Flower Communion — UUS:E Virtual Sunday Service, May 10, 2020

Gathering Music (begins at 9:50)

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude “The Way Knows” (Lyndsey Scott) (Sung by the Manchester Sacred Women’s Singing Circle)

Chalice Lighting and Opening Words “Like the First Hint of Green” (Jennifer McGlothin) (Spoken by Elliot Garcia)

Opening Song “Meditation on Breathing” (Sara Dan Jones)

When I breathe in, I’ll breath in peace;

When I breathe out, I’ll breathe out love.

Story “The Flower Ceremony, a Plain and Simple Beauty” (adapted from a story by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer in her book Lamp in Every Corner: Our UU Storybook) (Told by Gina Campellone)

Musical Meditation (Mary Bopp)

Joys and Concerns

Musical Meditation

 Offering

The National Domestic Workers Alliance has established a fund to support domestic workers across the country. As part of this effort, the Brazilian Workers Center’s Connecticut Worker Center, based in Bridgeport, is managing the CT portion of the fund called the “Connecticut Relief Fund for Vulnerable Workers and Families.”  For the first two Sundays in May, we will be taking our community outreach offering for this fund. For homecare workers, nannies, and house cleaners—the vast majority of whom are immigrant women of color—the impact of the coronavirus is especially severe. Many domestic workers already lack access to health insurance, paid time off, and long-term job security. Due to their exclusion from federal and many state labor statutes, they lack safety net protections that most workers take for granted. In the midst of the pandemic many domestic workers have lost employment, and many others are working but lack access to proper protective gear. The money we donate to the Brazilian Workers Center fund provides direct and immediate financial support to domestic workers throughout Connecticut who have been impacted negatively either by the shut-down order or by exposure to the coronavirus or both. Thank you for your generosity. 

Offering Music  “Give Yourself to Love” (Kate Wolf) (Sung by Nancy and Joe Madar)

Homily

Flower Communion (created by Joe Madar)

Closing Song “This Little Light of Mine” (African American spiritual) (Led by Nancy Madar)

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let shine.

Verse 2: I’ve got the light of love, I’m gonna let it shine…. 

Verse 3: I’ve got the light of courage, I’m gonna let it shine….

Verse 4: I’ve light of compassion, I’m gonna let it shine….

Verse 5: I’ve got the light of hope, I’m gonna let it shine….

Verse 6: Wherever I may go, I’m gonna let it shine….

 Final verse: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine….

Extinguishing the Chalice

 Closing Circle

 May faith in the spirit of life

And hope for the community of earth

And love of the light in each other

Be ours now, and for all the days the come.

 Coffee Hour / Chat

In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times — UUS:E Virtual Worship — April 26, 2020

You can watch UUS:E virtual Sunday Service from April 26, 2020 on YouTube here.

Read the text to Penny Field’s homily on compassion:

In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times         

I want to begin by sharing a personal story: Paul and I began sheltering in place on March 12. I had a lot of fear of getting the virus and having complications so I didn’t want to need to grocery shop for several months. I did a big grocery shop on the 11th and the house was well stocked but very soon after I noticed that I was thinking about food all of the time. I noticed how worried I felt about how I would keep getting fresh greens without going to the store or what we do if we ran out of this or that. Or what if the food supplies dried up? I could not stop thinking about food. I intellectually knew that we had plenty and I didn’t need to worry but some part of me was thinking about it constantly. And then I would feel a huge wave of shame about the fact that I have so much privilege, I have plenty of food, I have an extra freezer filled with great things and I’m still feeling this anxiety. What’s wrong with me?

I’ve been thinking a lot about compassion in these days of the coronavirus. What exactly is compassion and how can we all experience more of it? Compassion is a bit of a tricky word. It’s one that we think we understand the meaning of but often, when asked to define it’s hard to articulate what we understand compassion to be. Usually, people use words like “sympathy” or “empathy” or talk about the feeling of wanting to help those less fortunate. But I think it’s more than that.

Sympathy, and even empathy, place the person feeling that as separate from those receiving it. Aww I feel sorry for you!  Let me help you with that! Of course, wanting to help is never a bad thing but true compassion is something different. Something more. Kristen Neff, one of the first researchers in the field of self-compassion, has developed a definition that I think does a very good job capturing the true meaning of the word. She defines compassion as the ability to hold suffering with loving kindness

This sounds simple but it’s harder than you might think. To hold suffering with kindness we first have to really notice and acknowledge the suffering. Opening up to the awareness of someone else’s pain can feel quite uncomfortable. It’s why so many people walk by the homeless, the mentally ill, the panhandlers, and completely ignore them or have a judgement like: I’m not giving them money, they’ll just buy drugs. To be mindful of the suffering is to really see the human being and to acknowledge their pain: That must be so hard! Something terrible must have happened to that person that they are in this situation now. Truly being mindful of suffering can be very challenging.

And for some of us, we may be able to be present with other people’s suffering and even able to offer help but can’t seem muster much compassion for ourselves and don’t even think to try. How many of us are harshly critical of our own pain and have trouble being kind to ourselves? We might confuse self-compassion with feeling sorry for ourselves or we have a loud inner critic that thinks we can somehow “should” ourselves into better behavior. There I was in my anxiety about if there would be enough food for me during this pandemic and what did I say to myself? I said, “What’s wrong with me?” instead of “Wow. This feels really scary and it’s hard to be this afraid.”

