Poem: how precious this life

Poem: n. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.

Precious: adj. highly esteemed, cherished, worthy, valuable

Rev. Arthur Vaeni came down from Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to speak on Sunday – about what’s really important. (A terrific message: you can listen to an earlier version of it here: Four Reasons to Try Something Different.)

It was a Buddhist message, calling us to wake up to the present moment, because life is precious and it’s all too short- a realization make all the more poignant given the gun violence that snuffed out so many precious lives in recent days.

He quoted several Buddhist sages, and read one of my favorite teaching poems “Bugs in a Bowl” ( blogged here).

Bottom line: life is what it is; this moment is what it is; you can choose to resist it (whine, complain, deny) or get into it.

He closed with a poem by Susan Griffin:

Born Into a World Knowing

This will happen
Oh god we say just give
me a few more
breaths
and don’t let it be
terrible
let it be soft
perhaps in someone’s
arms, perhaps tasting
chocolate
perhaps
laughing or asking
Is it over already?
or saying not yet. Not
yet
the sky
has at this moment turned
another shade of blue,
and see there a child
still plays
in the fresh snow.

Patty-cake (with cats)

Patty-cake: n. a traditional American rhyming-clapping game an adult plays with a baby, to the usual delight or both.

Here’s a hilarious new twist on Patty-cake. Two cats play, voiced-over.

Paean to P: “Peter Piper’s Products”

Paean: n. a song of praise (from the Greek)

Perusing YouTube to replace a precious Muppet video (P is my Favorite Letter) which had lost its link, I discovered several other old Sesame Street paeans to the letter P.  Nothing tops “P is my Favorite Letter”,  but “Peter Piper’s Products” comes close…

President Peter: Rev. Morales heads UUA

President: n. leader of an organization – by election, appointment or personal decision

Peter: n. my old friend Rev. Peter Morales

Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President!

Just returned from Salt Lake City, where a couple thousand Unitarian Universalists from around the country convened for their/our annual General Assembly or GA. Although the workshops, talks, worship services and meet-greets are always worthwhile, this year I went to pimp for Peter – working on the campaign to elect him president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

And he won! Decisively – with 58% of the votes. I call him “Pope Peter”.  (“President”  is the closest UUs get to pontiff status.)

A combination of factors that led to his victory, IMHO:

  • A clearly articulated platform, with specific goals
  • An opponent whose platform was fuzzy and vaguely stated
  • A richly varied background of multicultural experience ( including in the business world), world travel, education, success
  • Skillful ease with public speaking – without notes
  • Personal charm and sense of humor

I was particularly invested in the campaign because it was I who first brought Peter and his family to a UU church in 1994. The exposure took, and the rest is history.

Now the real work begins. Ours is a venerable but TINY denomination, not natively given to evangelism. Either we grow in numbers and presence or watch ourselves become an interesting footnote in American religious and intellectual history.  The budget has been slashed by 20%.  So whatever gets done, must be done with less.

I send him white light…

Piano paralysis

Piano:  n. a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Paralysis: n. loss of the ability to move a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

Our piano

Our piano

[Cross-posted from Getting to Less…]

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention  the deep pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems to be over.

He and I need to have a little talk about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

A Pounding Performance: Portland Taiko!

Pounding: adj. a beating, as in with fists or sticks

Performance: n. a public presentation

Portland: n. the wonderful city across the Columbia River from where I live

Went to see Portland Taiko Saturday night. Taiko is both a particular kind of large two-ended traditional Japanese drum, and the drumming performance style.

It’s exuberant, energetic, exciting and athletically balletic. The drummers whack away with grand gestures that look like a lot of fun to execute – and like any feelings of distress or aggression they might have harbored before they picked up their long sticks would disperse quickly.

If you’ve never seen a taiko group, here’s an example:

Pink peonies

Pink: adj. a color blend of  red and white

Peony: n. a flowering plant native to Asia, southern Europe and western North America. Most are herbaceous perennial plants about 3′ tall, but some are woody shrubs up to 6′ tall. They have compound, deeply lobed leaves, and large, often fragrant flowers, ranging from red to white or yellow, which bloom in late spring and early summer. They love it here in the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday a friend brought me an amazing bouquet of pink peonies from her garden when she came over for lunch. These are peonies with profuse petal and perfume power.

