So I’m in Chicago to “teach” my Digital/Spiritual Literacy class again. You may not remember the first time I taught it because it was right at the beginning of a year-long social media hiatus that I stumbled into a while back. Seems the break I took in December of 2011 stretched out for the entire year, almost. At any rate, I’m intending to do this year what I should’ve done last year: blog during the week of the intensive at Meadville Lombard. Who knows…this might get me back in the swing of things re: social media. If it does, I can tell you now that there will be a new emphasis and, most likely, a new blog. I’ll keep you posted (literally). For now, here’s a picture of Gino’s East as seen from my sixth floor room at the Wyndham Blake in Chicago (which is, by the way, becoming one of my favorite hotels). Gino’s East has a Four Square special: you get a free pint if you check in three times. I’ve already checked in once this week. What’re the odds I can make it two more times before Friday?


I haven’t blogged in a looooong time, but I’ve been taken by an idea and I wanted to explore just a little bit further. I tweeted about it a couple of times earlier this week, and got a few responses, which tells me that I may be on the right track (of course some people may think it’s the wrong track, but either way, it’s a track and people are responding to it). So here were the tweets:

Screen shot of a tweet about faith and vocation

Screen shot of a tweet about being a Unitarian Universalist Minister

Screen shot of a tweet about denominations and alumni associations

So here’s what I’m thinking: When a person of faith identifies first and foremost with their particular religious tradition, it’s like an college graduate identifying himself or herself primarily as an alumnus/a of their alma mater. While that may be an interesting fact (“Oh, you’re a Unitarian. Aren’t you the ones Garrison Keillor is always joking about?”), it really doesn’t tell anyone a whole lot about who you are as a person of faith, just as having an MBA from Harvard Business School doesn’t say a whole lot about how well you run a business (or a country, for that matter).


Seems like one of the most popular episodes of Ally McBeal was “Theme of Life,” the one where her therapist (played by Tracey Ullman) tells Ally that she you, self esteem, low self-esteem, Grandiosityneeds a theme song. I mean I never really watched the show, yet I knew about that episode. I mention it because the teaching story for this week’s small group ministry session on the spiritual practice of You (based on resources from gives the same advice. In the story, a woman tells the author that her father gave her a theme song when she was born. It’s a lovely idea, one that sounds a little classier coming from a book by a poet and philosopher rather than a television show. No matter where it comes from, the notion of having a theme that you live by makes sense. And if you can set that theme to music, all the better!

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Follow the grain in your own wood.
— Howard Thurman quoted in To Love and Be Loved by Sam Keen



A Teaching Story from Generous Strangers and Other Moments from My Life by John Skoyles

Poet and philosopher John Skoyles finds examples of the sacred in his everyday experiences — such as this encounter with a woman in a hospital:

At one point, she asked, “Do you have a theme song?”

“A theme song?” I asked.

“A song that followed you or that someone gave to you. Did you give your son a song when he was born?”

I hadn’t, but I told her that the radio was playing in the hospital room when Harry was born, and I recalled that as he was being delivered, Shirley Bassey was singing “Goldfinger” from the James Bond movie.

“When I was born,” she said, “my father said my theme song would be ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ Do you know that one?”

“Yes, that’s a good one.”

“It is,” she said, “but that’s just what I’ve gone and done.”

And I guess she had. I had never met anyone like her.

Questions: What is your theme song? How does it resonate with your soul?

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

O God, help me to believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is!
— Macrina Wiederkehr quoted in A Grateful Heart edited by M. J. Ryan

To Practice This Thought: Identify one beautiful truth about yourself.

Group Session Plan based on resources on You from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: You.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

In preparation for writing the introduction to the spiritual practice of Yearning, this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from, I decided to do a search for what appears to be a nonexistent word: the opposite of nostalgia. You see, if nostalgia is, as the longing, wish, desire, need, burning, urge, yen, pining, hunger, hungering, inclination, eagerness, hankeringdictionary says, “A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations,” then Yearning seems to me to be something that points in the other direction, a longing for some unknown future with those same personal associations with happiness. Anyway, there’s no word for that feeling, but I’ve experienced, as we all have. It’s a bittersweet feeling when we acknowledge that things could be better, but we’re not sure what it would take to make them that way. Or perhaps it’s more of a feeling that we have all we need to be happy, but we know that it will never last. I’m guessing that the religious concept of eternity grew out of the simultaneous sense of yearning for something more and never wanting to lose it. At any rate, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat suggest that the music of Bruce Springsteen often captures that Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska, My Father's Housesense of longing. When I read that, I was reminded of Springsteen’s album Nebraska, which I pretty much wore out with repeated listenings back in the early 80s. Not only for the lyrics and the stories they tell, but for the overall sound of the album—just Springsteen on the guitar punctuated with a mournful harmonica. One song in particular, however, really captures that sense of Yearning for me. If you can track down “My Father’s House,” it’s worth a listen.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Our longing is an echo of the divine longing for us. Our longing is the living imprint of divine desire.
— John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes



An Excerpt from Words of Common Sense for Mind, Body and Soul by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast salutes proverbs as cross-cultural wisdom that appeals to our common sense. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of yearning.