To hold suffering, others’ or your own, with kindness not only requires really noticing the pain but it also calls us to pay attention to how we all suffer and how your suffering is or easily could be mine. This is our opportunity to reach for connection inside of the suffering. The Latin root for the word compassion is PATI, which means to suffer, and the pre-fix COM means with. COMPATI literally means to suffer with. Compassion brings people together in the suffering.

This, too, can be really hard. It’s so human to want to be separate from others’ suffering. It feels safer to think: That could never happen to me or If so and so would just stop doing that they wouldn’t be in that trouble. It’s a survival instinct to protect me and mine from perceived danger and often, other people’s suffering is perceived as a danger so we don’t habitually look for how that trouble could so easily also be ours. But if we can notice suffering and look for how we know that pain too, or how it’s so human to suffer in that way, then we are reaching for the invisible string that ties us all together.  We are choosing love as our religion.

This truth that we are all connected, what UUs name as the interconnected web of life; that we all suffer in strikingly similar ways, has never been so apparent as now, during this global pandemic. We are suffering the shared trauma of a completely unknown future. So many of the feelings associated with this time are shared by everyone, even if the actual day to day realities are radically different.

If you are someone who has a home and is able to shelter in place that does not mean you don’t have fear about the future. If you are able to work from home, that does not mean you don’t have fear of financial insecurity. If you are sheltering with family or friends, that does not mean you are not lonely or missing connecting in person with people. If you are fortunate enough to have a well-stocked pantry, that does not mean you don’t suffer from food insecurity.

And if you have feelings of guilt about your privilege you are not alone. It’s human and so many of us share those feelings and we can begin to practice compassion for ourselves. Can we notice our fears, our grief, our anger and can we acknowledge how human those feelings are? Can we then hold those feelings with an attitude of kindness as opposed to guilt or self-criticism?

Because I have a regular compassion practice, eventually I was able to make space for and truly notice and sit with my anxiety about having enough food. When I did that, I realized that my fear was deeply connected to childhood and ancestral issues. My mother was a depression baby and she raised me with all kinds of deprivations around food. Everything I wanted to eat was either too expensive or too fattening. This had a huge impact on my relationship with food and so the ability to be generous with food and have access to a wide array of delicious things for myself and to share with others became a big part of my identity. Of course I would have fears around food access.

And as I sat with that, I remembered that my mother’s mother escaped the pogroms to travel alone to the US, and that her mother lived in poverty in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe. I began to understand that as a Jew, there was likely true food insecurity back to times of my earliest ancestors. That recognition allowed me to release the shame about my own fears and opened the door to a deep feeling of connection to all of the people who are suffering from actual food insecurity during this time of the pandemic. From a place of true compassion for myself and others, I could make donations to several local food banks and participate in a local initiative to bring food to the homeless. I could hold the suffering with kindness and feel my common humanity.

Whatever you are experiencing during this time, I wish for you the ability to practice true compassion for yourself and others. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are struggling with, it’s human and we all have those feelings. If we can be mindful, pay attention to pain, to fear, to grief, to boredom, and remember our common humanity, we can truly feel that invisible string that connects us all and with kindness we can, be gentle with ourselves and from that place, reach out to those in need as if they were our own loved ones. As the Brandy Carlile song says:

we can be each other’s wheels and road

for each other’s heavy load,

see us through thick and thin,

for love and loss until the end.

Amen and blessed be

 

 

In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times, UUS:E Virtual Sunday Service, April 26, 2020

Gathering Music (Begins at 9:50)

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude “Carried Me With You” (Brandi Carlile) (performed by Jenn Richard)

Chalice Lighting and Opening Words (Gina Campellone) (Spoken by Maverick Schlechtweg)

We light our chalice this morning

in celebration of community and connection.

In community we find the people

who sit with us when we are lonely,

hold our hands when we are sad,

care for us when we are sick,

laugh with us when we are silly,

and help us find our way home when we get lost.

In community we find the gift of connection,

each of our hearts connected by an invisible string,

so that no matter where we are,

we are never truly apart.

Opening Hymn “Circle ‘Round for Freedom”(Linda Hirschhorn)

Circle ‘round for freedom, circle ‘round for peace,
for all of us imprisoned, circle for release,
circle for the planet, circle for each soul,
for the children of our children, keep the circle whole.

(Repeat)

Time With Gina  The Invisible String (Written by Patrice Karst, Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson)

Musical Meditation

Joys and Concerns

Musical Meditation

Offering

Again this morning we are taking our community outreach offering for the CT Alliance to End Sexual Violence. UUS:E member and Alliance board member Lisa Sementilli says: April is sexual assault awareness month, and there is, unfortunately, no moratorium on sexual violence during a pandemic. All of the Alliance’s support centers are open, and their hotlines are operating 24/7 to provide counseling, advocacy and support to victims and survivors.  However, the Alliance and its member centers are incurring costs associated with the unprecedented need for technology to support survivors  by phone and video during the crisis.  As a board member, I am also very concerned about our state and nation’s uncertain financial future and what that might mean for services moving forward.  The vast majority of the Alliance and its member center’s financial support comes from state and federal grants.  UUSE’s support is critical because it not only helps to fill new gaps created by the pandemic, but provides us with unrestricted dollars that we can use with flexibility to support victims however they need support, and to build the capacity to face potential funding crises. Thank you.

