. Next is the Plant world for without plants there would be no animal or human life. The Animal world is third. Last, and clearly least important in this hierarchy come humans because nothing whatsoever depends on our survival.
We are the most dependent of all. Therefore, we owe the greatest duty of respect and care for the other of these three orders: Mother Earth, the Plant World, and the Animal World. Without them, we perish. Our role is not to subdue individual parts of them to meet our short-term goals because that may disturb the balance between them. Instead, our role is to learn how they interact with each other so we can try our best to accommodate ourselves to existing relationships.
May the nourishment we receive fuel us to be peacemakers, mindful of our relationships, and finding ways to live in harmony.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Although Rumi is much better known in the West, Hafiz is the most beloved poet in his native Iran where his works outsell that of Rumi and even the Koran. Both are Persian poets in the Sufi mystical tradition. Rumi lived a century before and his works informed Hafiz.
Why is Hafiz virtually unknown to Westerners when he continues to inspire so many in modern day Persia? The answer is simple. Something was lost in translation. What is so amazing about Hafiz and why the analogy to Shakespeare is apt, is that in the original Persian, his words have multiple layers of meaning. He wrote in a poetic form called ghazal which is an ode or song of rhymed couplets. Often in trying to capture the rhythm of the language or to rhyme in English, the passion and meaning of the poetry has been significantly weakened.
Daniel Ladinsky has brought the spirit of Hafiz into English. As he does not know Persian, Ladinsky does not claim to offer translations, his books are subtitled “Renderings of Hafiz”. He offers Westerners not a literal translation of the text or a recreation of the meter but a rendering of the poem’s spirit complete with emotion, humor, and insight. Ladinsky did this with the guidance of Avatar Meher Baba, a modern spiritual teacher with whom he studied in India for many years.
Shams-ud-din Muhammad was born in Shiraz, city of roses and nightingales sometime around 1320 AD. To give a sense of the historical period, his lifetime mirrors that of Chaucer. Even though he was poor and served a baker’s apprentice, he proved himself as a scholar at an early age excelling in memorization and calligraphy.
“Hafez” means “memorizer”, a title given to those who memorize the Koran in its entirety. The ability to recite scripture from memory is a way to be a channel of the Divine. A Hafez spends years not only memorizing but perfecting the recitation of all thirty chapters of the Koran. Hafiz did more than memorize the Koran and other great Persian poets, with the guidance of his spiritual teacher, he is said to have attained “Cosmic Consciousness” or “God-realization.”
The idea of attaining “Cosmic Consciousness” or “God-realization” conjures an image of someone with a holier-than-thou attitude. Someone with his head in the clouds, removed from the challenges of living and above earthly pleasures. One of the reasons that Hafiz is cherished as a spiritual companion to this day is because he is quite human. He understands the bereavement of losing loved ones—his father died when he was a boy and both his wife and only child passed away. Hafiz recognizes the struggles of life that can keep us from realizing our true nature. Unlike the dualism of some traditions that uphold the spirit as holy and the body as evil, Hafiz relishes the pleasures of the body as a manifestation of the sacred.
Hafiz continually celebrates God’s Love. His name for God is the Beloved. Instead of a judge, God is a kind loving presence who longs for our happiness if we only get out of the way. Hafiz calls on all people to become intoxicated with the beauty and sensuousness that surrounds us. The mystic invites us to have a crush on each miraculous living being that crosses our path.
If the Great Ones, all the spiritual teachers of various traditions are correct and Love is the energizing elixir of the Universe then how is it that we experience so much resentment and loneliness in our every day lives? Could it be as simple as Hafiz suggests—that we’re spiritually dehydrated? With all of our busyness and serious responsibilities, we neglect the most essential activity of life, drinking and serving Love. What if this ancient sage is not crazy? He could be right that “All a sane [person] can ever care about is giving Love”.
In the week ahead, notice when you feel cranky and judgmental and consider if you have taken time for Love. Unlike water, Love is free and readily available. You will find it in your own heart and all around you. You will find it when you smile at a stranger, breath in the fresh air, give thanks for the gifts of food that sustain your body, and soak in the energy of the sun.
Saturday, September 05, 2009
Children often pose the most astounding questions. Where did I come from? Why is that man sleeping outside? How do I know what is right? Do you believe in God? Why is my brother so mean? If I wish hard enough, will it come true?
Adults have confided in me that they are surprised and challenged by children's deep questions. So often these simple inquiries touch on complex ethical or theological issues. Children can sense when grown-ups are uncomfortable and can learn to stop asking. Even if we do not have all the
answers, it is important to nurture curiosity and reverence from a young age.
William Ellery Channing, Newport native and father of American Unitarianism for whom our church is dedicated, wrote in 1830, "The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own. Not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own. Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth. Not to form an outward regularitybut to touch inward springs."
The Religious Education program at Channing Memorial Church is designed to empower children and youth to engage directly with the beauty and struggles of life. Our classes are designed to foster self-confidence, respect for the inherent worth of every person, reverence for the interdependent web of existence, and encourage a life of compassion and service.
Often couples who have different religious backgrounds or who are searching for a caring community of all ages will join a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Personally, I was raised attending a Unitarian Universalist church. My paternal side is Jewish and my maternal side is Catholic. My family found a religious home in a supportive community that honored our
interfaith heritage and nurtured our ongoing spiritual development. From an early age, I was taught that my thoughts, feelings, and deeds are valuable.
The lessons learned on Sunday mornings helped me to understand that my actions have consequences not only for myself but also positively or negatively affect the interdependent web of life of which I am a part.
