The Barefoot Cellist

My Photo
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

After taking a few years off, I'm back in seminary here in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, at United Theological Seminary. What a wonderful place to be! Surrounded by friends old and new, I'm exploring my call to Unitarian Universalist ministry with friends, classmates, and the world around me. I am watching for the spring and feeling it unfold within myself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Is Love Alive?"

a sermon by Erin Margit Dajka
January 23, 2011
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

Yesterday morning, as I left my house in the still-bitter cold, I admired the delicate, fluffy layer of new snow that had fallen the night before. I marveled at how the flakes could be so light, as if they had danced on the air as they fell to the ground. This was the kind of snow that can only fall when it is so cold that some question whether it is even possible for the snow to be falling.
The world outside seems as if it is dead. How can anything be alive in these depths of winter chill? And yet, in that new layer of unexpected snow, I discovered a fresh set of rabbit tracks, making their way down the sidewalk and under a car. These tracks, a simple, small pattern – they are a sign of the life that somehow still hangs on despite winter’s every effort to leave the land truly barren.
I often find it difficult to recognize such signs, however. As my body reacts to the lack of sunlight, I notice an encroaching sense of despair and sheer alone-ness. It can be as though the freezing temperatures seep into my skin, chilling my spirit. How can love survive such cold?

Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles’ “Winter Song” expresses the sadness of a lost love and the desolateness of winter, struggling to identify the hope of spring and love regained. It returns always to the single, plaintive question – “Is love alive? Is love alive?”
As the world appears dead in the cold winter months, the ice of loneliness encroaches within, as well. Even if you are not despairing the loss of a loved one, you may feel isolated and be left questioning in the same manner as the voice of the song.
“Is love alive?”
Am I alone?
Will the light and warmth in my heart return with the promise of spring?

What is love?

Maybe love is the experience of fully losing yourself in relationship with another person. Falling in love. Romance. Valentine’s Day. Love-making. The sheer joy and elation when nothing else matters but being connected and physically close to that special person. You know deep in your bones when this kind of love is alive. Its life fills you with life. Its vibrations run through your being in ways that cannot be ignored. Its aliveness is so vibrant that the answer to the question “Is love alive” resounds and bounces off the walls. And, its absence resounds just as loudly, forcing the question of the song – Is love alive in the presence of such a loss? If I cannot feel it, can it still be breathing?
Maybe love is a force in the world, something that can be felt and not seen, that touches your life through the actions of others and the outpouring of your soul. The Spirit of Love. You can feel love’s presence in momentous occasions and tiny moments of truth. The image of love in this sense affirms that the world is imbued with goodness and comfort if you are only open to recognizing its presence. Love is alive because you can see it at work around you. Its goodness almost seems tangible despite its ethereal nature. This love is dead to you if you become closed off from it and unable to recognize it at work.
Both of these images of love can be real. Romantic love is an embodied love. It rushes with hormones and chemicals and physical connections. It is about physical and emotional pleasure. Over time in a relationship, though, the feeling of romantic love invariably fades. The Spirit of Love identifies that mystery and wonder at the beauty in the world and in those around us that seems impossible to fully explain or describe. It is not here, however, and its ethereal nature prevents it from being enough.

A love that can be truly satisfying and life-giving must somehow incorporate elements that are both embodied and spiritual. This truth sits out front in the title of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. Note the order: Eat, Pray, Love. It is only after she enjoys the physical pleasures of attending to her body and finds spiritual meaning through meditation and prayer that she is ready to truly experience love. The love she found was not only for her Brazilian lover – she found the ability to love herself through her newly expanded sense of self.

Love is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Central to M. Scott Peck’s definition of love is the concept of spiritual growth. The process of extending one’s self is, in of itself, an action of spiritual growth. Therefore, there is a circularity to the definition. By extending your sense of self to nurture yours or someone else’s spiritual growth, you have, indeed grown to a larger state of being yourself. Peck eloquently puts it this way: “It is through reaching toward evolution that we evolve.” The more you reach out in love, the more personal growth you experience. With more personal growth, it gets easier to reach out in love.
In some ways, Peck’s attention to including both self-love and love of others in his definition demonstrates a Humanist slant. About this, he writes: “Since I am human and you are human, to love humans means to love myself as well as you. To be dedicated to human spiritual development is to be dedicated to the race of which we are a part, and this therefore means dedication to our own development as well as ‘theirs.’” The spiritual growth that he indicates is fully within the realm of people nurturing themselves and each other toward the desired spiritual growth.
This type of love requires intentionality and effort. Loving another person cannot occur without your explicit attention to who they are and an understanding of who they might be able to become. Your actions make you loving. You choose to love. You choose to invest. You listen carefully, taking a piece of the person you love into yourself. These pieces of those you love, as you absorb them into your very being, are what makes your spirit grow. There cannot be room inside of your smaller self to hold everything that those you love leave inside of you.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes of an oak tree, telling of a Buddhist interpretation of growth. The oak is at the same time the acorn and the full-grown tree as the potential of what the tree will be causes the acorn to grow. Love works in the same way. In many ways, your sense of self must already be aware of the potential of its own growth to be able to take the risk of reaching out to another, the action of which causes it to grow.