Offering Music “Love is My Religion” (Ziggy Marley) (Performed by Jenn Richard)

Homily “In Search of Compassion in Challenging Times” (Penny Field)

Closing Hymn “Come Wash Your Hands With Me” (from a UU Humor website, adapted from Carolyn McDade, middle verse by Pat Eaton-Robb)

Come wash your hands with me

Come wash your hands with me

Come wash your hands with me,

So we can know peace of mind.

And I’ll bring you soap,

When soap is hard to find,

And I’ll wash my hands with you

So we can help humankind.

 

Come wear a mask with me

Come wear a mask with me

Come war a mask with me

So we can have peace of mind.

Just sew one out of cloth

Or a scarf will do just fine

Just cover both your nose and mouth

To avoid the end of time. 

 

Please stay away from me

please stay away from me

please stay away from me

So we can know peace of mind…

And I will stay at home, for the allotted time.

And I will be at church this week, if the service is held online.

 

Extinguishing the Chalice

Closing Circle

Coffee Hour / Chat

For the Earth Forever Turning — UUS:E Virtual Earth Day Service

Click here to watch the video of UUS:E’s April 19th Earth Day Service.

We Can Make Face Masks #3

Hartford Hospital staff-person, Melissa Tranberg, writes:

On behalf of Carol Garlick, Vice President, Philanthropy and all of us at Hartford Hospital, I would like to extend warm thanks for your thoughtful gift of gloves, wipes, dressing trays, and homemade masks. As our staff battles the COVID-19 outbreak, your gift will help them care not only for the safety of our patients and our caregivers, but of the greater community. We could not be more grateful.

Stay safe and be well,

Melissa

For all of you who are sewing face masks, here are some tutorials you may not have seen yet….

Best way to make bias ties for mask…no tools needed.

How to make adjustable ear straps if you don’t have elastic… (You can use t-shirts, paracord, etc.)

As always, if you are making face masks and you’d like to donate them to Hartford Hospital, please know you can drop them during the week in the bin outside the entrance to the UUS:E office.  They will be picked up at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons. Furthermore, if you yourself are in need of a homemade face mask, some of the UUS:E sewers are willing to send one or two to you. Contact Rev. Josh at his home office (listed in the UUS:E Directory) and we can get a face mask to you!

 

More Covid-19 — More Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

 06      Q: Why is the 6-foot social distance rule so hard to apply?

A:       We are creatures of habit.  Our environment is organized allowing us to habitually be close to others.  Unless you constantly think about it, this environment will make it difficult to walk and stand among others at a distance.  Some examples include:

  • Most sidewalks are narrow encouraging people to walk side-by side.
  • Store aisles do not allow people to pass with distance between.
  • Floors at checkout counters have restricted space.
  • People standing in line 6 feet apart to enter a building will have others cutting in front of them.

The only answer is to constantly assess each situation and manage risk by standing aside, waiting, or finding other routes to prevent crowding.  Governor Lamont recently stated guidelines for all retail stores to address some of these usual problems of spacing.  Even then, you may discover new problems when shopping.  Thinking about them early will prepare you to react appropriately instead of habitually.  By creating one-way traffic up and down store aisles, passing carts coming the other way can be eliminated.  But we all have found someone ahead blocking the aisle while carefully selecting an item – and we quickly and closely pass by.  Are we now willing to pause and wait?  If we ourselves want to stop to find the right product and people are behind us, are we willing to walk ahead to come back up the aisle so others won’t have to pass us?  If lines are painted on the floor 6 feet apart, how will you react when you find several people ahead of you standing in the one space between lines?  Will you just ignore them and line up behind them anyway?  Or, in case they were unaware of this spacing requirement, would you speak pleasantly to them as a reminder?  Another new recommendation is for stores to limit the number of shoppers to 50% of a store’s total capacity.  Many stores have elected to limit the number to much less – say 30% of even 20% of the usual traffic.  Once inside, if you feel really crowded, would you leave and shop elsewhere?  If you waited outside to get in, would it be harder for you to leave immediately to find a less crowded store?

There is no “right answer.”  But thinking it through, we all can make safer judgements to stop acting out old habits.

07      Q: We hear there are different Covid-19 tests available (or not available!).  Why is this?

A: To effectively manage this pandemic, two different sets of information are required.  These are the presence of live virus in a person, and a later determination that the person has recovered from the disease.

Diagnostic: the “COVID-19 RT-PCR” was the first test we were told about.  This determines if the patient is infected and contagious. A mucous sample is swabbed and taken to a laboratory.  In a series of steps, this sample is tested for the presence of the genetic template that causes the virus to replicate itself inside cells of the infected person.  A genetic map is created of any ribonuclear molecules present.  This map is then compared to the genetic map of a known coronavirus-19 sample.  A positive result shows the person was infected and had live virus cells at the time the sample was taken.  If negative, it does not indicate their future status if they later become infected.  This test in the laboratory takes several hours.  A large batch of samples can be combined, but even then, there’s a long delay to learn of a positive result.

On March 27, 2020, the Food and Drug administration issued an “Emergency Use Authorization” to Abbott Laboratories for trial use limited to hospitals and laboratories of its rapid testing kit, “ID NOW.”.  This test also amplifies the nucleic acid in samples taken, and analyzes if it is specific to the coronavirus-9 pathogen.  But this is done in a small portable unit located at the testing site.  A full laboratory is not required.  Positive results are available in 5 minutes; negative results take longer, up to 13 minutes.  This test is not yet approved, and requires FDA evaluation before it can have widespread public application.

