GNL number 19

The GOOD NEWS lately

a report of doings at meeting # 19, Sunday, February 8, 2009
including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


The kingdom of God is within you.
—–Luke, 17: 21


(It turns out to be as impossible to do justice to this conversation as to the topic itself. Herewith a few almost random notes, not even highlights:)

  • Since today’s topic, SPIRIT/SOUL/GOD, was mostly her idea, Sue started the conversation by recalling her own religious background in a Jewish family where Judaism was not practiced (and her brother used to embarrass her by telling people “we don’t believe in God”), and then her rekindled interest as an adult in Judaic studies, which have led to the daily rituals now so important to her. She read a list of 30 terms for the unnameable God from the Judaic tradition. (See AFTERWORDS.) And she quoted Marcia Prager, who when asked “Do you believe in God?” said, “No, I experience God.” The word Spirit, she remembered, was close to inspiration, and the root means breath. And Soul seems to her the part of us that sinks llike water into dry soil after we die. Sue also spoke gratefully of the help Buddhism has been to her, especially Thich Nhat Hanh, whose retreats she’s attended, and whose advice to Westerners has pointed them to investigating their original religious traditions.
  • Anna too said she had been raised in a non-practicing Jewish family. She has long thought of herself as a humanist rather than a believer in any diety or religious system, and spoke of having no interest in religious ritual. Nature, she said, was central to her belief system, and this makes her deeply concerned about mankind’s destructive influence on the planet, and dedicated to living as simply and as harmlessly to life as she can.
  • Ginny, Gail’s mom and a resident of Florida, spoke of her good fortune in being exposed in earlier life in New York City to a rich mix of people, cultures, and religions. This and many travels later to other countries like Nepal and Tibet have kept her open and curious. She recalled experiences with people abroad and here, among them devotees who were so entrenched in their religious doctrine that they were disturbed that those who’d been given the “word” and then didn’t join would go to hell; but she and Gail both felt their exposure to differing values had been healthy.
  • Chris said she grew up in a family that practiced Protestant Christianity, but it “didn’t stick”with her. She had gone to a religious-affiliated college and her first marriage was to a minister, but later she was exposed through a friend to Judaism, and was particularly moved by the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy that begins, “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord…” She then did formal studies for three years and converted to Judaism.
  • Jack had only days before come back from the hospital after a fall and it had been a hard week in other ways too, we learned; but when it was his turn, he was ready with testimony of his Christian faith, and recited from the Bible, first from John 15: 4, “Abide in me as I abide in you…” and then from the Psalms, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth…”
  • Cynthia was in Florida with her daughter and son, but she left us 6-word descriptions of the theme:

    GOD is good minus an O.
    SPIRIT is something we can catch.
    SOUL is something that caught us.

    (“Not to make light of such a serious topic, but to shrink this monumental concept into manageable bites. Love to all, Cyn”)

  • Ann was also away, in DC with Elliott, where his brother was very ill. But we read aloud her emailed thoughts and include them in AW.
  • Nancy said the theme’s three words can’t quite say it for her, too overloaded or wornout, that what she’d believed in for a long time is the connectedness of everything—the one life under it all, ebbing and flowing—one big, living, breathing “god”. She remembered her childhood Presbyterian church and sunday school as more routine than meaningful, but recalled another very strong experience at 7 or 8, out alone on a grassy hill across from her aunt’s, where she suddenly had a deep feeling of belonging. More recently she saw this as prefiguring an experience in a difficult period 15 or so years ago when, driving on route 88, she was struck with the feeling that the surrounding hills and world were home, family, and in the weeks that followed a song came to her about it, with the refrain, “there are no orphans here”; this song she sang to the group. Like Sue, she has found eastern wisdom, especially Buddhist insights, of profound help. (Some quotes in AW.)
  • Adair described herself as the child of agnostics, but one who was also exposed to Christianity; she had gone through a period when she read the Bible in its entirety, and eventually found it was not for her. Later she married a Jew and studied Judaism seriously, but came to see her own beliefs were less in religion than in life itself. She has recently found herself in sympathy with the Unitarian-Univeralists, who are so inclusive, “you don’t have to believe in God” to join them.
  • Gail remembered praying to God as a child, and a good experience of church-going, which she appreciated especially for the service full of singing and the sense of community. She also remembered the disturbing experience with friends whose religion required they make confession and how it made no sense to her. And she spoke of recent times at a church program where she regularly volunteers, often in contact with people of very different religious values than hers, which has been both hard and mind-opening. She has found the UU point of view healthy too, especially in its sunday school, to which she takes Virginia.
  • Mary Lou was the child of Quakers, who didn’t push their faith on her but clearly acted on it, for instance, in their lifelong peace activism. She described herself as not “religious”, but having a strong sense of values not dependent on devotion to god or religion, and acting on those values as much as she can each day.
  • Near the end, Anna observed something about the conversation and the group: that we are coming from differing backgrounds and points of view, and yet there’s a spirit of acceptance among us that she felt grateful for. (Additionally, we could say, a feeling of trust that allows people to even sing songs never sung to anyone before.)
  • And we closed on a quiet note, with Adair‘s respectful acknowledgement of the passing of Jack’s older brother Whitman, and the anniversary of Louise’s death, both the day before.


