Thanks to all the family and friends who have been sending well wishes and words of welcome to our new little C. Since we live in a digital age, I prefer not to put her full name on the blog, but most of you already now her name who will read this.

Life with a newborn is a tremendous gift. The only deprivation I know is sleep. Otherwise, the cup runneth over with delight and wonder. My partner and I often gaze in awe at her, wondering how she came to be. “Andy, we have a baby!” And the real gift of this time is to try to enjoy each moment. All those who are parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties, tell us that she will grow and change quickly.

Already, C has changed so much since birth. Her eyes are more active and she responds more to my voice. Her face has changed and her natural childbirth conehead quickly went away. And of course, I suppose I am changing, too, as I come into the reality that I am forever a mother. When pregnant, I knew this, but C was contained and safe. Now, out in the world and in the air, I have a more concrete sense of responsibility. I have to remind myself how strong she is- how vigorous and vital- even while she is vulnerable and fragile. I find myself getting teary eyed when I think of babies who do not have the bright start that our little C has- and I am reminded of how, now more that ever, I have to stay in the struggle for justice and peace. For now, my world is small. But it won’t be long that C will be at her first community meeting or faith witness or held in the arms of church people who also want to be the change we want to see in the world.

A note on the birth:
Labor was roughly seven hours long and it was the joyous, special, transformative experience I knew it would be. We used techniques from Hypnobirthing, after having taken a month long course and done lots of self-prep at home through relaxations, breathing practices, affirmations, and self-hypnosis. My body and the baby knew just what to do, and I just surrendered to the experience. The last part, when I knew she was coming, was so fabulous. What could be labeled as pain or discomfort, I experienced as relief, release, and power! I am so grateful to Babylove Birth Center for making space for this beautiful experience. After the birth, I felt relaxed and baby C and I napped together. It was delicious!

Some lessons from our newborn:
Just as our little baby is learning and growing each day- so must each of us learn and grow each day. Forge new neural pathways- learn something new, even if it makes you tired and fussy. And don’t forget to ask for comfort when you need it- whether it be for food, snuggles, or just good company. Know that what may bring you discomfort and challenge is most liekly temporary and may lead to new phases of development. And know that you are a unique and beautiful being, instilled with inherent worth and dignity, held in a larger web of relationship and connection that calls us to Greater Love.

Here is a pic from our outing on Sanibel a couple days ago.  2 weeks old Sanibel

And here is sweet baby sleeping- she does quite a lot of it.  I think she beats our cats in hours of sleep per day.

And here is sweet baby sleeping- she does quite a lot of it. I think she beats our cats in hours of sleep per day.

The main activity or purpose of the sabbatical time on my end is a time of renewal and spiritual growth.  Truly, my ministry provides me with opportunities all the time.  But by coming away and taking a rest, it offers a different sense of spaciousness in my being.  I am so grateful for this time.  

Part of the whole experience is pregnancy.  Accompanying this new life, as she moves her limbs, flips and flops in my womb, all of it is such a joy!  We do yoga every day, sometimes we swim, we meditate every day, and get lots of protein and hydration!  And it’s funny.   These are things I am doing, and yet my body is a shared body right now.  And how amazing is it that in six weeks or so, she will be out in the air and in the world, and my body will be my own again.  Pregnancy has been such a gift of embodiment.  I am invited in nearly every moment to take care of my body and to notice it and all its changes.  And amidst all these changes is an ongoing experience of gratitude, joy, and confidence.

In my sabbatical time, I am taking an online course offered by the Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr called The Immortal Diamond  at the Center for Action and Contemplation.  He stresses that each of us already have our authentic selves, our immortal diamonds, what he calls the True Self.  He also recognizes that none of this is new.  It was what Jesus preached when he said that the kingdom of God is nigh or it is in you.  Same for the Buddhist concept that we are already enlightened, that clarity is ever present if we have inner eyes to see.  The wisdom of evolutionary spirituality that says we as humans are the Universe conscious of itself.  If we only have eyes to see- contemplative mind, the mind and heart of the mystic.

In Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock revel in early Christian focus upon the goodness of life on earth in the here and now.  Early Christians delighted in the Paradise that is already here, not hereafter.  All of these teachings invite embodied living in the way of gratitude, abundance, and beauty.  And because of this way of seeing the world, one takes care to honor it, revere it, and struggle for it.  And yet also there is a powerful message in Christianity that Jesus dies- a symbol for all of us that sometimes, in order to live with the heart of the mystic, one must let trappings of ego, scarcity, and individualism die so that Love can live and be resurrected.  

Surrounded by books still to read, and preparing for a retreat at Mother of God House of Prayer, I look forward to reveling still in this sabbatical and pregnancy experience.  It is a paradisal experience.  I am grateful to the church for this sabbatical time.

Pictured below is the birthing beads I will have with me during Labor.  The beads represent different people and groups that I love who I know are holding us in prayer and lovingkindness for an empowering and transformative birth experience.  The UUCFM bead is the cream colored seed pod with red veining in between the rose quartz and turquoise glass bead.  I chose it to represent the church because it was a natural material, and the pattern looked like roots.  So many get roots and wings from the spiritual nurture of the church, and I am grateful for this nurturing time as well!  