Loving is growing. Growing requires you to be open to being changed. Change is risky and terrifying, especially as you acknowledge that the change is dependant on another person. The image that comes to my mind involves my standing on an expanse of very slippery ice while wearing Teflon shoes. If I stand in one place, very carefully not moving for fear of losing my balance, I will probably be okay and not fall. I will, however, never get anywhere and spend all of my time crippled by fear. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like much fun.
But, what if I carefully raised my eyeballs from the ice to see you standing a few feet away? I might notice that you, too, are wearing Teflon shoes on the ice and that there is a look of utter terror on your face. If I am in a place of being particularly self-aware, I may recognize in your face the same fear that cripples me. Maybe, if I reach out to you, you will reach out to me at the same time, closing the gap between us so that we might grasp hands and offer one another stability, support, and comfort. We might even be able to move around and explore the wonders of our shared expanse of ice.
But, what if you don’t reach out toward me at the same time that I reach out to you? I will have disturbed my own balance and have come crashing down in a dismal heap. Can I, in my effort to support you and relieve your fears, count on you to do the same for me? What happens if you do reach out, and we achieve the joy of stability, but you suddenly let go or disappear? I could, very well, be worse off than I was trying so hard to simply stand still.

This is the risk of loving. You extend yourself with no guarantee that the person toward whom you extend will be interested in the growth that you offer. Rejection. Or, circumstances may change where that person can no longer be a part of your life, growing with you. Loss.

These are very real risks. Here lies the difference between romantic love and the action of loving. Romantic love – the experience of falling in love – is effortless. It just happens. You meet someone with whom things just spontaneously click. Hormones kick in. It feels wonderful. But, the basis of the relationship lies in these chemicals and not intentional actions of caring and growth. And, over time, the hormones die down. That feeling of love fades. Yes, it is painful to face such a situation, but because you have not engaged in the spiral of spiritual growth with the person and given them pieces of yourself, you have not actually lost those pieces.
The risk is much greater if you do engage the spiral of spiritual growth. However, the rewards are also much greater.

I believe that there is a connection between this element of extreme risk and our society’s obsession with romantic love. One could even say that our society romanticizes romantic love. According to society, romantic love promises happily ever after with exactly no effort and no risk. Think of Sleeping Beauty. He sees her, falls in love with her beauty and causes her to awake. In that very instant, she falls in love with him and they ride off into the sunset. This is what we learned to hope for. Why would we want to seek relationships that require work and do not necessarily feel as good? We are so attuned to romantic love as an ideal that sometimes when we are in a committed relationship based on active loving, we begin to wonder if there is still love in the relationship because the feeling of falling in love has faded. Maybe if we try finding someone new, we can have the feeling of falling in love again. We are taught that the feeling of falling in love is how it is supposed to be. Anything else, even if it can offer so much more, seems second-best.


The expansive spiritual growth that is so integral to this action of loving is also central to our Unitarian Universalist faith. Truth lies in the experience of taking risks to become larger, more caring people. The more we love, the better we connect to the world around us and become aware of its intricacies and universalities. Reaching out to others is the work of practicing this faith.

James Vila Blake wrote:

Love is the spirit of this church,
and service its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another.

Here is my attempt to update his language: Nurturing our own spiritual growth and others’ through expanding our sense of self is the spirit of this church, the logical outcome of which, service, is its law. This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth by intentionally risking loss in efforts toward personal growth, and to help one another in this challenging work. The work of loving.


But is love alive? I remember learning in middle-school biology class that life possesses specific characteristics that include: the ability to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce, and adapt. Love that is a process of growth does, indeed, possess these characteristics. It is based on growth and adaptation. It is able to respond to stimuli and change without experiencing compromise. Loving will consistently reproduce, and with this I am not referring to the creation of offspring through sexual activity. The choice to love, to reach out seeking spiritual growth for oneself and another, need never be limited to only one other person. It is a rewarding enough venture that you may just find yourself expanding in all directions toward any number of people. The possibility of expansion need never be limited. This love is truly alive. It breathes and sighs and grows just as you grow through your actions.

