I originally imagined this blog as being very focused on artmaking and, in some ways, almost business like. Through my Artist’s Way posts, I found myself sharing more of the personal, however, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. So, while this is, of course, not a religious blog, I wanted to share and record the comments I made at my local Unitarian Universalist church today. I was asked to speak as part of the church’s “personal reflections” series, offered throughout the autumn, where members are asked to answer the question, “What does this church mean to me?”
While some of the names and references may not be meaningful to all readers, it definitely shares some of the experiences that inform and inspire me as an artist and also, obviously, speaks to the values I hold dear.
I’ve knelt in Catholic pews, lit candles in European cathedrals, danced barefoot in the moonlight with Starhawk—but none of these experiences ever led me to imagine standing in front of a congregation as I do here and now.
I originally let that lack of imagination, as well as my newcomer status, dissuade me from volunteering to speak. That didn’t stop me from thinking about what this church means to me, of course, as I’m sure many of you have found yourself reflecting after the answers previously shared by Kathy, Dan, Richard, Rose, and others. Eventually, my gratitude, along with some nudging from Reverend Garmon, has led me to hope that I can gain something from putting myself up here and that my relatively fresh perspective will be beneficial to us collectively.
The discussion at last month’s stewardship lunch reminded me that, during our first visit, a few members of the church apologized to Kristi and I for the fact that the majority of the congregation is older than us. I want to acknowledge that the combined age, wisdom, and experience of this church’s members is actually one of your gifts to me and not to be apologized for. Once a week, I get to sit down for coffee and discover the person next to me marched for civil rights, the woman across from me provided protection and comfort to women entering a planned parenthood clinic—I discover the stories of men and women who stood up when they or others were disenfranchised or discriminated against. This first-hand perspective is otherwise absent from my formal education and my life; I’ve encountered such stories only through the interviews of Studs Terkel or the songs of Utah Phillips. It is my great privilege to be part of and learn from this community. You provide me with wisdom, mentorship, and challenge me to live a life I can someday be proud to share with a younger generation. Thank you.
In 2006, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. She was, quite simply, the most important person in my life and, after many struggles, was finally creating the life of her dreams when this diagnosis rocked us both to the core. I was so incredibly angry—I saw the cancer and its timing as a huge injustice—and, in my anger, I shut the door to my experience of the Divine. I didn’t know how to celebrate anything in light of her illness and her death at 49 years of age. I was 28 and my brother, who I now raise with my husband, was only 11. I showed up here nearly eight months ago trying, in part, to make sense of her death.
Today, I accept that her death is something I do and will continually struggle with. I don’t know what helps with that or what I thought I might find here to undo that pain.
What I have found is a community of compassion that tells us it matters that you were born, it matters what you do. (I love to hear Kathy Stevens say that; she does it in a way that just makes my heart feel huge with love and purpose.) That blessing—which is both little and all encompassing—along with your stories, the reflective space offered in these walls, the inspiring words and music that fill our worship, and the amazing mentors I have met as part of this community—instead of resolving the grief I experienced with my mother’s death, I am learning what to do with my life. Again, I thank you.
Thanks for reading!