Author Archives: Kathleen

About Kathleen

Spiritual Companion since 2016: A spiritual companion simply converses with one person or small group at a time to explore their connections with the universe or higher power of their understanding. Support, companionship, and mutual growth are keys to successful spiritual direction, along with a safe space for exploration. For 25 years I served several congregations as Pastor or as Consultant to pastors and/or congregations.

A Spiritual Life

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Breathe

A couple of weeks ago I read these words by Werner Herzog:

We need constantly to renew our relationships–

to the houses we live in,

to our friends,

to our own bodies

–all the time, every day.

I have become more diligent lately about going to yoga 2-3 times a week. It’s a gentle yoga with more attention to the breath than to the reach of the body. Focus on the breath and the body will follow.

A spiritual life means movement, not “just” prayer, writing, reflection, conversation. Thus are we invited to more mindfulness in everything we do for ourselves–food, drink, exercise; and more mindfulness in everything we do for the world–labor, chores, advocacy, volunteering, and otherwise getting out of our chairs.

The invitation has been here all the time. Mixed in with the rest of life’s debris we didn’t even notice the plain looking wrapper. But let your imagination open it. Notice the care with which it was created–the perfect choice of color and style, the quiet and open-ended invitation. There’s no deadline (other than death), no promises, no begging.

Just a possibility, waiting.

Life and Loss

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Chalice.Beads

A friend and I enjoyed lunch together at Sweetish Hill.

It’s a bakery and restaurant that was located originally in East Austin where Swedish immigrants established residence many years ago. Now it’s on West 6th Street. We talked about all sorts of things just to get to know each other. Among the topics she brought up are the traumatic moments in most of our lives:

Birth (where am I? what’s going on here?); puberty; choosing a mate; mid-life crisis; and aging/dying.

In my culture, social and faith communities recognize some of these through ritual and community support.

There are baby namings and christenings for newborns and adoptees. There are coming of age ceremonies like bar and bat mitzvahs, confirmation, quinceañera, Eagle Scout honors for Boy Scouts, and Gold Awards for Girl Scouts. High school graduation marks the end of publicly supported education—the least expectation we have for basic employment, but not necessarily enough for graduates to support themselves. For that they need on-the-job training or years of college and even graduate school. Weddings celebrate true love and express the hope that couples will live happily ever after. In the U.S. we then slow down with adult celebrations other than occasional birthday galas among friends. Retirement parties include friends and colleagues.

But life is more than a series of celebrations.

Failure to get that degree? Unemployment? The loss of a child? Mental illness? Imprisonment? Medical crisis? Bankruptcy? Mid-life crisis? Aging? Not so much. Only rarely have I as a pastor been asked to create a ritual of loss other than a memorial service. Some churches I have served haveChalice.Beads offered support groups for specific groups of people. The secular world offers support groups, especially in big cities. Nowadays, technology allows people to connect across any number of miles if they have access to the Internet.

Social media has become one way people expose difficult situations that worry them or even generate a level of shame. There follows at least the electronic version of hugs and support.

These crises frequently become private matters. No one knows but the closest of friends and family. They try collectively to find online and/or local support groups and look for other resources that are hard to come by. A life crisis calls for a practical solutions and a spiritual response.

How shall we let go of dreams and find a new way forward? How can we build a new way?

We can acknowledge losses with ritual. Possibilities:

  • Throw stones into a river or shells into the sea.
  • Write down your lost dreams on flash paper and watch them go up in flame.
  • Place flowers in a place that is meaningful for you.
  • Give symbolic gifts to those who have shared the pain with you.
  • Have participants drape you with beautiful scarves and tell you what you mean to them.
  • Turn over your loss to the highest power you can name, from the Universe to God.
  • Pray for healing and wholeness.

Beyond the ritual, exercise good self care: solitude, companionship, a rugged workout or a healing walk. Eat well. Sleep. Find a therapist if you have trouble coping (and try more than one until you find someone who seems right to you).

Know this: You are not alone. So many of us have stumbled through life. If you share your loss you will find that someone else truly does have a similar story. Let their creativity and resourcefulness help you through.

Believe in yourself.

Prison Guest

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H Cube powers

H Cube powers

H Cube Illustrated

H Cube Illustrated

Joe's powers

Joe’s powers

Joe Doe

Joe Doe

Super Supportive powers

Super Supportive powers

My sister Madeleine Trichel has been a weekly volunteer for 15 years at Marion Correctional Center in Columbus, OH. Men may apply to join the one-year multifaith Horizon Prison Initiative. Goals: Face the reality that brought you to prison. Become a man of faith. Learn to live in a functioning family. Contribute to a larger community.

The men live in family groups (“cubes”) of 6 and learn about their own and others’ religion, how to get along with people of different backgrounds (faith, race, ethnicity), how to communicate, and so on.

In Jan. 2015, I went with the volunteers when the guys had a special assignment: Discuss the strengths each of you brings into your group, and what are the characteristics you would want if a 7th man were to join you. They used words and illustrations to make their presentations. I took out their names for privacy reasons, but wanted to share their work.