Love cannot live, you cannot grow in love, if you never take the risk to reach out. Yes, it could upset your balance, but if love is not alive within you, life never feels like living. Even in the coldest days of winter, you can encounter fresh rabbit tracks. Evidence of life is there to see if you look for it. The potential inherent in the spring will someday bring forth new life and beauty to bask in the warmth of the sun. Just so, the seed of love rests inside of you, waiting for the call of the oak tree you some day will become. And, as you recognize that seed, nurture it, and open yourself to make room for it to grow, you will, someday, look back as the oak tree and know that who you became was always the one encouraging you.

Is love alive?

Find within yourself the acorn of the answer that will grow out of your soul.

Is love alive?


Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Blessings of the Heart"

a sermon by Erin Margit Dajka
November 14, 2010
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.

In its simplest form, a blessing is a wish, passed from one individual to another, for goodness. May your way be blessed. Have a good day. I hope you feel better. In greater complexity, it is a feeling of connection that cannot be described and seems to embrace all there is in the greatest depth of beauty.

Sometimes, blessing occurs simply when we recognize its presence. We stop for a moment, naming something as what it is – a blessing. Maybe it occurs in the natural world, hiking on a summer day, seeing the rays of sunlight make their way among the leaves of the trees to kiss the damp earth. Maybe it happens upon realizing how the presence of a friend over the years has made life easier or better. Maybe the blessing appears in receiving unexpected help at that exact moment when it was needed. Where do you recognize the blessings in your life?

Blessings stay with us. I remember a time when I could not have been more than nine years old. My mother was playing in a string quartet, which had been rehearsing in the choir loft of a church in Beloit, Wisconsin for a wedding. After their rehearsal, I helped carry one of the violinist’s box of music to her car. Once everything was loaded, the older woman lay a hand on my shoulder and said, “God bless you.”
Most of you know that I was raised Unitarian Universalist in a largely Humanist congregation not unlike this one, and you will probably understand that I was surprised by what she had said. However, I was also touched by it. While she probably thought nothing of her action, I remember it as though it were the first time those words were spoken to me. I pondered them over the long drive home, and I have pondered them many times since. She had said “God bless you” to me and meant it.
However, I found myself wrestling with whether or not I wanted to have someone say to me: God bless you. Was such a statement a judgment that there was something wrong with me that only God’s blessing could fix? Was she somehow aware of my non-Christian religious background and using her statement as a subtle suggestion toward conversion? Did I want a blessing from a God that I did not know?
These questions I found myself asking might for some of you feel familiar. Maybe you, too, have been taken aback from such an expression. Such a reaction is natural – when it feels as though someone is pushing you to accept a truth that they hold which you, in fact, do not. Even worse is that sinking feeling that whoever said it had simply assumed that you hold the same truth. Of course you believe in God – or celebrate Easter or Christmas. Doesn’t everybody?
For many, blessing has taken on an assumption of its source being divine. God blesses people or events. Wishing a blessing upon someone must inherently involve some outside power to bestow it. I want to reclaim the language, though. Blessing is such a powerful action. It expresses caring and understanding and the desire for others to experience goodness in their lives. The action of blessing happens within the fully human connection between people. People bless each other. God is in no way necessary.

Choose to recognize blessings.