Diagnostic testing is most useful to identify anyone with COVI-19 requiring isolation from those not infected with coronavirus-19.  (Note: the term COVID-19 names the disease caused by the coronavirus-19 virus.)  When tests are not available, all admissions have to be considered highly infectious.  This results in stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) being rapidly depleted.

Diagnostic testing is also required for wide-spread public testing to identify those not showing symptoms but may be shedding virus leading to their being quarantined.

Testing for antigens: The other test is to take a blood sample and test the serum for the antibodies that show the person had previously been infected with coronavirus-19.  This is not used as a diagnostic tool as many tested positive would already have recovered.  This test helps to more accurately identify the population of previously infected patients.  Public health officials can than more accurately map the geographic locations of the epidemic to predict future outbreaks of the disease.  Because of the apparent immunity in those who have recovered from (or “resolved”) their disease, this test would be necessary to identify individuals who might be able to return to work early.

08      Q: It’s so confusing!  First, they tell us not wear facemasks in public unless we are sick.  Now we hear that if we do wear facemasks, it might be helpful?  Why is this?

A: We have all learned that surgical face masks, and the specialized N95 masks protect the wearer from having virus particles reach their nose and mouth. Early on, fearing hoarding by the public, CDC recommended that medical facemasks not be worn by healthy people.

Evidence has increased that infected people “shed” infectious virus particles before they show symptoms.  If these asymptomatic people were wearing a cloth covering over their mouths and noses, the resulting aerosol of infectious spray will be disbursed over shorter distances.  Considerations include:

  • Face coverings do not need to be sterile. Do not use medical facemasks designed for use by healthcare workers!  These are in critical shortage.  You can make your own fabric face covering.
  • Use of face coverings do not substitute for social distancing and washing hands. They only provide the same protection as when among infected people with symptoms who are wearing a face cloth.
  • One advantage is that reaching up to touch the face as a habitual action will touch the cloth, reminding them of this habit without actually touching their mouth or nose.
  • Another advantage is that others may initially assume you are infected and move away making it easier to maintain the 6-foot separation.
  • What do you do if you see someone not wearing a cloth face covering? If they don’t understand its purpose, would you pleasantly remind them they should wear one for your (not their) protection?  Would you speak to someone else nearby wearing one stating your appreciation for protecting others?  This new guideline is hard to reinforce when some of our political leaders have openly stated this is only a recommendation – that they will not personally use a face cloth.  Group reinforcement may help this recommendation become universal.

09      Q: Why do some grocery stores open early and limit shoppers to only those over age 60?

A:  This idea was originated by grocery stores as an idea to encourage older people to feel safe shopping for food.  Many (but not all) stores offer access to stores after the areas have been disinfected overnight.  Also, these early shoppers would avoid being surrounded by a larger group of shoppers of all ages – including children.

There are several issues emerging indicating this might not be such a good idea.

First is the notion that not all stores are following the same procedures.  Most stores may disinfect their shopping cart handles, but some may not.  Other options not universally followed by grocers would be spray disinfecting the aisles, and wiping all counters, open shelving and checkout areas.  Fewer stores will actually disinfect the separate cans, jars and packaged goods on the shelves.

Another concern is the assumption that none of the older shoppers are not infected and shedding virus without showing any symptoms.   This might not be true!  The greater the numbers of older individuals coming in to shop, the denser that group will become.  This places the greater number of people who are at risk of complications in one confined place.

Perhaps the better advice would be simply to let others do the shopping for you.

10      Q: Family members are used to closely sharing space as a group.  How and when should social distancing and continuous hand washing be carried out at home?

A: When living as a family unit, people are used to sharing space, hugging each other, and doing many other activities that place each comfortably in close contact.  It is important to understand that the coronavirus-19 particles do not act differently among families than in the population.  Whenever a member of a family goes out of the house to shop, to work, or do any other activity, the virus will behave the same as if they were a total stranger out there.

For the family member going outside, be rigid in following the standard guidelines.  Keep at least 6 feet away from others.  Whenever possible, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.  You are not just protecting yourself, but your whole family.  Consider using a cloth face covering and encourage others to do the same to avoid infection from anyone without symptoms.  In an office or other locations where possible, disinfect surfaces (door handles, tables, chairs, computer keyboards, phones, etc.) before touching them.  After leaving, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.  On returning home, leave outside any packages or shopping bags containing items purchased.  These can be sanitized before being separately brought in.  Once inside, again wash hands or use hand sanitizer, then disinfect all door knobs and surfaces you touched coming in.  Consider washing clothes if you were unable to follow the social-distancing guidelines.

For all family members at home: be patient!  Encourage and support each other to follow the coronavirus-19 guidelines.  Consider the person who is returning from outside as possibly infected.  Washing hands, using hand sanitizer and disinfecting surfaces should not be ignored.  “Old habits are hard to break!”

“Hope Is….” — UUS:E Virtual Sunday Service, Easter, April 12, 2020

Friends:

The UUS:E virtual Easter Service, “Hope Is….” can be viewed at here.

Here is the text to Rev. Pawelek’s Easter homily, “Tending to Bodies.”

It is Easter morning. As the story goes, it is now the third day since Jesus has been crucified, his body stashed in a nearby tomb hewn into the rock.

