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This morning, Sunday December 17th, I led a Unitarian Universalist service called Ringing in the Light.  I talked about my childhood memories of being touched by Hanukkah and my experiences in celebrating the Winter Solstice and with the Gnostic Gospels. You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

 

 

As far back as I can remember, the light beckoned.

The sun was a ball of fire in the sky.  The light changed into vibrant colors in the morning and the evening.  It filtered through the branches of trees.  The sunlight had, in fact, shined down and helped to form the trees.  So the light was in the trees (along with the rain and the earth).

Even when it was cloudy, I knew the sun was there. Sometimes I could see the ball of sun outlined behind the gray clouds.

light-tree

The first time I remember being drawn to the light in a religious context was when I was in elementary school watching a play about Hanukkah.

Despite its nearness to Christmas on the calendar, Hanukkah is one of the lesser holidays in Judaism. Hanukkah, also called The Festival of Lights, began last Tuesday at sunset and ends this Wednesday, December, 20th, at nightfall.

When I asked my partner what Hanukkah meant to her, she responded that it is a celebration of survival, hope and faith.

The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, detailed in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.

This victory of the Maccabees, in approximately 160 BCE –  BCE standing for Before The Common Era — resulted in the rededication of the Second Temple.  The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebel warriors who took control of Judea.

According to the Talmud, the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah burned for eight days.

But there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. It was a miracle.

Hanukkah is observed by lighting the eight candles of the menorah at varying times and various ways.  This is done along with the recitation of prayers.  In addition to the eight candles in the menorah, there is a ninth called a shamash (a Hebrew word that means attendant). This ninth candle, the shamash, is in the center of the menorah.

It is all very complicated of course – the history and the ritual – but what I remember most is sitting in that darkened auditorium and being drawn to the pool of light around the candles on my elementary school stage.

I am not Jewish.  I say that I was raised secular – but that is putting it mildly.  My mother was, in fact, a bible-burning atheist.  Added to that, I was always cast as one of the shepherds in the school’s Christmas pageant since I was the tallest child in elementary school.

Also, I had Jewish neighbors – and as a future lesbian and book worm growing up in the sameness of a working class neighborhood — I may have responded to difference and had a realization that I was part of it.

Then I grew up, came out, thanked the Goddess for my secular upbringing, and celebrated the Winter Solstice with candles and music. This year, the Solstice falls on December 21st. The Winter Solstice (traditionally the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year)  is this coming Thursday in the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth – which is where we are.

One of our friends who we celebrated the Solstice with is Julia Haines. Julia is a musician who has performed at Restoration.  She has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind which she accompanies with her harp playing. You can find her on YouTube. Thunder Perfect Mind, of which I just read an excerpt, is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.  And in my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.  The Gnostic Gospels have provided me with inspiration for my writing, particularly in my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, soon to be published by Adelaide Books. And they also inspire me in the novel I am currently writing — titled The Unicorn, The Mystery.

I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

I am godless

I am Goddess

So how does finding the light factor into my experience of Unitarian Universalism? Later in life, after fifty, I found a religion that fit my values.  I found a religion wide enough – and I might add, secure enough – to embrace nonconformity.

In finding a congregation that is diverse in many ways – including religious diversity – I have found a deeper sense of myself.

And in that self, I recognize that the darkness is as least as necessary and as important as the light.

As a creative writer, I spend much of my time in the gray-matter of imagination.

It is in that darkness where I find the light.

 

Namaste

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UU author/historian Mark Morrison- Reed comes to UUCR on Stenton Avenue and USG on Lincoln Drive in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia

RSVP for UUCR events by Friday,  April 10th — email Desi at  office@uurestoration.us

FRIDAY, APRIL 17TH –at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy 6900 Stenton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19150

7:00pm – 9:00 Book Reading – Sanctuary

The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism

SATURDAY, APRIL 18TH — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

10:00am – 12:00pm

Morning workshop session – Fellowship Hall

We Are What We Sing: Diversity in UU

Hymnody

Singing our way through UU hymns from 1861 to today, we will make some interesting and telling discoveries about why we are who we are.

How Open the Door?

We will watch this DVD which surveys the history of race relations from the Abolitionists to Black Power. Following the DVD, we will explore Restoration’s history of becoming a multicultural congregation.

12:00 noon – 1:00pm     Catered luncheon:  $10.00

1:00pm – 3:00pm

Afternoon Workshop Session-Fellowship Hall

Eight Keys to Attracting People of Color to UU

Congregations

This DVD explores Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church’s effort to become diverse.  After the DVD, we will explore what Davies and other congregations, like Restoration, have in common with one another.