There was a morning when I was interning as a chaplain in a hospital that I encountered a man with whom I shared blessing. After spending a night in-house at the hospital, the chaplain was expected to report to the pre-surgical area at seven o’clock the following morning. Most surgical patients had arrived by this time, and it was a chance for the chaplain to check in with the families in the waiting room and the patients preparing to be taken in for their surgeries. The pre-surgical area was a large room with patient areas lining the walls, each one curtained off for some semblance of privacy. I made my rounds, announcing my presence at each patient area as best I could with no manner of knocking. I would ask each patient if she or he wanted to speak with a chaplain. Some would say that they were fine. Others would ask for a brief prayer. Others yet would share with me their stories, welcoming me in to know them and their families as they held on to normalcy in the face of great fear combined with hope.
One elderly man I remember in particular. The curtain to the area where he was lying was partially open when I came upon him. I introduced myself as the chaplain and asked if he would like to speak with me before his surgery. He looked at me with deep questions in his eyes, as if he were trying to make sense of what I said but could find no frame of reference. His daughter was with him, and she tried to explain. “This lady is a pastor. Would you like to pray with the pastor?” Her attempts did not help. He became somewhat angered as he said that he did not want to talk to me. “She isn’t a pastor. She can’t be a pastor.” The daughter began to apologize to me while she also tried to help her father become receptive to my presence. “This lady is here to pray with people. She prays with people before their surgeries. Would it be okay if she prays with you?” This calmed him down, and he reluctantly agreed to let me pray with him.
As I walked up beside his gurney, I saw in his eyes fear and worry for where he was, the procedure he was about to undertake, and the loss he could foresee. I took his hand and, instead of bowing my head as I often did in prayer with patients, I looked him in the eye and spoke his fear to him, the world, and the God to whom he needed to reach out. As I prayed, our eye contact did not break, and our humanities met each other. I saw the tears well up and fall upon his cheeks because he knew that I had truly seen him and the pain he held. Through my words, his fear came to light, and he felt that he could be relieved of some of its burden. He and his daughter thanked me, but I had already received from him so much more through the connection we so briefly shared and his tears.
In that moment, the connection transcended our perceptions of one another. He recognized my humanity as credentials to be with him in that moment, even if he would never accept me as a pastor because of my gender. I reached out despite his reluctance to accept my presence and touched his humanity in a moment of need. The blessing was a reality for both of us. Just as I expressed blessings for him, his family, and his recovery, I received a blessing from him in the connection we experienced. That space was filled with knowing on a level beyond words. “Blessing is as hard to dissect as a breeze.” It is there to be recognized simply for what it is.

Choose to be present.

Blessing occurs in community, when we can know one another deeply enough to recognize the ways in which all of us are simultaneously broken and whole, strong and week, capable of offering a blessing and in dire need of one. Such a space can be difficult to find in this world, stuck in a world-view that keeps us interested mostly in ourselves – our own successes and failures, our desires, our paths, our individual passions that prevent us from taking the time to look more closely at the experiences of others. We wear the masks that hide who we really are in the hopes that our fears and shortcomings will not be noticed by those around us.
When you are having a bad day and someone asks, “How are you?” how often do you put on a smile and simply say, “Oh, I’m fine. How are you?” These questions are empty in their serving a perfunctory use of greeting. This, too often, is the extent of our reaching out to one another. We are afraid to lay out our struggles before our neighbor. Afraid to hear what is difficult. Afraid to stop our self-interest long enough to recognize the extent to which everyone around us similarly struggles.

Choose to drop your mask, showing your humanity.

I am not suggesting that each one of us stop and take the time to connect with each other person every day on a deeper level. I do believe, strongly, that in order to be fully true to ourselves, we must make a space in which we can be open to give and receive blessing. A space where we can tell our deepest and truest stories without fear of being hurt. A space where our brokenness is accepted and embraced. We need a space where blessing is present.
I experienced such a space many years ago. I was a part of the senior high youth group at my church. Each week, we gathered in a room we could call our own, and we were present to one another. We went around the circle, each of us in turn sharing our monologue about the week past. The others were not allowed to interrupt, they could only listen to what their friend had to share. Together, we shared our triumphs and losses. We listened to the struggles of one of our advisors as he was slowly dying of cancer. We listened to concerns about grades, parents, friends, and siblings. I gained the strength I needed to sit with my best friend through her months of chemo. We mourned break-ups. We held one another in times of great sorrow. We celebrated with a vigor unique to teenagers.
Youth group was a special space, and who we were in that room could be more real than what we showed the rest of the world. I went to high school with three other members of that group. The connections we made at church only lasted so far once we crossed the threshold to school, but on some level, they remain to this day.
You see, our youth create something that so regularly eludes us adults. They hold conferences with deep-felt worship services where they sing to one another, whether they have previously met or not. I remember an element of some conference worship services that we called “Sufi Dancing.” We would break into random pairs, grasping hands and walking in a circle as we sang, “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.” Then, our pairs would break apart as we spun away from each other, bumping into others, and finally connecting with another youth with whom we would then dance. “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.” We looked each other in the eyes as we sang. No matter whom I danced with, as I met their eyes and sang, I saw them, and I loved them. And, I believe that they saw me and loved me. The song was a blessing.

Our adult culture makes such intimate encounters nearly impossible, and I am not saying that we must all get up and start Sufi Dancing. (I won’t stop you, however, if you are interested.) I do believe that there is room for us to meet each other on a deeper level. For years now, this congregation has held Discovery Groups for the purpose of connecting to one another in the spirit of community and blessing. The groups have gone out of favor over time, though, and groups have been offered for which no one signed up.
Many of us are exceptionally busy and feel as though adding one more obligation is going to force a tipping point. I believe in the power of blessing one another, however. Meeting in a group provides the necessary space to be wholly present to listen and to share. Within that space, you may feel safe to let down the mask. Your companions will protect you just as you protect them in the warm blanket of recognition, acceptance, and care.
We often extol the virtues of our Unitarian Universalist communities as a place where we can find “like-minded people.” However, are you looking to know those sitting here around you on a deeper level? This is a level in which the connections made are no longer simply a meeting of minds, but one in which you can reach out with your heart. And, as you reach out, you will find others. It is the space in which you can learn to recognize and partake in the work of blessing.