In the New Testament book of Mark we read: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

These are ancient words, written most likely in the fourth or fifth decade after Jesus’ death. Every year, as I read these words at Easter time, I listen carefully for what they might be saying to us across the millennia. What I notice this morning is that the three women who go to the tomb aren’t looking for a resurrected Jesus. They aren’t hoping beyond hope that somehow he has risen from the dead. No. They are going to the tomb to anoint his body with spices. In the wake of a terrible death—a state-sponsored execution—in the midst of what for them could be nothing less than an unbearable trauma—they are doing something simple, something ritualistic, something cultural, something people in their world normally do when a loved-one dies, something profoundly human: they are going to the tomb to anoint his body with spices. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing heroic. Nothing dramatic. They are tending to their beloved’s body.

As they approach the tomb, wondering who can help them roll away the stone, they find that the stone has already been rolled away; Jesus’ body is gone; a young man in a white robe who is not Jesus—we never learn who he is—tells them Jesus has been raised. Resurrection! New Life! A spring-inspired word! Hope beyond hope!

Next year I might read these words differently, and differently still the year after that. But this year, this Easter, coming in the midst of this coronavirus time, this quarantine time, this lockdown time; coming in the midst of this unnerving, anxiety-producing, sleep-denying, utterly frightening global pandemic, the ancient gospel writer tells us, tend to the body! Tending to the body is a critical prelude to “he has been raised.”

Tend to the body.

Tend to your own body – give it what it needs. Tend to the bodies of your loved-ones—whether they are halfway across the room from you, or halfway across the country from you. Keep social distance, yes, but tend to the bodies of your neighbors. Tend to the bodies of the most vulnerable, those who cannot leave their homes, those who have no home, those who are at high risk if they contract the virus. Keep social distance, yes, but end to the bodies of those who have lost work, or who don’t have enough food and other supplies, or who must work in dangerous situations without sufficient protective gear. Tend to this church body as you are able. Tend to the body of the larger community as you are able. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing heroic. Nothing dramatic. Simply tend to bodies however you can. That is all Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome intended to do in the midst of their trauma. That is what we need to do in this moment. In fact, it may very well be all we can do.

And perhaps an unexpected, awesome and, as the writer says, terrifying revelation is waiting for us too. Some version of “He has been raised!” Life again! A spring-inspired word! Hallelujah!

When we carefully and intentionally tend to bodies at a moment such as this, I believe we touch the spirit at the heart of Easter. We help ourselves and others who have fallen into fear and despair regain grounding. We help ourselves and others who have lost faith in the goodness of humanity know and trust that there is still decency in the world. We help ourselves and others know that we care for one another, that our connections are strong, that it’s OK to ask for help, that we will not abandon anyone if it is in our power to help. For me, this year, this morning, tending to bodies is the message of Easter. That’s how we help bring ourselves and others out of our tombs. That’s how we and others proclaim resurrection! Life again! Life anew!

Tending to the body. That’s what brings hope in a moment such as this!

There are some pictures on our website—some of you may have seen them in the eblast yesterday—of Hartford Hospital workers wearing face masks that UUS:E members made in their homes. The workers gave us permission to share the pictures. The people who made the masks were tending to the workers’ bodies even though they didn’t know for sure who would ultimately wear the masks. The person who delivered the masks to the workers was tending to their bodies. The workers who wore the masks were tending to their own bodies, which in turn enables them tend to the bodies of patients in the hospital.

Those of you who are helping out with food drops are tending to bodies. Those of you who have indicated you are willing to help are tending to bodies. Those of you who are keeping touch with members and friends of our congregation are tending to bodies. Those of you who are sending cards to those who have lost loved-ones to Covid-19—you are tending to bodies. Those of you who have donated to MACC and Hartford Deportation Defense—you are tending to bodies. Every time we do these simple, human things—these unheroic, unexceptional, undramatic things—we tap into the spirit at the heart of Easter. We speak a spring-inspired word. We say “Yes” to life. We say “Life Again!” We say “Life Anew!” Like the three women at the tomb, we may be awe-struck in this moment. Like the three women at the tomb, we may be terrified in this moment. But like the three women at the tomb, in these very simple actions we also find hope when we least expect it.

My message to you this Easter morning: Be like the women at the tomb. Tend to bodies. That is what we must do now. That is our path out of our own tombs. That is our path to new life. That is our path to hope.

Amen and blessed be.

Covid-19 — More Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

01      Q: How can I protect myself if someone else gets groceries for me?

A: When you or others bring groceries to your home, leave them outside until you are ready to safely disinfect the items.  Remove each product from shopping bags and using a standard disinfectant, wipe or spray the outer surfaces of each plastic, metal or glass product container, leaving the surface appearing “wet” for at least 10 seconds.  Place on a clean disinfected surface.   Pour or dump items such as bread, cereal and crackers in properly cleaned storage containers, safely placing the wrappers and coverings aside.  Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  Valuable suggestions and methods to carry out these important procedures are discussed and demonstrated in this 13-minute video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=sjDuwc9KBps&feature=emb_logJPhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=sjDuwc9KBps&feature=emb_logo

 02      Q: I sent my family and friends the 13-minute video on safely unpacking groceries.  My son tells me not to do this – it has been debunked.  He sent me back an Internet article saying the CDC does not recommend sanitizing groceries nor does the World Health Organization.  The FDA stated there is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus.  Is this true?

