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When Diane Savona said that she would make me a stole on commission for the 20th anniversary of my ordination, she asked, “What sort of images mean the most to you?”

Wow. Where do I start? Even more difficult, where do I stop? I started scribbling in my notebook, which is my way of breaking through Questions Too Big To Answer, and came up with this list:

Burning bush: this became an important image for me in the process of writing a sermon to be delivered to colleagues on one of the great challenges of this work: How to stay present to people at the most painful, intense moments of their lives, and not just shrivel up and float away on the breeze. The best I have come up with, then or since, is that there is something deeply invigorating about entering fully into such moments: that (as I said then) it is in the places of pain and risk that we find the strength and solace to withstand the brokenness of the world, and even be transformed for the better by it. And the burning bush is of course an image from my cradle religion, and was even, it occurs to me now, the logo of Conservative Judaism as I was growing up (or was it the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement’s rabbinical school?), with the accompanying phrase in Hebrew and English: ” . . . and the bush was not consumed.”

Spirals: these are, essentially, my personal yin/yang, a reminder of balance, because of the way they combine two kinds of motion: forward motion (in the way they move outward, or in the case of a helix like in DNA, onward), and cyclical/repetitive motion (in the way they circle around). In a spiral, one comes around again and again to the same place, but not quite the same place. Which is how life is, I think. I try to communicate this kind of balance to the folks in my congregation: stillness and progress, tradition and change, being and becoming.

Decay/erosion: for several years now, as followers of this blog know, I’ve been drawing and photographing decay. Layers of walls in Oaxaca exposing hundreds, or even millions, of years of change; the patterns left by insects burrowing in wood; wrinkles on faces; etc. I find erosion very beautiful for the way it reveals time and history, and there’s a tension between that beauty and the way our culture (over)values youth and novelty. A big part of my ministry is helping people perceive the beauty in the ordinary or despised.

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Sun, stone, seed (monoprint, 2018). The lack of centering comes from having to snap the photo of it while it’s attached to the stairway wall. 😉

Seeds/stones: I’m moved and intrigued by how closely many seeds resemble stones. There is so little difference between them, and all the difference in the world. And then there is the way seeds have to split open, essentially die in one form, in order to become more than a stone and actually grow. Whereas stones are just . . . nonliving. (No shade on stones. They’re pretty cool in their own right; note the title of my blog.) I don’t quite know what is so meaningful to me about this image of the seed in the act of sprouting, but it keeps popping up in my own work, as much as I cringe and worry that it is a cliché. There is something there about the way life and death are intertwined that keeps troubling and inspiring me, especially as I get older and try to come to terms with the reality that I am going to die. Also, an early and dear memory of mine is planting the family garden with my dad, and I always got to plant the beans, which are satisfyingly fast and visible in their process; you can often see the remnants of the seed still stuck to the first shoot as it emerges from the crack in the ground.

That’s what I told Diane, and after a bit of further dialogue between us, and many, many iterations that she worked through and recounted to some extent on her blog, she has now finished the design phase. She added so much. Mexico is in there now, and my wife and daughter, and the subtle suggestion of a rainbow, and the subtler suggestion of bees, and a water lily leaf (a.k.a. lotus–despite the fact that I never even got around to saying what was important to me about Buddhism), and roots finding their way through brick- and stonework to the sources of life. I’m so excited to see how it will be further transformed by her stitching.

 

Tomorrow, Monday, October 21, I’m going to begin 100 consecutive days of a practice that’s important to me but that I often let drop out of busyness (actually fear), or because I’m not good enough at it (a.k.a. fear), or because it might not go anywhere (again, fear), or because it might take me somewhere scary ( . . . fear). If you want a community that will encourage you to keep at something, anything, for 100 days, please join me!

The thing I’m going to do is make art. What is yours?