Peony petals

Peony petals

The fragrance from this glorious bouquet perfumes my whole entry area:

From Flossie's garden

From Flossie's garden

Passages: kids grow up

Passages: n. transition from one point to another

This is a week of two important passages. The first was the wedding of my sister’s older son, Daniel, in Nashville. The second is the departure of my youngest, Wylie, for Europe and the far east.

Both are occasions for rejoicing and for promising adventure. Both leave their respective mothers with mixed feelings as the sons fly the coop and enter new life stages where Mom is increasingly irrelevant.

PICT0075

Nashville: Family and friends came from all over to celebrate with Daniel and Lillie. A fabulous time was had by all as the two tribes spent the weekend together getting to know each other. As happy as she is for the newlyweds, and despite the fact that they will be living only two blocks away, my sister had a full-on meltdown as she realized that little Danny was grown-up Daniel… a man whose wife will now be his closest confidant.  (Of course my sister hasn’t been that for years, but when you’re going to dissolve in tears you gotta have some sort of excuse.)

Back in Vancouver: Two days after we got back it was my turn for the meltdown. My youngest child left home this afternoon. It shouldn’t be a big deal; he’s 25 for godssake. It’s not even the first time – he went off to college at 18, and until the past few months he’s hardly been back home. But since September he’s been my housemate in order to save $$ for his big trip.

Wy-Amtrak2

He took Amtrak to Seattle, where he’ll catch a flight to Dublin and meet up with a friend from LA. They’ll bum around together for a couple of weeks then the friend goes back to work and Wylie is on his own.

So far he’s lined up a three-week stint WWOOFing (working on an organic farm in exchange for room and board)  in Sweden, and then he heads to who knows where… all the way to the far east until his money runs out, he says.

What’s freaking me out is that he tossed his cell phone and will be checking in at an internet cafe only occasionally.  I’m so used to having my kids at email or cellphone distance…

Just imagine what it was like when the pioneers crossed the plains and it could be months before loved ones got a letter, and even then the letter was itself months old!

As used to instant communication as I’ve become, Wylie has never known anything else, so it could be very challenging to be so out of touch with friends and family.

Now that I’ve had him around for awhile, “I’ve grown accustomed to his face”.  He’s a lot of fun and can make me laugh harder than anyone I know  – except his brother.

He also can be irritatingly helpful. Like when I’m struggling with some tedious and cumbersome chore, he sweeps in with a really simple way of accomplishing the task in 10% of the time.   Example: last fall I was finely hand-slicing 8 quarts of green tomatoes and onions for our famous family “Spanish Pickle”.  Wylie says, “hey, why don’t we use the KitchenAid slicer?”  Duhhhh! – I use the machine for all sorts of other slicing and grating operations; it’s just that my mom always sliced the veggies by hand, so I just kept doing it her way.

Adjustments all around.

Priorities… I’m moving on, getting to less

Priority: n. something meriting attention before competing alternatives

365 Words Beginning with P is winding down. Not because of a paucity of peachy P-words – indeed the peerless pantheon of P words is scarcely pricked.

My purpose – nay, my priority – was to prod my procrastinating pea-brain into a practice of producing pontifications on a daily basis until I had proffered at least 365 of them, thus proving to myself that I could write regularly.  This is #377. Who knew vocabulary could be so much fun!

(To those whose interest in 365pwords was more literary than political, I apologize for all the Palin posts last fall. It’s not my fault her name began with P.  I thank god she’s not our vice-president — pity those poor people in Alaska.)

What I’m saying is my priorities have shifted and I must move on. Literally. To a much smaller home, with much less stuff.

But I’ve caught blogging fever, and my new blog, Getting to Less, is shaping up nicely.  If you’re at all interested in getting to less in your own life, or you just want to keep me company on the journey, please please c’mon over.  And bring your own downsizing tips and (mis) adventures.

Pitching your possessions has got to be more fun than pulling your own teeth, right?

I’ll be back here occasionally when a P-word just screams to be written about. Meanwhile, join me over at Getting to Less.

Peter’s Prayer

Peter: n.  In this case, Peter is the Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and candidate for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Prayer: n. an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

Two candidates are running for President of the UUA – election is June 27. On the UU list-serve about the election, supporters of the other candidate keep questioning whether Peter is “spiritual enough.”  (Full disclosure: I am an active Peter Morales supporter…)

Because UUs aren’t traditional Christians (and most UUs aren’t Christian at all) the issue of “prayer” often comes up. So,  since today is Sunday, and we talk about P-words here, I thought I’d excerpt from one of Peter’s sermons – this one called “Prayer.” This is the last 3rd of it:

. . . So, what can prayer mean to us if we don’t pray for divine supernatural intervention, if we don’t pray for forgiveness, if we don’t pray to a god that is a kind of person? Once we dump out the superstition, what is left?