A: It is true that neither the CDC nor the WHO specify groceries in its recommendations for sanitizing.  But that doesn’t mean they recommend not doing it!  They also haven’t specified sanitizing automobile steering wheels, computer keyboards, and tray tables.  But all of these are covered under the broad guideline defining the need to disinfect “surfaces.”  It is also true that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not reported any studies of virus contamination of food.  But the absence of such studies doesn’t prove that food can’t be contaminated.

Following these conclusions that protective actions are not necessary can be quite dangerous.  Consider the following.  A cereal package was handled by a stocking clerk loading store shelves while coughing.  If we believe the scientific fact that this virus remains viable – can infect others – on cardboard for up to 24 hours, why would anyone assume that handling that carton a few hours later at home was safe?  Until proven otherwise, we have to assume that all surfaces can be contaminated by coronavirus-19.

03  Q: How long does coronavirus-19 remain infectious on different surfaces?

A: Many early reports answered this question with widely differing time intervals.  To clarify this scientifically, the National Institute of Health in March 2020 published the definitive answer:

  • “In aerosols for up to 3 hours”; (this refers to airborne particles)
  • “On copper for up to 4 hours”;
  • “On cardboard for up to 24 hours”;
  • “On plastic and stainless steel for up to up to 3 days.”
    • Per previous guidance – all “hard surfaces” are in this above group.)
  • In a related earlier study, similar coronavirus particles remained infectious for 2 years or more when frozen.

These data guides us in how best to schedule disinfecting surfaces.

04  Q: If you send out for prepared meals, should we worry that the delivered food may be contaminated with coronavirus-19 particles?

          A: The safest prepared food to order from others is likely cooked and “served hot” meals.  Have these delivered and left outside with no personal contact.  Remove cardboard or paper containers placing the meals on clean dishes and bring inside.  Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.  Using a microwave, reheat the food until steam is visible.  Heat destroys virus particles.  Cold meals including salads cannot be microwaved, washed with soap and water, or have disinfectant chemicals put on them.  Existing research doesn’t yet provide a definitive answer, but indications are the risk is probably quite low.

05  Q: How did authorities come up with 6 feet as the distance for “social- separation?”

A: We are asked to follow many guidelines, but are given minimal information why these rules were developed.  One leading way infection occurs is by hand contact with the virus on surfaces, then touching the face.  The other common way of transmission is direct contact with the virus suspended in the air.  There is a greater risk of infection when the virus particles are in greater concentration.  We hear that an infected person releases the virus when they exhale the virus “droplets” that come in contact with a healthy person’s mouth or nose.  The term “droplets” can be misleading – it implies visible specks of water that quickly drop to the ground.  A more accurate term is often used: “aerosol” transmission.  Breathe on a mirror, and the invisible aerosol mist appears as a visible patch of condensed moisture.

When anyone infected coughs or sneezes, a denser aerosol spray of microscopic virus particles is discharged over greater distance than when breathing normally.  They float in the air, and drift away becoming increasingly less concentrated over time and distance.  Consider this “thought experiment” (you don’t need to actually do this while shopping!)  Using a spray can of room air freshener, point it away from you and release a short split-second puff of spray.  Imaging walking forward and note how long you can go before you can’t smell the resulting spray.  Next, imagine spraying another short puff into your bent elbow.  Note how closer to you the scent remains – how aerosol particles are more confined in their density and spread.   Imagine that the distance you can smell the aerosol odor as the same distance that coronavirus-19 particles are spread in concentrations that enable them to infect you.

Many situations influence the concentration and spread of this aerosol.  Outdoors, especially when there is a breeze, these distances are nearer the source.  In a living room with the windows closed, they concentration may be farther away.  Rather than asking us to remember and calculate for each situation we may be in, authorities have agreed upon the distance of 6 feet separation as being uniformly safe for different situations.

 

 

The Invitation is Always There

Rev. Josh Pawelek

“If you keep thinking, you miss the flower,”[1] says Buddhist monk and global peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. “If you keep thinking, you miss the flower.” This is the meaning he derives from the story of the Buddha’s disciple, Mahakashyapa, a foundational story—an origin story—for Zen Buddhism. We shared Thich Nhat Hanh’s version of the story earlier in the service. Unitarian Universalist minister and Soto Zen priest, James Ishmael Ford tells it this way:

A large gathering … came to hear a talk by the Buddha. Instead of speaking about enlightenment he simply held up a flower, twirling it slowly in his fingers. Of the whole assembly only one person understood—the Venerable Mahakashyapa. He smiled. Seeing the smile, the Buddha declared, “I have the all-pervading True Dharma, incomparable Nirvana, exquisite teaching of formless form. It does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside scriptures. I now hand it to Mahakashyapa.”[2] According to tradition, the founder of Zen Buddhism, the semi-mythical Bodhidharma, an Indian Buddhist who travelled to China in the sixth century, was the 28th successor to the Buddha through the lineage of Mahakashyapa.

In addition to being an origin story for Zen Buddhism, this story is also a koan, meaning it is itself an object of meditation. Like any koan, its meaning is not immediately, or perhaps ever, apparent to the rational, thinking mind. In response to any koan, one intuits their way to understanding more than thinks their way to understanding. “If you keep thinking, you miss the flower.” As I encounter Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of this koan, I recognize that, though I think I understand what his words mean, I would be foolish to think I understand what they mean to someone like Thich Nhat Hanh who’d been meditating for over fifty years at the time he wrote them. Furthermore, though I think I understand what his words mean, and though I think I can talk about them in a sermon, the truth is I’m still thinking about them. I’m still thinking about words that advise me to stop thinking. I’m still thinking and writing about words that assure me the all-pervading truth “does not rely on letters and is transmitted outside of scriptures.”