“This plane is called the Super Supportive 3000, because it can do 3000 things. But let me tell you about this strange, uniquely constructed plane. He’s very supportive. His wings support not only himself but you as well. He’s very studious; he studies where he needs to go, where he needs to be, when he needs to rest and when he needs fuel hope. He’s also very strong: can fly through a tornado or whatever the weather is. He can hold up to a million pounds, possibly more. He’s very funny, can tell jokes, but he’s also funny looking. I can’t tell you everything he is, so come check him out.”

Super Supportive 3000

Super Supportive 3000

A Cube powers

A Cube powers

A Cube illustrated

A Cube illustrated

The Amazing T

The Amazing T

“THE AMAZING T HAS DONE THE UNTHINKABLE!

“The world’s strongest all around man. Comes from the Transformer family. In the midst of his confidence he is humble, helpful, meek, and loyal. With bold discipline he brings honest persistence, with positivity and joy. He is tolerant and forgiving of others, with a wise and creative self-starting personality. He is helpful in many ways due to his spiritual excellence and willingness to pray. It is nice to see his giving nature. He is highly intelligent and an awesome disciple. Only a man that owns these qualities can bear the weight that he has.”

T power

T power

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God's Warrior

God’s Warrior

“God’s Warriors

“Once upon a time during cycle 15, God’s Warriors had to put their spiritual armor on and go to war against Satan and his demons. They stood therefore being girded their waist with truth, having put on the breast plate of righteousness, and having shod their feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and above all they took the shield of truth and faith with which they were able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And they took the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit and were able to put Satan and his demands behind them. After the battle, when they walked back to one dorm, they came across a young man who was weak and afraid. One of them taught the young man how to be methodical. Another taught him how to be a man of his word. A third taught him how to be disciplined. The fourth taught him how to be thoughtful. The fifth taught him how to be supportive. The sixth taught him how to be perceptive. After God’s Warriors fed these characteristics to the young man, the young man became a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new. The young man was of God and God’s Warrior. The young man is known as King Leanightess!”

The Unifier

The Unifier

IMG_1002Final note: The program works! Recidivism is down and education is up. Kudos to the volunteers who have worked with these guys year after year.

Remembering Stuart

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Stuart Williamson

A distant friend died a few days ago. Stuart Williamson was somewhat distant in miles and through infrequent contact. When I moved to Texas in 1978 it could not have been long before I met Stuart and his wife Beth, who were married 33 years.

We were all members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, TX. We also participated in weekend meetings of the Southwestern Conference, often three times a year for many years. Beth served the Conference as President, but Stuart was there, too, with quiet support.

Northwoods Church held a weekend camping trip on the Williamson property in Bedias, TX . We pitched our tents, enjoyed a glorious campfire, and appreciated their warm hospitality. A funny story: Bob Nugen, my first husband, and I went to bed relatively early, while others were still at the campfire. Morning reports were that Bob started snoring so loudly from our tent that neighboring livestock answered his “call.” I slept through it all.

Stuart and Beth were founders of a new congregation in Huntsville: now called Thoreau Woods Unitarian Universalist Church. I continued to see them at conferences around Texas. Occasionally I would travel to Huntsville to join others in protesting the death penalty outside the death house. The Williamsons would be there. It was particularly poignant when I knew the father of a condemned man. Karo Riddle had been a member of the church I served in Waco. His son Granville, an artist, was executed following a bar fight that went horribly wrong when he was 19. I was grateful to share his story with Stuart and Beth.

The last time I saw Stuart was in Livingston, TX, where I officiated at the memorial service for one of his fellow congregants, whom I had visited several times in a Houston hospital. Stuart and Beth were there along with family, friends, and many other members of their church. Six months later Stuart was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that progressed rapidly. He died at home with Beth by his side as he took his last breath.

There is a lot more to know about Stuart (see his obituary). Seeing him every so often for decades impressed me with his steadfast dedication, his devotion to Beth, and their significant service to Unitarian Universalism in a small East Texas community.

Friendship does not require daily contact. In our case, encounters were infrequent but always welcome. Repetition added layers of connection.

Rest in peace, Stuart. Cherish the memories, Beth.

Love and blessings,

Kathleen

Fill in the Blank

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The summer of 2014 and into early 2015 have brought national and international deaths by violence. Every day some part of the world is wracked by violence over which most of us have little control. In that context I offer this reflection:

Anxious, agitated,

Uncertain, unclear, unsure–

The latest news about (fill in the blank) breaks my heart. I am a woman of privilege who was born into a middle class white family in a white neighborhood. Life has not been completely rosy. Childhood abuse, the deaths of loved ones, divorce, and depression were usually followed by therapy or medication–another sign of privilege for sure, since I had to belong a system that made remedies available, affordable, and acceptable to my cultural group. For less serious anxieties I learned meditation.  Benefits arose from paying attention to my breath and to the present moment. I could regain equilibrium and go on about my business.

But watch the news;  see how fast social media churn up nastiness and ignorance;  witness insults and put-downs pawned off as humor. No amount of meditation makes it go away. War, jihad, racism, bullying, systems of oppression all seem impossible to address. What can I do anyway?