Quite a lot, actually; quite a lot.

Prayer can be a kind of meditation, a time when you and I open our hearts, open our awareness. Prayer can be a time to reaffirm our concern for other people. Prayer can be a time when we connect with what we hold sacred, a time when we remind ourselves of what is truly important, what really matters to us. Prayer can be a time when we remind our selves of our highest aspirations and a time when we confront, in all humility and honesty, how we have fallen short of what strive to be. Prayer can be a time when we quietly rededicate our selves to becoming what we hope to be. Prayer can be a time for opening our selves to new possibility, to new direction—a time for listening to that quiet, gentle, persistent voice that dwells in us. We have to be quiet to hear that voice; we have to be still.

This is the core of what personal prayer has always been. This is the essence that remains after we strip away outmoded notions of god as a ruler, of god as an all powerful patriarch. Prayer has always been a time of quietly coming face to face with what we hold sacred, what we call holy. Prayer is a kind of relationship, an experience of standing before creation.

Personal prayer need not involve any words. The key is to make time, to reflect, to be still, to allow our selves to feel our connections to life, to others, to the unity of all creation.

Today, as every Sunday, we will offer a pastoral prayer. In this prayer we share our thanks for community. We share our gratitude for being alive, for beauty that surrounds us, for loving friends. We share our concern for members of our congregation who are suffering loss or difficult times. We rejoice with others who have cause for celebration. This is what every community should do—share life’s joys and life’s sorrows, be grateful for what we have, hold the wider world in our embrace, aspire to serve. Our collective prayer is like a hymn. Our prayer expresses our compassion and our hope. Such a prayer helps bind us together. Such a prayer does not require a belief in anything supernatural.

My personal prayer today is for inner peace, for a bit more patience (I dare not ask for a miracle) and a bit less crabbiness. My prayer is for wholeness, for allowing myself to experience the joy of being alive. If I am still and open and centered, gratitude comes over me. I would pray for the wisdom and energy to serve this community effectively.

My prayer for our congregation is that we prosper, that we remain open hearted, that we be a true beacon of compassion, understanding and acceptance. I pray that we help bring wholeness and love to each other, that we honor our elders and raise our children to be kind and strong. My prayer for my world is that it become a place of peace, understanding, and justice, a place where life is affirmed and violence disappears.

When you are still, when you are in that place of profound peace and strong connection to your inner self and to the universe, what is it that you would pray for? When you look at your self, those you love, this community and our world, what is it that you dare to hope for?

I suspect our prayers would have a lot in common. When we stop to be still, to open our hearts, to express our deepest longings, we find that we share much. We want wholeness, peace, joy, love, acceptance.

Once we pray in this way, once you and I allow our selves to be in contact with our innermost longings, when we experience our hopes and express them, then you I and have laid a foundation. For praying without acting is not enough; it never has been.

Prayer is a prelude. Prayer is preparation.

Our true task is not finished. If in my prayer I feel compassion for victims of hurricane Katrina and then fail to do anything, what good is my prayer? If I pray that human life may prosper for millennia to come and then do nothing to help create a sustainable world, what good are my hopes? If my prayer for our community is that we be open and welcoming, yet I never open my heart to embrace new people and make them feel truly welcome, what good is my prayer? If I pray for justice but never work for it, my prayer is simply an act of hypocrisy.

Our prayers will only be answered if you and I answer them! Our love can only find expression through what you and I do. Love is not some fuzzy abstraction; love is acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of compassion. Peace is not concept; peace is a relationship. Justice is a relationship.

Ultimately the person who really needs to hear my prayer is me. The person who needs to hear your prayer is you. The people who need to heed our collective prayer is us.

The first step is to be still, to hear our innermost voice, to be filled by our love for life and for each other.

Let us pray with all of our hearts. Then let us act. Let us live our prayers. Let us become the kind, caring, alive, joyful, grateful, idealistic, world transforming people we long to be.

Let us pray. Let us come honestly and humbly into the presence of all we hold sacred. And then let us be our prayer. When our life becomes our prayer and our prayer becomes our life, then we will truly have learned to pray.

Let us pray. Yes, let us pray.

So may it be. Amen.