Choose to seek out opportunities to go deeper.

The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will
a moving forward into the world
with the intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition,
a confession of surprise,
a grateful acknowledgment
that in the midst of a broken world
unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.
There is an embrace of kindness,
that encompasses all life,
even yours.
And while there is injustice,
anesthetization, or evil
there moves
a holy disturbance,
a benevolent rage,
a revolutionary love
protesting, urging, insisting
that which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life
as a gesture of thanks
for this beauty
and this rage.

Minister, theologian, seminary president, and poet Rebecca Parker extends the concept of blessing to include the world. For her, the work of justice is the work of blessing. It is deeper than simply intending to do good. It involves both the recognition of beauty in brokenness and the fury with which true action can come to fruition. “Those who bless the world live their life as a gesture of thanks for this beauty and this rage.” Choosing to bless the world includes both recognizing the blessings already present and working to create blessings. Where will you recognize blessings? How will you create them?

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.

“Sundays, I Take the Bus”

a sermon by Erin Margit Dajka
October 10, 2010
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis

I drive a tiny, yet sporty, two-door silver Saturn. It’s putting on a few years, but it’s mileage is still reasonable. A child in the congregation named Margit is particularly fond of seeing my car parked in front of the church when I am here during the week. My license plate reads “MARGIT 3” because I am so proud of my middle name, which I pronounce Margit. Margit’s mother wishes they could have met me earlier so they might have gotten a picture of her with my car when she was still three. “Margit 3.” A picture might have to happen, anyway.
I drive my car to meetings here at the Society, to the YWCA, and to my classes at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton. - On Sundays, though, I take the bus.
I started riding the bus in Minneapolis for General Assembly back in June. It seemed silly to drive and pay downtown parking rates when the Convention Center was only about three miles from my home. My solution was to ride the bus, and the experience was illuminating.
The most memorable evening busing home from General Assembly was the night that it rained. Maybe you remember that night at the end of June when a huge thunderstorm ripped through the Cities around seven o’clock – dropping inches upon inches of rain and flooding streets? Well, I left the Convention Center just as it began to rain.
It was me with my tiny purple umbrella, fighting through the pounding rain on Nicollet Ave. One block, two – slogging, and keeping going. Just after I had given up to the solace of the doorway of a shop, a bus came by. I rushed over to it, relieved to be able to get out of the rain - and then I was surprised. The driver invited everyone onto the bus stating that it was, at that moment, a free ride. Four stops later, and I stepped off the bus to cross the street onto the light rail platform. My little purple umbrella served as my only protection from the hail, which had joined in with the rain, plummeting down to earth. It was a particularly bad storm, and the light rail platform flashed a message suggesting that passengers seek shelter due to a severe thunderstorm warning.
But, where could I go? Was I in danger? Where do you go when you are caught out in such weather? My pattern of thinking changed in that moment. Before that day, I had casually wondered what people without homes or places to be might do during a severe storm. Now, I was in the middle of a severe storm without any place to go besides this light rail platform, where I could not escape the rain that blew in and was being told by a recording to seek shelter.
I was not the only one there that evening. A woman came up and similarly stood, huddled against the wind and the rain, staring in disbelief at just how much water was falling from the sky. After about five minutes, we began a conversation about the weather and downtown and General Assembly as my reason for being there. Then we discussed religion and faith and how she felt that church was not necessary for her to be faithful and to do good in the world. Eventually, the train came, we wished each other a good night, and the next step of my journey home began.
The light rail car was not crowded, and its passengers kept to themselves until suddenly a young man with headphones exclaimed that the radio reported whitecaps on Lyndale Avenue. Really? Whitecaps on Lyndale? Someone else chimed in about how long it had taken her to get downtown because I-494 had flooded. A few people speculated about when the last time it had rained so hard might have been.
My adventure continued at the Franklin Avenue station where I got off. The rain had pretty much stopped, but I decided to be lazy and take the elevator down to street level. When the doors opened, there was about half an inch of water on the floor, streaming off the edge and falling down to the bottom of the shaft. As it descended, the water rose from underneath into the elevator, filling it up past my ankles.
On the street, I encountered two girls who were probably in high school. As I came with a rush of water out of the elevator, I commented to them that at least my shoes had already been soaked. Our conversation turned to the storm and their experience of traveling in it. The three of us got onto the next bus and sat near the back, but not together. We drove past a building where I saw water gushing in streams six inches in diameter out of drains in its side. I said, “girls – check it out!” and they were just as impressed and amazed by it as I had been. Suddenly, another woman sitting a little in front of us turned and said that she’d seen water spurting out of a man-hole cover a full six feet into the air. “Really?” we asked. “Yeah, I took a picture with my phone. Want to see it?” So, there we huddled, the girls I’d met on the street, a couple of other passengers, and me, around this woman’s cell phone to see a geyser of water erupting from a man-hole cover.
Then, the bus crossed a street that was flooded with more than two feet of water. A couple of cars had stalled out, and as the bus made its way through, the rush of water against its front almost reached the windshield. We made it to my stop, though, and I got off with yet another woman onto a curb upon which the flooding encroached. She looked at me as if to ask, “How do we cross?” “It doesn’t look like we have a choice – we’ll just have to go through it.” So, we crossed that moving stream of water six inches deep in the gutters of the road. She shrieked with delight as the water rushed through her sandals. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” she responded coyly. “Have a good night – safe travels home!” “You too!”
This is a long story, but every piece of it is important to me. The one piece I have left out, however, is that in all of these conversations, I was the only white participant. The bus driver who let everyone ride free and the woman on the light rail platform were African American. The girls waiting for the bus were Latina. The group huddled around the cell-phone picture also included an Asian woman and a Native American. And the young woman who so enjoyed getting her feet wet? She’d needed to lift her long skirt to cross and had her head covered by a scarf. She was a Muslim Somali immigrant.
These conversations, moments of meeting each other as human beings, unfortunately would never have happened under other circumstances. Cultural barriers are difficult to break. However, even if all of us had shared a similar ethnic and cultural background, these conversations still probably would not have happened. This is a wonderful story, but the one thing that makes it so wonderful is a sad critique of our society.
Each of us journeys alone most of the time. We do not make the effort to meet our traveling companions. Somehow, to do so feels largely taboo. It takes one of the heaviest rainfalls in years for the wonder of the world to break into our shells and boundaries, forcing us to take notice of it, and to share that wonder with those around us. I feel blessed to have had this experience.