Letters From God

I hear and behold God in every object,
yet understand God not in the least,
nor do I understand who there can be
more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the 24, and each moment then,
in the faces of men and women I see God, and
in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropt in the street,
and everyone is signed by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are,
for I know wheresoe’er I go,
others will punctually come forever and ever.
—-Walt Whitman

NEXT TIME: Sunday, March 8, 2009 (1030) at Jack’s. The topic is SOLITUDE, which we invite you to think of in any of its many colors and shades.


from Sue:

  • Some of the many terms for God in the Judaic tradition—

    Most High——I Am, Becoming, I Will Be——Life of All Worlds——The Name——Source of Life——The Place——Rock——Presence——Fortress of My Life——Breast/Hill, Nurturing One——G*d of Creation——Master of Eternity——Infinite Without End——Womb-like Compassion——G*d Who Sees Me——The Holy One of Blessing——My Hiding Place——Ancient of Days——Surrounding Light——Well of Mystery——Revealer of Mysteries——My Help——My Lord, Threshold, Connector——Light Within——Shield——Form Giver——Beauty——Foundation——Power——Peace

  • Sue also recommends the book Meaning and Mitzvah, Daily Practice for Reclaiming Judaism, by Rabbi Goldie Milgram.

  • from Ann:

  • I do not mean to offend or challenge anyone in my remarks; my comments are my thinking up to this point in life after having given some thought and done some reading, although not exhaustive by any means. The journey continues until total exhaustion occurs. I learn so much from the discussions at CoS and am so grateful to be part of this congregation.

    I prefer to think that I am not beholden to a supreme being; I believe that what is attributed to a supreme being is in all of us, to greater and lesser degrees at any one time, but that for many people a supreme being becomes a crutch/excuse/reason for not doing something, explaining what doesn’t seem to have an explanation, what doesn’t make sense, what hurts, as well as what is joyous. How can that imperfect mind describe the perfect and ideal? And guilt!! I don’t know why people put themselves under a cloud of guilt because they don’t live up to God’s ideals? Someone passing on successes and failures to God is ok by me, which does not mean that I do not mean that I do not have answers that work for me. Mostly we know what we need to do, what needs to be done to survive and that is the motivating force to keep us going, together; our challenge is to do it with kindness and love. If/when we fail, then we fail each other, not a supreme being. I prefer to think that sense of the human bond of love (soul, spirit?) as not supreme, not divine, not other, but a very real connection between people. Everyone knows more than I do about any/everything; do I also need to feel inferior because I have let God down?

    And the word God is useful shorthand when questioning, swearing, pleading, thanking, unloading, justifying “sins”, etc. I guess, for me, the hypocrisies of religion and the claim of a divine (perfection) connection leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. Certainly many people experience great joy in “God’s love”, this is a non-issue for me. The joyous, elated, serene, happy, compassionate, etc. feelings we all get don’t have to come from anywhere else, IMHO.

    I have no problem with others believing in “God”, what works for someone else is a good thing and should not be disparaged, just let me believe what I believe, and please don’t feel sorry for me because i don’t get it!!!. Please do not say that I’m really a good Christian but I just don’t know it. I don’t want that mantle, that burden. I do not doubt that Christ existed, a good teacher, a good man—divine?—not for me. In fact what is divinity? Best, ideal, perfect. All creation, all that exists is divine?

