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COMPASS ROSE: THE UU SAN MATEO BLOG

REFLECTION: The Gift of RENEWAL



As I begin to write this reflection, it's late in the evening and I am feeling exhausted. My aging body has been achy all day, and my mind has been barraged by seemingly endless bad news. But I'm up against a deadline to get this reflection written and submitted, so here I am once again, powering through.


The astonishing contradiction of this moment is not lost on me! My habitual way of operating in the world is exactly what this month's congregational theme – The Gift of RENEWAL – suggests I need to reconsider. During June, the Soul Matters Sharing Circle asks us: "Are you sure it's your body that's tired, or could it be your soul?"


"You know that the antidote to exhaustion

is not necessarily rest? … 

The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness."

– David Whyte


In reading this month's Soul Matters Ministry Guide, I am particularly drawn to a quotation from Maria Popova, a Bulgarian-born, American-based essayist, book author, poet, and writer of literary and arts commentary and cultural criticism. Popova is the creator of an online blog called The Marginalian (www.themarginalian.org), which she describes as "a record of my reading and reckoning with our search for meaning … a one-woman labor of love animated by the ultimate question that binds us all: what is all this?"


Those who know me best recognize I am driven to be productive, and although productivity can be pleasurable, it can also be hugely tiring for body, mind, and spirit. "Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity," Popova suggests. "Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshiping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living."


When I visited Popova's blog site, she almost immediately called me into presence with a pop-up window that read: "Hey, I thought you could use a poem today." (Well yes, I sure could!) The poem excerpt she offered me was from "When I Am Among the Trees"


…and you too have come

into the world to do this,

to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.

– Mary Oliver


The question, of course, is how do we transform ourselves from lives filled with endless productivity – pushing to the limit, constantly confronting problems, living life at warp speed, running on a fast-moving treadmill – to lives filled with spirit? How do we renew ourselves, so that we too will be able to "never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often," just as Mary Oliver's trees suggest we do?


In this month's thematic Overview, Rev. Scott Tayler writes, "[W]e change our lives by changing our questions." Then the Ministry Guide goes on to offer a variety of Spiritual Exercises designed to help us explore what those changed questions might be for each of us.


One of those exercises suggests engaging in "sauntering" – taking a longer walk/stroll/hike than we usually do. Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit describes walking as "a state in which the mind, body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together…." How long a walk should you take, and what should that walk be like? Your saunter should fit your unique self, suggests Soul Matters – one that's "long enough to get you lost in the meandering, and present enough to your surroundings that presence becomes the one strolling by your side."


Yet another spiritual exercise this month suggests taking a "weird walk" – a different take on strolling. "[W]eird walkers go until they stumble on something weird," Soul Matters explains. "It's all about being renewed by playfulness and curiosity," something like a Scavenger Hunt for the soul. Option B of the Spiritual Exercises in this month's Ministry Guide provides several links to weird-walk guidance as well as video examples of weird walks others have taken. (For this exercise, you might want to take along your cell phone or camera so that you can record the "weirdness" you discover, then share it with others upon your return.)


When life gets scary or challenging, or even when it's routine and repetitive, we tend to ask ourselves, "How do I keep going?" Writer Lisa Olivera decided to compile a personal "How to Keep Going Manifesto", listing techniques she had previously used to keep going, so she could draw upon them when stuck in present circumstances. Option C of this month's Spiritual Exercises suggests we review Olivera's Manifesto, to see which of her techniques we resonate with. Better yet, each of us can create our own personal "Keep-Going Manifesto," a valuable tool we can call upon when times get tough. (And they will.)


All of the ideas in this month's thematic materials have one thing in common – taking time out from the hustle-and-bustle of day-to-day life to return to our true nature. With a collective deep breath, we can open ourselves up to being RE-NEWed, remembering we are ultimately human BEings, not human DOings. Only then can we be fully present to the guidance of the spirit.


Every day is a renewal,

every morning the daily miracle.

This joy you feel is life.

– Gertrude Stein



Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of RENEWAL?

Check out this month’s Soul Matters Overview,


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