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I was warned.  Being on sabbatical would be a transition from the ever-absorbing life of the church.  It is been almost two weeks, and I am not dreaming about church every night anymore.  You see, that is what happens.  Some of us ministers never stop working.  We work in our sleep, in our dreams.  We become consumed with ideas, worries, the accidental faux pas, the unseen and lonely shut-in we need to visit.  All of it occupies us, not only in the mind, but in a very embodied kind of way.

I also am having another experience of embodiment.  Not just the daily practice of yoga, but the experience of being pregnant.  Apparently, there are these hormones that cause me to want to nest.  I want to put everything in labeled bins.  I want a label-maker. I want to prepare and make way (like Advent!).  I want to create a beautiful space for this baby, not for material reasons, but as a way for me to enter into motherhood myself.  

Making preparations.  It is an active religious practice in the liturgical calendars of so many religious and wisdom traditions.  I remember in undergrad, in acting class, most of the work we did was making preparations.  We prepared our minds through studying the script, the character, the context (dramaturgy), and every beat of the play, uncovering the desires that conditioned the lives of the characters.  We prepared our bodies for this sacred ritual of performance over weeks of time, emptying our selves in order to take on the physical attributes of another, re-sculpting ourselves and seeing what happened when all of these layers came together in rehearsal on the stage.  By the time we got to the stage, we had to trust that we, as the actor, had done our work.  We had to trust and let our bodies and minds do what we trained them to do, being fully present to what Fr. Richard Rohr would call The Naked Now.  I still feel that the work we did in that little acting class was magical.  I watched each person grow in their presence to one another and to life.

When I answered the call to the church in spring of 2008, I was being called to my first ministry.  When I began in the fall, I had to trust and believe that I mad made all the preparations I could, and that I would continue to learn and grow.  What I know now is that I am always making preparations for something new.  Right now, it is for a baby and for birth.  But there is always more to learn and discover.  That is why the holy times like Lent-Easter or Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur (from Christian and Jewish traditions respectively) happen every year.  Every year, we are given the opportunity to take stock of our lives, our relationship with g*d or the Sacred.

We are never done!  We are always uncovering, relearning, arriving.  We need sacred cycles to allow us to recognize where we have grown and where we are still called to discover.  So, for now, I make preparations for arrival of baby & birth.  But motherhood will be a continuous learning.  Life is a continuous learning, a spiral dance.  So be prepared.  

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  • What preparations are you making in your life?  Do these actions/thoughts/experiences reflect where you are called to lead yourself?  Are there changes you would like to make in your way of being in the world that prepare you for a new direction or new calling?
  • What repeating sacred cycles might you consider for spiritual practice to give yourself the opportunity to take stock of your life and your relationship with g*d/ the sacred/ that which is of Ultimate Worth?

UUA GA 2012

ready for banner parade with Clearwater UUs and CIW!

Suzanne Fast, M.Div.

preaching at Justice GA

Revs. Janamanchi and Johnson

at UUA GA 2012 Tent City vigil in AZ

Though our proposed Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) of Ending Slavery was not chosen, I wanted to sare with you what I read, with many words provided by Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Elena Stein of Interfaith Action of Southwest Florida.

Congregational Study/Action Issues (CSAIs) are issues selected by Unitarian Universalist member congregations for four years of study, reflection and action. In the third year of this process, delegates at General Assembly (GA) can vote to approve a Statement of Conscience (SOC) resulting from congregational feedback on the CSAI. A fourth year is devoted to implementation.  This year’s chosen CSAI centers around reproductive justice, an issue near and dear to UUCFM hearts!  To stay abreast of how UUCFM can study this issue, check the UUA website.

Here’s what I shared on Friday during Plenary:

This year will mark the 150 years since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet today, fields across
the United States remain mired in a human rights crisis that enables slavery to flourish still.
To some, my home state of Florida is “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” This is my backyard. I am the minister of one of our congregations in Fort Myers, Florida, and the most recent indictment of slavery occurred at my county’s courthouse in 2009. The employers were charged with beating workers who were unwilling to work or who attempted to leave their employ picking tomatoes, holding their workers in debt, and chaining and locking workers inside u-haul trucks as punishment.  Please know, there are more cases pending in my state right now.  What is happening in yours? 

The good news?  Change is already underway, and UUs are a part of it.The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)
— an internationally-recognized farmworker organization — has reached groundbreaking agreements with ten of the
world’s largest food retailers, including McDonald’s, , Subway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. My congregation, as well as many other UU congregations, have been allies in the struggle.  Hailed by the New York
Times as “possibly the most successful labor action in the U.S. in twenty years,” the Fair Food Program establishes a code of coduct to protect farmworkers’ rights, creating a culture that has zero-tolerance for slavery. CIW member Lucas Benitez, states, “There is a new day dawning in the fields of Florida.”

Should this Study Action Issue be chosen, not only will we UUs have opportunities to learn about modern-day slavery, we will also grow in partnership with organizations like the CIW who are already engaging deeply in abolition work.”
 
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