Jesus, if he came back today, might look bewildered at what has become of the movement that he started. Would he recognize it at all? Would he think it has much to do with the message he preached? I think he would feel more at home in a twelve-step meeting than in most churches, let alone in the Vatican. . . . Twelve-step programs rely on no other authority than common sense. Jesus would recognize his spirit alive and active today as soon as he walked into a twelve-step meeting. This should not surprise us, since the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were fervent Christians. And there is an even deeper connection between sobriety and common sense. Don’t we call people who use common sense ‘sober minded’? What then is the addiction that makes most of us, again and again, fall off the wagon of common sense? It must be an enormously strong addiction to draw so many into its spell.

What is it that attracts us with such power? For many years I was searching for an answer to this question. What is the desire that draws us away from common sense? Gradually, the answer dawned on me: It is our longing to belong. But does not this deep desire in the human heart aim precisely at that all-embracing communion from which common sense springs? Isn’t our homesickness a desire for the cosmic household of which common sense is the family spirit? Indeed it is. But we fail to go all the way. We settle too soon, settle for less, before we reach our true home.

Questions: Share a story about the ways in which your desire has expressed itself in a relationship, in a creative project, or at work.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Longing is a compass that guides us through life. We may never get what we really want, that’s true, but every step along the way will be determined by it.
— Joan D. Chittister in The Psalms: Meditations for Every Day of the Year

To Practice This Thought: In what directions are your yearnings pointing you?

Group Session Plan based on resources on Yearning from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Yearning.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

A few weeks ago I mentioned Barry Andrews’ article “The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalism” in a post about the role of spirituality in our tradition. That post (and Barry’s article) come to mind as I think about this week’s small group ministry session on X-The Mystery, based on resources from Why? Because the reading for this mystery, the divine, sky, Godsession is from the poet Mary Oliver (beloved by UUs everywhere, it seems). Oliver mentions something that reminded me a lot of a quote by Emerson in the “Roots” article. Emerson says that his “transcendental experience” (the one where he becomes a gigantic eyeball or something like that) gave rise to a “double consciousness”; that even though one lives mostly in the mundane world, a single experience with the divine, the Mysterious X, “will characterize the days.” Oliver says a similar sort of thing: that her “sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world” was a moment that she has “never forgotten, and upon which” she has “based many decisions in the years since.” Definitely sounds like it has characterized her days. At any rate, take a look at the complete passage from Mary Oliver. Perhaps you’ve had a similar sort of moment. If so, does it continue to affect your decisions? Does it characterize your days?

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
— Albert Einstein quoted in Holy Clues by Stephen Kendrick



An Excerpt from Long Life by Mary Oliver

This collection of prose and poetry by poet Mary Oliver offers what she calls “little alleluias” to nature, animals, soul, place and literature. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of mystery.

Once, years ago, I emerged from the woods in the early morning at the end of a walk and — it was the most casual of moments — as I stepped from under the trees into the mild, pouring-down sunlight I experienced a sudden impact, a seizure of happiness. It was not the drowning sort of happiness, rather the floating sort. I made no struggle toward it; it was given. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished. Any important difference between myself and all other things vanished. I knew that I belonged to the world, and felt comfortably my own containment in the totality. I did not feel that I understood any mystery, not at all; rather that I could be happy and feel blessed within the perplexity — the summer morning, its gentleness, the sense of the great work being done though the grass where I stood scarcely trembled. As I say, it was the most casual of moments, not mystical as the word is usually meant, for there was no vision, or anything extraordinary at all, but only a sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world: leaves, dust, thrushes and finches, men and women. And yet it was a moment I have never forgotten, and upon which I have based many decisions in the years since.

Questions: Reflect upon the things you just can’t explain in your daily life, especially ones that you are having difficulty leaving alone. Describe the mystery but don’t try to add an explanation.

Check-out/Likes and Wishes

Closing Words:

Accustom your tongue to say, I do not know.
— The Talmud

To Practice This Thought:
Take time to really see what is right in front of you.

Group Session Plan based on resources on X-The Mystery from

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: X-The Mystery.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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