We have so much to learn by journeying together.
We have so much we can share.

Later this summer, I rode the bus again – this time to the Capitol in Saint Paul to participate in the OutFront Minnesota counter-rally to the National Organization for Marriage’s presence on the Capitol building’s steps. Both rallies were peaceful, and I was proud of my fellow demonstrators poignantly expressing our support for marriage equality. And it was a long bus ride home. It was the final leg of my journey when a man sitting in the very back corner of the bus made a comment to me about the weather, and we began a conversation. He asked me if I was on my way home, and I explained that I had been at the rally in support of gay marriage. A few moments passed and he turned to me again, “I don’t want to . . . well . . . I’m not trying to be . . . but, are you a . . . lesbian?” “Actually, I’m straight. I have a boyfriend.” “Oh.” Another pause. “But, . . . why do you support a cause you don’t believe in?” And so began our lengthy conversation about why I support marriage equality. What I said did not fit into what he knew of family or marriage, so he asked questions, partially trying to catch me in a logical flaw, partially trying to get his head around my position. I may not have changed his mind on the issue, but I am confident that he left the conversation thinking about the issue differently. My social justice work that day was complete – I had shared my voice politically, and I was able to do the same on a personal level. All because a 34 year old African American man chose to include me in his journey that day.

We have so much to learn by journeying together.
We have so much we can share.

Surprisingly enough, I had trouble finding readings that I wanted to share with you this morning. Our culture is filled with stories of journeys, but in our tales and books and poems and myths, the focus of the journey is consistently about the quest of a single individual. That hero usually gets help and guidance along the way, but, ultimately, he must face the quest alone. This image, which we encounter day after day, is of the individual, up against all odds, making it to the final destination. How often do we hear, “He pulled himself up by his bootstraps.” Or we might say, “She overcame all odds.” Consider how we encourage our children to be able to claim, “I did it all by myself.” We see this as the pinnacle of success. The focus is on the individual’s achievement. The individual’s path. The individual’s journey.