As simple as Thich Nhat Hanh makes it sound, I have to assume I am still missing something. And what I am missing is not a thought—I have plenty of those. What I am missing is not a set of words—I have plenty of those. What I’m missing is an intuitive experience. The experience of being fully present. Do I know what that means? I like to think so … but, there I go again, thinking. Do any of us really know what being fully present means? Had I gone to hear the Buddha speak on that day, had I witnessed him twirling that flower in his fingers and saying nothing for minutes on end, would I have had the wisdom and the skill to quiet my thinking mind, which likely, and very understandably, would have been asking questions like, ‘What does this mean?’ ‘What is the significance of the flower?’ ‘Why twirl the flower in his fingers?’ ‘What kind of flower is it?’ ‘What is Mahakashyapa smiling about?’ Would I have had the wisdom and the skill to quiet my thinking, questioning, analytical, concept-forming mind and let myself fully experience the present moment, fully experience the flower in the Buddha’s fingers? Would I have smiled?

Maybe. I don’t want to rule it out entirely….

But doubtful.

Our ministry theme for November is attention. Although every religious tradition calls on its adherents to pay attention in some way, to pray, to contemplate, to study scripture, to go on pilgrimage, to worship, to “wake now my senses,” as one of our UU hymns says,[3] in my experience no tradition speaks more beautifully or extensively about paying attention than Buddhism. I remind us that our Unitarian Universalist living tradition draws from many sources, including “wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.” That’s where I am grounding myself this morning. I’m wondering about paying attention for the purpose of being fully present, and I’m turning to Buddhism for guidance.

How often are we fully present—present to any particular moment, like this moment; present to a person, a loved-one, a child, a neighbor, a stranger; present to an activity, washing dishes, drinking tea, raking leaves; present to suffering, physical or emotional pain, abuse, discrimination; present to nature, the changing seasons, the night sky, the barren November fields. Paying attention for the purpose of being fully present is hard. When I say that, I don’t mean it’s hard because of the many ways technology now intrudes into our lives, the rise of social media, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. And I’m not saying it’s hard because of the troubling, frightening re-emergence of hatreds in our era that so many of us thought were in decline, or because of the troubling, frightening acceleration of climate change in our era. Yes we live in an age of extraordinary distraction, but that’s not why paying attention for the purpose of being fully present is hard. It has always been hard. Many people came to hear the Buddha speak. Apparently only one of them was fully present. It isn’t a question of what’s going on in the world around us. There is something in our very human nature—in the structure of our bodies, our wiring, our brain chemistry, our neural pathways, our senses—something in the way all of it works together—that makes paying attention for the purpose of being fully present hard no matter what is happening in the wider world.

Buddhists speak of the monkey mind—the way the mind very naturally jumps from one thing to another. Monkey mind is not a condition that some people have and others don’t. As far as I can tell, it’s the normal condition of most human brains. The new issue of the UU World magazine, which arrived last week, features an article by the Rev. Erika Hewitt and religious educator Becky Brooks called “Allowing Meditation to Be Messy.” They write “Chaos is an apt term for what happens between our ears during the practice of meditation. That’s because it’s the mind’s natural state to be whirring, planning, and chattering.” They cite the Rev. Eric Walker Wikstrom, who “describes meditation mantras as ‘giving the tiger a certain amount of meat to keep it quiet,’ suggesting that without that distraction, the mind is like a roving, predatory beast.” They proclaim, “Hear us now, fellow monkey minds: the presence (the loud, active presence) of inner voices, noise, and whirl during meditation does not mean you’re doing it ‘wrong.’ It means you’re human.”[4]

I find this very affirming. I hope you do too. My mind often races around, jumps up and down. Does yours? I notice that even when I’m focused on some task like mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, raking leaves, chopping wood, shoveling snow, or when I’m exercising, despite my focus on the activity, my mind is always monkeying: What’s next on my schedule? What’s happening tonight? What do I have to do to prepare for this meeting, or that class, or next week’s sermon? What time is Max’s basketball game? Where is it? Who’s cooking dinner? Oh, wait—I’m not home for dinner. What are the boys going to eat? Who am I forgetting? X is going into the hospital. Y is coming home from the hospital. Has Mason written the final draft of his college essay? If I don’t do anything about it, the thoughts just keep coming. My body is going through the motions of the task; I have no problem performing the task; but my mind is somewhere else. I’m not fully present.

That’s what monkey mind looks like for me when I’m engaged in a task. What’s fascinating to me is how it works when I’m purposefully not doing anything, when I’m actually attempting to meditate, to quiet my mind, to not think of anything at all,[5] to not miss the flower. Then the monkey really takes off. It’s as if true quiet, true emptiness, true presence free of all thought is frightening to the part of me that thinks. The part of me that thinks really doesn’t want to be extinguished. It resists. Don’t stop thinking!