Once again I’m undertaking a daily spiritual practice for several weeks. I’ve called it a Lenten practice in the past, but I’ve become uncomfortable doing so, out of respect for Christians. I don’t take it lightly, but for me it is not a period of repentance, much less preparation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, so I don’t want to dilute what is, for others, one of the most sacred seasons of their year.

What I want is to engage in a deeper dive into reflection than I usually do, and for a longer period. The theological context aside, I think Lent has staying power as a practice because it’s both intensive and time-limited. It’s like Ramadan or, in the secular realm, 30-day diets: we can better challenge ourselves when we have a set amount of time in which to go deeper. I have seldom made a go of a daily practice, but seven weeks is something I might be able to sustain.

So far this year, I have. My two practices are to do five minutes of art play every day, ideally first thing in the morning, and to read the daily devotion in Resipescence: A Lenten Devotional for Dismantling White Supremacy, edited by Vahisha Hasan and Nichola Torbett. I learned about this wonderful book just as Lent was beginning, so I didn’t have a copy until about ten days in, but I caught up right away and have continued meditating on one per day. And the art has been a joy.

Do you have any spiritual practices, ether connected to Lent or not?

Each year for the season of Lent, since 2011, I have undertaken three spiritual practices: one subtractive, one additive, and one giving.

This year, as I have done a few times before, I will subtract social media: no Facebook or Twitter. (I’m not cool enough for Instagram, so nothing to give up there.) It’s good for my soul.

For the additive practice, I’m participating in #UULent’s photo-a-day practice. This is in direct contradiction of my subtractive practice, since I’ve proposed to my congregation that we post our photos on the congregation’s Facebook site–sharing a spiritual practice really helps it stick. However, I think it’s in the spirit of my social-media fast if I do nothing on Facebook other than post my photos and look at others’. I’m also encouraging folks to post selected photos (only their own) on the bulletin board between rooms 9 & 10 at UUCPA. When I did this (spottily) a couple of years ago, Barb Greve was someone I knew mostly by reputation and occasionally running into him at installations or ordinations, but currently, we are working together at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, so using a resource he created is extra special.

Last year I did art every day, and I would love to do it again, but along with the daily photo it seems too much. I’ll see.

And I always choose a cause to which to give money, and this year it was easy to choose: Black Lives of UU. The UUA has committed to raising $5.3 million for BLUU, and individual contributions are part of that work, so this is my mite. You can contribute yours at the BLUU website. I am excited, occasionally even hopeful, about the UUA’s renewed commitment to shift us away from the dominance of white culture and help us shake off the effects of white supremacy, and it will take thousands of us to realize this commitment.

I’m using the three-part approach to Lent that I’ve used before:

  1. give something up that drains my spirit: Facebook
  2. add something positive that feeds my spirit: draw every day, preferably before breakfast
  3. give to an organization that’s doing good in the world: the Coalition on Homelessness, since my daughter has recently asked people to donate to them in honor of her birthday (which also fell during Lent).

Do you have a Lenten practice this year? I’d love to hear about it!  (And if you’re seeing this when it posts automatically to Facebook: if you respond there, I won’t see what you wrote until after Easter . . . )

Harrison & 26th, San Francisco. I wonder who was so moved to put the sign of their love into concrete, and how it and they are doing now.

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Today’s word: possibility.

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Some of these photos have been sitting in my camera, waiting to be uploaded. Others, I’ve only just taken today. Daily practices are tough for me, and I still have some gaps, but I’m benefiting from the reflection and from taking a relaxed attitude.

I used to fantasize about the grass and wildflowers retaking the endless acres of asphalt, the concrete breaking up from the force of tree roots. I am a little more accepting of urban ugliness, and a little more tired and resigned now. Just the same, when I see something like this, I feel like I am seeing healing in action.

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Folsom Street, San Francisco, near the place where Amilcar Perez-Lopez died at the hands of plainclothes police.

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A recent autopsy has shown that he was shot four times in the back, contradicting the officers’ claims that they fired as he lunged at them. No indictment has followed yet.

Capp and 20th, San Francisco

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