When the summer season is drawing to a close and autumn is around the corner, in my religious congregation we begin a new “church year.” This year we begin with incredible challenges, again. Because of the persistence of the COVID virus our services are held outdoors, and many of our usual activities are still on Zoom or not yet happening.
Many things about our religious life are not the way they used to be — and probably never will be again. Except for wondering how to plan, I don’t really worry about the changes — for change is at the heart of the religious life and always has been.
The religious life of a human is certainly a life in a body, and the body is constantly changing, from birth to death. It is a life on this earth, and the earth is certainly changing too, affecting every body. And in almost all religious traditions what we believe and how we practice today are the results of centuries of change, usually from conflict to conflict.
Through this year of adapting to pandemic life, one of the changes in our congregational life has been the sharing of a daily practice. This daily practice is an email, sent out five days a week, encouraging members and friends of the congregation to begin each day with awareness, with attention and intention, and with gratitude for the gift of life which is the gift of breath, moment by moment by moment. This kind of practice is a common feature of many traditions, as meditation or contemplation or morning prayer.
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We practice in order to be able to change, for that is what the world requires of us. To take time every morning to be still, to quiet the mind, to focus on breath, and to listen deeply to Life are essential parts of building skills, strength, endurance, and sustainability in the work of loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity.
To become fluent in the skills and expression of multi-culturalism, inclusion, welcome and respect takes practice everyday. To reach new levels of understanding and efficiency in our use of energy and resources, to decrease our carbon footprints for example, takes practice. To be honest about and comfortable acknowledging our fears and anger, and where we fall short of our ideals, takes practice, and practice begins in stillness.
From stillness a prayer can arise, a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of this day, for the cool morning breeze and the sun on the hills, for the love which holds us. A prayer for courage, for the willingness to open, to give, and to change in the service of love. A prayer that will write itself, speak itself, a prayer that moves through you with your breath. May this be a practice for you too. Wherever you are today, take time now to pause and breathe, and let that prayer arise. Then bow in thanksgiving, open your arms to welcome the day and the changes it may bring, and let yourself begin again.
The Rev. Jill McAllister is senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion at Oregon State University, teaching comparative religion.