And, as we journey alone, we are alone.
Many of you were also fortunate enough to attend the Sunday morning service at General Assembly this past June. You may remember how Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, spoke about how startlingly alone most of the people in this country are. He cited surveys taken first in 1985 and then repeated in 2004. The key question, measuring intimacy, was “How many people do you know with whom you can share personal information?” In 1985, the most common answer, provided by about 25% of the respondents, was three. 10% reported zero. Fast-forward through the information highway of time to 2004, and the people who felt they had no one with whom they could share personal information increased to 25%, and another 25% reported only one other person. Hearing this shocked me. Do a quarter of Americans truly believe that they are alone? Do half of us have fewer than two people to whom we can reach out – with whom we can share our experience of the journey?

It is easy to journey alone. One place to the next – jobs, meetings, exercise classes, errands, tele-conferences, e-mails, home, and off again. Including others mucks up the works – the waiting, changes of plans, multiple stops. It is just easier to get where you are going all by yourself.
But, you miss so much. There are conversations and friendships possible along the way. If you can only take the moment to reach out, you may find so much more through those traveling along side you. These are the people you meet on the street along with your closest friends, colleagues, and family. The journey is so much greater than getting from one place to the next – it is all that you are – journeying through life.

Just as you need the guidance, support, companionship, and stories of those who journey with you, there are others who yet need someone to journey with them. Who do you choose not to see? Who could use your guidance, support, companionship and stories as they journey through life?

On my journey home through the storm, I was faced with the questions of how people who have no where to go manage in torrential downpours – and by extension, how do they manage at all? Who journeys with them? While there are many ways to reach out, consider literally journeying with someone without a home on December 13 as they make their way through the confusing array of services offered at Project Homeless Connect. Hear her stories. Find out where his path is taking him. Offer your support.

We have so much to learn by journeying together.
We have so much we can share.

Our attention has recently been turned to the tragedies of young people seeing no hope in having to face what seems like a lifetime of being alone because of their sexual orientation. These young people desperately need company on their journeys, to see that they truly are not alone. They need to hear your stories of getting through times without hope. They have to have your support. Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, a day set aside to encourage people of all ages to take a huge step on their journeys, finally sharing with the world who they truly are – Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Ally. Don’t let them take this huge step alone. Be on that road with them.

We have so much to learn by journeying together.
We have so much we can share.

I ride the bus on Sunday mornings. Yes, this is in part to leave one more parking place for you. But, I made up my mind that I wanted to take the bus even before I knew of the parking situation. Riding the bus gives me the opportunity to travel with others. It is my reminder before we gather in this beautiful assembly hall of the absolute need to journey with those around me, especially those in need.
When I catch the #2 bus at 9:11 on Sunday morning, I encounter a man for whom sharing the journey is an utter joy. This bus driver greets each of his passengers with a smile and a how are you? The first time I asked the question back to him, he said that he was just dancing that day. He is so filled with joy sharing the journey that he happily announces each street that we cross and to which lines you might transfer at the next stop. I believe that I could learn something from him. We all could. Sometimes, sharing the journey is as simple as a smile.

The innkeeper in the Canterbury Tales offers his idea of everyone telling stories on the journey as a sport, but it is so much more than that. Their stories bind them on their journey as each is on equal ground. This morning, I challenge all of us to find ways to share the journey.

We have so much to learn by journeying together.
We have so much we can share.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring Watch 2009 Post I

Spring comes late in Minneapolis.

I have been waiting for spring for a long time. Minneapolis will one day be green and fragrant once again. I'm seeking for signs of the renewed warmth, growth, life, and beauty around me. May I also find these things emerging within myself, as well.

Today as I look out my window:

It is warm and sunny.
The lilac bush in front of my house is starting to bud, as is a tree across the street.
The tree in front of my house remains bare.
My neighbors spent last evening sitting on their porch.
The seasonal soft serve shop on Franklin is open. We got a banana split last night.
The grass has yet to come to life.
The snow melted weeks ago.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Waiting . . .

Tonight in a class at church, I participated in a shamanistic journey. After drumming and chanting to call in the spirits, the shaman guided us into another plane where we called forth and met our deepest, inner selves.

From journaling I did directly after the experience:

"The goddess came upon me with a brush of the wind. She came with my true self.

If only there could have been a conversation, an understanding, something to show me the way on my path toward being my true self.

There is a thin thread that I held on to. I believe it will show me the way back to where my true self resides, to my path. It is there, and I will return.

I must return.

Only in that place may I become whole, know myself truly, and push forward into that which will be the true light.

She was gorgeous."

Later, a conversation constructed from the experience:

Me to my true self: Who are you?

True Self: I am beauty who does not need to be told of it. I am strong in my own right. I am connected to that which is. I can bring Her. You can only know Her through me.