Then I remember the children and adults who have no choice but to do something for survival. They have no choice but to live inside a system that’s designed to keep them silent and out of sight.

  • Teachers and students kidnapped or killed because they value education.
  • Families in underground bunkers because of bombs that level neighborhoods.
  • Domestic partners and children abused by those who claim to love them.
  • Minorities threatened and killed because of skin color, religion, or national origin.
  • Refugees who cross borders to escape war or financial ruin.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

History repeats itself and all we can do is wring our hands? NO! That’s not good enough!

If I am remotely worthy of the privilege gained by my white skin and U.S. citizenship, I can stand up; speak out; swap safety for courage. It’s time to step forward in solidarity with those who have no choice.

La Sagrada Família

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La Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882. It is an expiatory cathedral, meaning that is has been paid entirely by donations–built by the people, not the Church. Though the work was begun by a diocesan architect, Antoni Gaudí was commissioned in 1883 to carry out the project. To quote from the website, “Gaudí himself said: ‘The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.'” He devoted himself to this project for the rest of his life (1926) and even lived on site for the last few years of his life. In 1926 he was hit by a tram and died 3 days later from serious injuries. Architects since then have been carrying out his original plans. Latest projection is to complete the work by 2060 (but the date gets pushed back on a regular basis).

Gaudí left his mark all over Barcelona, primarily in architecture, but also in planning and landscaping, designing furniture.

My camera couldn’t capture the grandeur, so I invite you to check out the slide show on the official website. You can select the language of your choice from a dropdown list. Even better is a virtual tour. A congregation worships there in a side chapel. Hundreds of tourists come through the sanctuary on a daily basis. Definitely worth the ticket price!

Here are a few pictures I took. I chose one that shows construction cranes on one side. The door, covered with leaves of ivy, also hosts various other insects such as a praying mantis. Gaudí  wanted to acknowledge the creatures that had been displaced by construction. The geometrical shapes were in a demonstration area to show construction techniques.

The final one is an actual workshop (unoccupied when we were there) where contemporary artisans make molds for today’s construction. Gaudí had built his workshop on site and used the most modern of techniques to make construction easier and safer for workers.

A Day in Barcelona

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On our way to southern France, my husband Jon and I met my sister Madeleine and her husband Dick in Barcelona for a couple of nights. None of us had never been to Spain, and we all loved it. Dick speaks Spanish fluently (he’s an interpreter), Madeleine does well from their trips to Mexico; Jon and I have a few words and phrases that came to us like answers to a crossword puzzle.

We did lot of walking that first day, including a visit to the Catedral de Barcelona and the History Museum of Barcelona. The museum is built over excavations of Roman ruins. Conquerors would simply build over existing structures. These included wine making, fabric dyeing, and fish preparation. Very interesting to see and well curated.

After a late lunch and a siesta, we walked on the famous pedestrian boulevard called La Rambla all the way to the waterfront. We stopped at a market on the way back for apples and oranges.

Can Culleretes is a recommended restaurant that was established in 1786, an impressive 228 years ago. Food and service were excellent. Barcelona is a beautiful city where I would love to spend more time someday. Friends who have been there love it, too.

Can Culleretes

Religious Terrorism meets Religious Liberalism

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Well said, Krista.

And the stones shall cry

This past Sunday, something pretty scary happened at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (First UUNO).  Operation Save America, a fundamentalist anti-abortion organization that is known for descending upon abortion clinics and making life a living hell for anyone coming or going, chose to land in one of our congregations.  Several members of OSA showed up at First UUNO as if there to attend worship, and during the service stood up and began verbally accosting the worshippers and pushing anti-abortion pamphlets into their hands.

I don’t think they were prepared for what followed.  That Sunday, First UUNO was commissioning the College of Social Justice youth leaders who had been gathering all week.  The youth leaders immediately circled in and began singing.  Rev. De Vandiver, a New Orleans-based Community Minister who was leading worship that morning, asked the protesters to please respect the worship space and if they couldn’t…

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A Move in Progress

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Boxes and lists surround me couple of weeks before I move

from my Houston apartment back to my house in Austin.

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Obviously the days of this month are diminishing, but new items on the lists continue to appear. Not everything will be accomplished in the end; something will be left undone or left behind in one form or another.

Mainly I want to clear my schedule as much as possible for goodbyes. First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston (firstuu.org) is full of wonderful people. They are smart, funny, kind, friendly, wise, creative and many other positive attributes.

Yesterday I wrote about 2/3 of my final sermon here, to deliver on July 27. So soon!

Then there will be a farewell party hosted by the members and staff. I anticipate tears and laughter as we share what’s on our hearts. In just under 2 years we have changed each other. We have made indelible memories that have filled me with gratitude.

The weekly commute became too much to continue for another year. Husband, friends, and family await my permanent return. To rest, to plan our trip to Barcelona and the Canal du Midi in southern France, and to contemplate the next chapter in my life–those are my 3 primary goals. Perhaps more blogging, too!