I figured out many years ago I am not on the path to enlightenment. That is, I don’t feel a compelling personal spiritual call to engage in a dedicated, regular meditation practice. Though, having said that, I want to be clear that I recognize the importance such practices hold for many Unitarian Universalists; and I celebrate the spiritual richness Buddhists and those with an affinity for Buddhism bring to our congregations. I may not be on the path to enlightenment, but  being present—as fully present as possible—is important to me, especially in relation to other people. If my mind is monkeying while I’m washing the dishes, that’s my loss, but no harm done. If my mind is monkeying when a family member, or one of you, or a colleague is talking to me, that’s a problem. And though I may never know what it means to be fully present in a state of deep meditation, nevertheless, I can strive for presence in my day-to-day life. Buddhism can inform that striving. And what I learn from Buddhism is that the invitation to be present is always with us in any given moment. It’s an invitation worth accepting.  We accept the invitation by learning first to notice when and how, and maybe why, the mind starts monkeying; and second, learning to gently pull the mind back to the task at hand, to the attempted quiet, to the relationship, the conversation, the present moment. Our capacity to be present to the world begins with being present to ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh invites this presence to self through breathing. In those moments when the mind is monkeying, interrupt it with conscious breathing. He says “our breathing is the link between our body and our mind. Sometimes our mind is thinking of one thing … our body is doing another … mind and body are not unified. By concentrating on our breathing, ‘In’ and ‘Out,’ we bring body and mind back together, and become whole again. Conscious breathing is an important bridge.” He offers this mantra: Breathing in, I calm my body. / Breathing out I smile. / Dwelling in the present moment, / I know this is a wonderful moment![6] Breathing will carry us toward presence, but the mind will monkey again. Remember, that’s the norm. Being present requires a continual interruption of the norm. Conscious breathing is one way to interrupt, to bring mind and body together, to come back to the moment.

It’s not a forceful interruption. It’s not bellicose. It’s not judgmental. It’s a gentle and compassionate interruption. The writer Anne Lamott offers a wonderful image. She says, “Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence.”[7] The invitation to be present is always there.

In their recent UU World article, Hewitt and Brooks say something similar: “When (not if!) we get distracted … the heart of meditation is to notice your distraction—your departure—and make the decision to try again. The practice isn’t the doing; it’s the return, the reentry.”[8] Our mind will monkey. The invitation to unite body and mind is always there. The invitation to quiet the mind is always there. The invitation to stop thinking and behold the flower is always there. The invitation to offer that heart-felt, genuine smile is always there. The invitation to move back toward presence is always there.

There’s nothing doctrinal or dogmatic about this. There’s nothing here about right or wrong. We won’t be punished for having stray thoughts. The mind will monkey. That’s normal. The invitation is always there to gently pull it back to presence. I find great comfort in this ongoing—dare I say eternal—invitation.

Why accept the invitation? Why does being present to ourselves matter? In short, it’s a gesture of kindness to ourselves, and as far as I’m concerned, each of us deserves kindness. But beyond that, I think it’s also true that as we develop the capacity for being kind to ourselves, we develop the capacity to return kindness into the world. I like the way Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg puts it in a recent blog post. She writes, “the practice of shepherding our attention back to the present—even an incalculable number of times—helps us find the power to be kind to ourselves…. [When] we react to our compulsions with compassion … we open up, and feel a subtle movement of our hearts. This movement of the heart is like the sea moving close to the ocean floor — it is so subtle, but affects everything above.”[9] It effects everything above. In short, kindness to self begets kindness to others.

Is that really true? Maybe it’s just wishful thinking. I suppose it will always be wishful thinking if we keep confining it to the realm of thought. But if we keep thinking we miss the flower. The point is to accept the invitation, to make that gesture of kindness to ourselves, to strive for presence. Will that enable us to bring more kindness into the world? The invitation is always there. And what is there to lose but a few wandering thoughts? May we accept the invitation.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Thich Naht Hanh, “Flower Insights,” Peace is Every Step (New York: Bantam Books, 1992) p. 43.

[2] Ford, James Ishmael, This Very Moment: A Brief Introduction to Buddhism and Zen for Unitarian Universalists (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1996) pp. 27-28.

[3] Mikelson, Thomas, “Wake Now My Senses,” Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press and the UUA, 1993) #298.

[4] Brooks, Becky and Hewitt, Erika, “Allowing Meditation to Be Messy,” UU World (Winter, 2019). P. 18.

[5] Takashina, Rosen, Zetto Zemmi, in Conze, Edward, tr., Buddhist Scriptures (London: Penguin Books, 1959) p. 138.

[6] Thich Naht Hanh, “Conscious Breathing” and “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment” in Peace is Every Step (New York: Bantam Books, 1992) pp.8-10.

[7] Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (New York: Anchor Books, 1994) p. 99.

[8] Brooks and Hewitt, “Allowing Meditation to Be Messy,” p. 19.

[9] Salzberg, Sharon, “A New Vision of Kindness Starts with Paying Attention,” On Being, June 11th, 2016. See: https://onbeing.org/blog/a-new-vision-of-kindness-starts-with-paying-attention/#.

To Love Your Neighbor, Know Your Neighbor Event

Sunday, November, 10th at 2 PM

The CT Council for Interreligious Understanding and Unitarian Universalist Society: East presents a moderated question and answer session designed to increase understanding of the varied religious beliefs and practices of our CT neighbors. Panelists will include members of the Jain, Hindu and Sikh faiths. Bring your questions and meet new friends on Sunday, November 10, 2019, at 2 PM at Unitarian Universalist Society: East.