    I’m not sure/clear about having to suffer to be enlightened either, a whole lot I don’t understand about this thinking, this experience.

    This looks like it’s all about me, well, it’s all about my thinking at this point. I do feel that “I” is not the important factor here; that’s my challenge, to figure out how to be me without it all being about I. This also sounds so cut and dried in my mind, that is far from true, the edges are very fuzzy and open to alteration, I hope.

  • Six-Wordies

    Say Obama, and my heart swells.
    Scampering squirrels, tails twitching, spring near?
    Doorbell ringing, who’s there? Oh, wonderful!
    Are we lost or found today?
    Feathers working together, strength and beauty.
    Today: pigeon day or statue day?
    Threads woven into cloth, as life.
    Jack, always smiling, with a twinkle.
    “Victimhood” does not justify using violence.

  • from Nancy:

  • God is in the details. ——architect Mies Van Der Rohe
  • Details are all there are. ——zen teacher Taizan Maezumi
  • The state of completeness is always present. It is never future or past. God is always now.——Benedictine monk John Main
  • Listen, Friend…has it ever occurred to you that you are seeking God with His eyes——Buddhist teacher Adyashanti
  • from Judy Scott:

    “Public Prayer”

    a newspaper column by Daniel O’Rourke

    Some years ago Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York pontificated that God should be more prominent at the United Nations. Most likely he envisioned that the UN should open its meetings with prayer and that someone should invoke the name of God. He imagined chaplains, politically appointed and rotating among the world’s religions, daily intoning a simultaneously translated prayer to a generic almighty invoking his blessings on the UN’s agenda.

    The all-present Spirit, however, was already at the UN, not very operative of course, but already there. He/She/It (the pronouns never work) did not have membership in the General Assembly or a permanent seat on the Security Council, but Divine Intelligence was readily available with or without public prayer.

    In one sense the Cardinal was right – not about opening prayers, but about the motivation delegates bring to their deliberations. The concerns of a compassionate, loving Spirit should be influencing their discussions as they struggle with the environment, famine, natural disasters, peacekeeping and the prevention of war. A divine compassion should shape and alter the work of the UN. What that work needs is not just a sonorous prayer: icing on the cake, horseradish for the beef, or tartar sauce for the fish. God is in the main course not in the garnishes.

    Despite the real possibility of hypocrisy, however, public prayer has its place. At the opening event at the Lincoln Memorial for the recent presidential inauguration, Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, offered a prayer worthy of a wider audience. He prayed for tears, anger, discomfort, and patience. Listen to his moving words.

    “O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

  • “Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
  • “Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
  • “Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic ‘answers’ we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
  • “Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be ‘fixed’ anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being not a messiah.
  • “Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
  • “Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replace it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
  • “Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.”
  • Bishop Robinson went on to pray for wisdom and safety for the president soon to be inaugurated. His message, however, was for us — not for some distant deity. He delivered it at the opening ceremony of the inauguration, but it would have been a fitting invocation at the United Nations.

    Bishop Robinson’s words had soul. They echoed Mahatma Gandhi’s observation. “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is a daily admission of one’s weakness.” The Bishop’s prayer acknowledged those common human weakness, but we should also remind ourselves of Unitarian minister Lon Roy Call’s words that prayer “does not change things. Prayer changes people and people change things.” Our prayer should never be an excuse for our inaction.

    Or as another young president proclaimed as his inauguration almost fifty years ago, “Let us go forth … asking His blessings and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” Well said, Jack Kennedy, a wise and careful preacher could not have said it better.

    The pomp and the ritual, the speechifying, the invocations and benedictions, the inaugural balls and parties, they’re history. Now it’s up to all of us.

    and finally a late-breaking Afterword on theme ideas:

  • Among recent suggestions, like Good and Evil, Aging, Loss, to name a few more big hard ones, here’s a little guy—Walking this cold sunny day, your editor was twice struck in the smile place by Small Pleasures: first, the way a neighbor’s 3 different-sized and placed porch-chimes were being played in stunning, angelic harmony by some very creative wind, and then the way 4 boys in this same interesting but 20degree wind were playing rollerblade hockey in the street because it was spring wasn’t it—-so, please add the idea of these little everyday moments—SPs.

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