The Nature of Racism

We will conclude our workshop with an examination of the nature of racism: how and why it impacts our efforts.

JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH CONCERT WITH

MONETTE SUDLER AND LADIES NIGHT OUT

7:00- 9:00 Jazz Concert in the Sanctuary

$20.00 admission

(doors open at 6:30pm)

Monnette Sudler – guitar & vocals

NorikoKamo – organ

Luciana Padmore – drums and  Lynn Riley – saxophones and flute http://www.reverbnation.com/    monettesudlersladiesofjazz

Sunday morning  – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be giving the early sermon at 9:15 at the Unitarian Society of Germantown 6511 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Sunday morning – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be presenting the sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue:

11:00am  Worship

“Dragged Kicking and Screaming into  Heaven” Early in the 19th century Universalism swept across our young nation finding a popularity it never again achieved. It proclaimed a truly radical message. Is it time for us to return to the message that God’s love brooks no resistance? Universalism re-articulated for the 21st century.

12:15pm — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

Potluck Lunch/Book Signing – Fellowship Hall

Note:  The following is a reflection that I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in  Philadelphia where I am a lay minister. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.

In 1965, when events that were part of the voting rights struggle unfolded in Selma, I was six years old.  I must have seen parts of it on television.  I don’t remember.  But I do remember that I was influenced by the Civil Rights movement.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma.  Today is also International Women’s Day, a global day of equality that was started in 1908  by the Socialist Party of America to demand better working conditions for female garment workers.

When I came out, I read a book on the nature of oppression and how it is all related and multilayered.  I see now, in retrospect, that the book just reaffirmed the experiences of my life.

The first in my family to graduate from college, I was  born to a feminist mother when she and my father where in their forties. In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I relate a conversation that I had with my mother when she was dying.

“I’d feel better about this if you were fifty. I thought if I waited, I could bring you into a better world. I really thought things would be better and in some ways they were. No one talked about racial equality twenty years before you were born, there was no environmental movement.”

“And no women’s movement.” I met my mother’s unwavering gaze.

My mother was an excellent story teller. One of the stories that she told me was about Vera, a black lesbian she met in her licensed practical nurse training program. Vera was her own person, and she made quite an impression on my mother.

In telling me about Vera, my mother was telling me about her past and also about my future.

The Civil Rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights were and are, in many ways, very different.  There was some homophobia in the Civil Rights movement and racism in the gay rights movement — despite considerable overlap.  For one thing, we have some common enemies as seen in the ongoing struggle over same sex marriage in Alabama.

I was heartened by the response of the young people — of all races — who responded to the hate speech of the protestors by yelling, “We love you.”

It is no coincidence that the country’s first African American President was also our first President to embrace same sex marriage. In President Obama’s last State of The Union address, I was proud to see the standing ovation at the President’s mention of same-sex marriage and that it was led by Representative John Lewis, the important Civil Rights activist. He was in the front of the march from Selma to Montgomery and was among those brutally beaten by the police on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

The African American author, retired UU minister, and noted UU historian, Mark D. Morrison-Reed is coming to Restoration the weekend of April 17th.  In his book The Selma Awakening, How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, (2014, Skinner House Books), Morrison-Reed examines the UU faith and finds it lacking in its concerns with Civil Rights before the events of the freedom march at Selma catalyzed it.

As a newish Unitarian, it was disheartening for me to read that the Unitarian Universalist faith, except for pockets of true progressiveness, was not that evolved even in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.  Yet, it was interesting to read how the emphasis on racial equality changed, especially after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people of faith to join the freedom march.

I am currently involved in Restoration’s Beloved Conversations which provides the space for us to examine our experiences of race and ethnicity. In reflecting on what Selma meant to me personally, I realized that I grew up in an era that taught me that injustice is intolerable.

I came out in my early twenties and fell in love with my partner Barbara, who first met many of you at the local Post Office.  She retired several years ago.  Barbara is modest, but she is also a wonderful drummer and early on in our relationship she was part of a racially diverse group of women drummers and that was an important part of our lives. This undoubtedly helped to shaped my experience along the way.  But the underlying fact is that I am more comfortable with diversity than sameness.

The Civil Rights movement gave birth to the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement.  It also opened the door for many others to be fully human.  There is a saying that we are more alike than we are different.  There is still much more work to be done for racial equality.  And as we work for justice, it’s important to realize that we are working to make a better world for all of our relations and for ourselves, too.

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