Me: Why have you come?

True Self: You called for me. I only sit here, wiating for you to be ready to know me and the gifts I have to share. Are you ready, yet? I cannot tell you that. Only you can move in my direction, coming to know me as you are ready.

Me: How can I nurture you?

True Self: Come to me. Find me. Sit with me for a while. Ask your questions. Touch me. Know me. Understand that you have me here, waiting. Whe you are ready, walk with me.

So, I remain in this tenuous place of neither here nor there, continuing to wait, to want so badly to make progress, to know myself better, to be ready to pursue the ministry. But, my true self isn't even giving me the tools, but merely waiting for me to find them and her by myself. I want so badly to embody my dream. I will grasp that thread and follow it back until I find my deepest self and can sit beside her, becoming her.

Out of Balance?

Something I've been contemplating lately has bee whether or not there is something out of line, not balanced, just wrong in my inner self. Something that I haven't emotionally addressed, something that isn't sitting correctly in my body, something my spirit is begging for me to feel. Something like this must be the case because while most everything seems to be going so well (I feel happy a lot of the time, I'm part of communities again, I'm busy doing things I enjoy), I am remarkably accident prone lately. The list is long, from an inordinent number of paper cuts to dreadfully bad days at work to bumping into things to getting more serious cuts to having my purse snatched to falling down the stairs. By the last two, the reality that this isn't normal misfortunes or accidents, but a serious streak of getting hurt, really started to set in.

But, how do I even start to consider what it is that isn't right? If it's manifesting itself so clearly in my body, you would think that it's pretty serious, but I can't even begin to name it. I'm just going to have to sit with this one longer.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Two Weeks' Notice

"Dear Rich:

I have very recently come to a decision that I need to bring about very serious change in my life. The time I have spent in Akron was intended to recharge me for my ministry and help me find myself. However, I have not been able to pursue any of these goals, and I find myself significantly worse off than I was a year and a half ago. I will soon be moving away from Akron and starting over.

Please accept this as notification that my last day in your employ will be October 27, 2006.


Erin Margit Dajka"

Monday, September 18, 2006

Living with Reverence

This is a short reflection piece that I preached yesterday:

"I believe that all of us have had ‘spiritual’ experiences. Through whatever means, that 'something more' has entered into our lives, filling us with joy and wonder and awe and – life.

I have felt this way during thunderstorms, taking long walks along wooded paths, watching the rays of the sun bless the earth. The divine has been part of me as I have sat singing with thousands of people at a worship service, dancing before the moon, sitting in silent meditation, through the gentle, comforting touch of a friend. Such moments have rejuvenated me, filled me in places that I had not even known were empty. They have helped me see the path when it has seemed to have disappeared.

We long to feel part of something greater, connected to each other, the world around us, to that which is holy. Such experiences stay with us and shape us and give us hope.

Somehow, however, in our daily lives, the divine seems distant and unattainable. We are constantly distracted from everything but the most imminent tasks and chores. We complain about being busy, about having no time, about feeling as though something important is missing from our lives. When we are disconnected from each other and from the divine, we do not feel whole and lack a sense of purpose.

Imagine, however, how it would feel to be filled with the spirit every day. To take the sense of calm that we may feel when beside a wooded stream with us to work. The sense of community we gained at a retreat with us while we drive from place to place. Instead of merely taking time out of our busy lives every now and then to seek the divine, I want to be connected to it each day.

Where there is emptiness, let it be filled with the divine. When we are lonely, let us invite the holy to sit beside us and listen. As we struggle through chaotic lives, let us reach out to that which is more than ourselves for strength and peace."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Dark night of the soul

Excerpted from a recent e-mail I sent to a friend:

"Sometime soon I'll write out more about my current state, but not now. It's one of those moments when on the surface it may look like I'm doing better than I've been in a long time - I'm really involved at church, I'm playing for two symphonies, I work out every day either before or after work, sometimes even with a personal trainer, but I also can't sleep well at night (either can't fall asleep, or wake up entirely too early), constantly question why I'm still where I am, and the moment I arrive at work each day, my heart sinks, my soul fills with rage and dread, and the physical feeling of oppression causes my shoulders to droop, my face to sag downward, my chest to become tight, and my head to begin to throb.

It sounds like we're both just holding on by a thread. May that thread be strong and lead us down paths that will bring us sure-footing. Amen."

With the theme of such darkness, let me share some photographs that recently came my way. These were taken in Magee, Mississippi, where the eye of the storm passed overhead.

Maybe these pictures, with their combination of beauty and dread, can remind us of God's presence even in the worst of times.