Each year we offer classes in the following areas: World Religions, Unitarian Universalist principles, and Social Justice. This year's curriculum includes earth-based traditions, ethics, spiritual development, and making a difference in the world.
In addition, Our Whole Lives (OWL) will be offered for 4-5 graders and 7-8 graders who enroll in this comprehensive sexuality education class. Although many people are surprised that a church would speak candidly about sex, the predominant misinformation, shame and pressure in our society make it essential. OWL is a curriculum developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association in partnership with United Church of Christ. O, the magazine published by Oprah Winfrey featured this program in a recent issue. We believe that honoring our bodies, having caring relationships and making healthy choices is essential.
On Saturday, September 12, 10:00am-12:00pm, a Community Open House will be held at Channing Memorial Church, 135 Pelham Street in Newport. All are welcome to drop by the Parish Hall to register children or to learn more about our church. Halcyon Westall, our Director of Religious Education and I will be available to answer your questions and provide information about upcoming classes and events.
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Monday, June 15, 2009
Newport Pride Meetup
This Friday from 6:30pm - 8:30pm
EMPIRE TEA AND COFFEE
On Broadway in Newport, RI
Join us for an informal gathering to meet, network and organize. This meeting we will be coordinating plans for marching in the RI Pride Parade on Saturday as well as discuss starting an Interweave chapter at Channing Church.
On Facebook? You can RSVP to this event and invite friends here:
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
How relevant to modern life are Heaven and Hell? Many religions hold that there are stages of Heaven and stages of Hell to which people are sent according to their good or bad deeds during life.
Egyptian tomb paintings from as early as 2500 BC show the jackal-headed god Anubis as the gatekeeper of the underworld. Anubis would determine a person’s worthiness by weighing the deceased heart against the feather of truth. The heart would be weighted down by bad deeds and lightened by good. When your life comes to an end, how will your heart measure up against the feather of truth?
The idea of judgment after death is found in many religious traditions. In Judaism the Jewish New Year is the time to reconcile your misdeeds so your name will be inscribed into the Book of Life. In Christianity, St. Peter is sometimes depicted as the keeper of Heaven’s Gate where people will be interviewed in order to be admitted to Heaven, damned to Hell or sent to Purgatory where they might purge or make up for their sins. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, it is believed that life is a wheel of successive reincarnations. Between reincarnations, people arrive in the hall of the ruler of the dead where people are judged according to their right or wrong actions. People are then rewarded or punished in one of many different heavens or hells before being reborn. Eastern religions emphasize the journey between lifetimes is one of consciousness.
There are many different visions of Heaven. Where the earth is chaotic and unpredictable, human beings look upward to the wheel of stars as a realm of immortality, order and harmony. Paradise is also portrayed as a verdant garden like
Heaven is sometimes depicted as a land of endless pleasure with food, drink, frolicking and music.
Where Heaven is a place of bliss and perfection, Hell is the opposite: a place of torment. Some theologians proclaim that a perk of Heaven is that you can see justice served by witnessing those who wronged you being punished.
I challenge you to consider your own views of Heaven and Hell. When you say, “Ah, Heaven!” what are you experiencing? Physical pleasure? Beauty? Material Security? Personal Achievement? Peace? Love? A sense of God’s presence? Harmony with the natural world? Here is the really tough question, do you receive satisfaction from the suffering of others especially those who you do not like or may have hurt you in some way?
When you say, “Oh, Hell!” what are you encountering? Physical pain? Ugliness? Loss? Failure? Frustration? Hatred? A sense of isolation?
As people of conscience, it is important to be mindful of what we hold as ideal for that is what motivates our actions. It is equally important to consider how sometimes our misplaced striving after that ideal leads to suffering and thereby creates our own hell. The ideal of a
The mystery of death and the afterlife remains. However, no matter who makes the final judgment whether it is God or karma, our own conscience or our impact on others—there is one conclusion, our actions matter. Whether or not you believe in life after death or Heaven and Hell among us, all traditions teach the same lesson that our choices have consequences that can give rise to love or pain. The path to healing and wholeness is through nourishing others.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
One of the names being proposed for the new
Although the early settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony left
At a time when women were told to be quiet and obedient, Anne Hutchinson spoke out and defied the established order. At a time when it was taught that women were cursed, Anne held a steadfast belief that to be a woman was a blessing. Certainly, she had plenty of reasons to be complacent including the moral codes of the time and her massive responsibilities as the mother of such a large family. There was no model for her actions. However, she was moved by her own conscience, the teachings of her father, and her reading of the Bible which gave her a vision of a more harmonious world.
She started small, inviting neighboring women to join her for conversation. Her message and the energy that resulted could not be contained. In just four years from when she arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony, her following grew enough to be perceived as a threat to the establishment.
In 1639, a year after
Many times, we become discouraged with the complexity and scale of the problems of our times. There are so many needs, so much that is broken and needs fixing. The powers of government seem too entrenched with the interests of big business to really care about our well-being and that of the down-trodden.
Anne Hutchinson did not complain that she was born into the doomed generation or find excuses for inaction. She lived out her beliefs. We must do the same.
Living in a small state as we do, we have an opportunity to effect legislation and bring about positive change. One of the blessings of our country is that we are free to express our opinions and to advocate for change. Our state senators and representatives work for us. Whenever constituents take the time to communicate our message is taken seriously.Although the outcome may not be clear from where we stand, a few people can build a bridge to a better world.