Tag Archives: wellbeing



I started a new website using a WordPress template. I can take advantage of their ability while challenging myself to learn more about this technology.


Consider it a work in progress and do let me know what you think.

Why bother? I am a recent graduate of Formation in Direction, a program offered by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to train people in spiritual formation and direction. Our class (the best one ever!) included clergy and lay people from a cross-section of theologies and life experiences. Now I’m interested in applying what I’ve learned with others. Individual spiritual direction provides a private space to listen to what’s in someone’s heart and help them apply that inner wisdom to daily life. Small groups have the same intention, and there’s a strong chance that collective wisdom will enhance all of our lives. Spirituality does not depend on your particular set of beliefs, but it thrives when you feel connected to the spirit within yourself.

How are your heart and soul today?


Spiritual Friendship


Tilden Edwards wrote a book entitled Spiritual Friend: Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. He is the founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, where many of my teachers studied.

Edwards spoke to my heart of a “calm trust in grace winding its opening way” through one’s life.

Grace has been winding its opening way through me. I stood in a small park last Spring and saw with fresh eyes each raindrop on the grass, the trees, and the lily pond as grace. A gift that was mine for the taking, created by unseen forces.

I walked around the pond and took pictures of water lilies and a small cottontail rabbit nibbling, undisturbed, on lush wet grass. It was an experience of grace.

pond-in-distance lily-and-bud bunnyThis year I have visited monthly with a spiritual director in between classes to become a spiritual director myself. “Direction” is a bit misleading; it’s more like a conversation about one’s spiritual life. How does spirituality shape the way I live in the world? What’s the reason for prayer?

Since August I have been more faithful (again) about daily meditation / contemplation / prayer / what have you. I’ve increased the time gradually all the way up to 22 minutes in the morning and about 2 minutes at night as I settle into restful slumber.

In the evening I take a series of three breaths and repeat as long as needed while I focus on being grounded, on being full of gratitude, and on God as Love. The three Gs make it easy to remember:

1) Grounded. I belong here and I can rest now.

2) Gratitude. For grace that came my way this day, for friends, for opportunities and challenges, I give thanks.

3) God. Let all abide in love. Let love guide our lives.

Gratitude in the morning for having seen a new day, and gratitude for the day as I drift off to sleep, are now the bookends of my daily life. How does grace “wind its opening way” through your life?

Blessings for 2017!


Kristen Cervantes is a Student Pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, TX, while she continues her studies at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. We have weekly conversations that help us both grow in ministry.

When Kris responded to presidential election results, she posted these wise words:

I will not despair. Or rather, I will not only despair.

At times like this I really do wish I believed in a God who is an active agent in the world. But as I think of the gut-wrenching sobs I have heard, felt, held in my body and held in the circle of my arms, in my friends’ bodies, I don’t have that solace.

I have solace in the beauty and wonder of the world we share. I have solace in the deep emotion that means deep commitment to the continued work of building the beloved community for all, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, ability, and all the other boxes we try to fit ourselves and others into. I have solace in the help and strength and brokenness and beauty and potential in every human body and mind and soul.

My church says it wants to ‘create a more just and loving world.’ I take solace in the knowledge that we do not stand, move, and struggle alone in this painful and difficult act of creation.

I will not despair.

The New Year is upon us! May you find your way out of despair and into community.

A Spiritual Life



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



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.


What a great occasion March 30, 2012! Brian Ferguson was ordained to Unitarian Universalist ministry by the members of the San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The sanctuary was packed with well wishers from Kerrville, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Dallas as well as San Marcos. I was pleased to see several members of Live Oak who made the trip south through rush hour traffic. Clergy robed up and wore their beautiful stoles full of symbolism and color. Delicious appetizers greeted us before the service and even more delights greeted us in the buffet line after the service. Thanks, San Marcos volunteers and caterers!

We send our best healing wishes to Will Bryant, who was to play the piano, and to Ann Allen, who was to present the new stole to Brian. Will was in a car accident and Ann had a fall so neither of them could attend.

The Rev. Aaron While, Associate Minister at First UU Church in Dallas, delivered a fine sermon. He is the proud (and exhausted) father of his first baby Henry, born March 7. Aaron admitted that he might be the first preacher to fall asleep at the pulpit. But he did not. It was wise, witty, and wonderful–filled with the wonder and beauty of ministry.

Other colleagues read or sang or prayed. The Rev. Meg Barnhouse delivered a “charge” to the congregation. Among other things she advised them not to needle their minister with piddly little things. He is called to lead and to pursue the vision, not to worry about whether his tie is the right color. The congregation can support the minister by “keeping him in mind” as their spiritual leader, though merely a man.

I delivered the charge to Brian himself. Someone mentioned later that its emphasis on self-care and balance could apply to nearly everyone, so here is the text as written, if not exactly as spoken:

Charge to the Minister: Rev. Brian Ferguson

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

30 March 2012

Brian, this ordination, this laying on of hands, and your new stole have set you apart. You and your congregation will shape each other over time. They have asked you to speak your truth; to teach wonder and mystery as well as facts; to witness and act on your moral convictions; to officiate for many life transitions; and to serve with love and kindness. That’s all they want! Walking on water is not a requirement.

We already know you’re flexible. Not content with a standard internship you ended up with 3 completely different intern supervisors—Davidson Loehr, Chuck Freeman, and me—in 2 very different congregations—1st UU and Live Oak in Austin. What an experience of observation while remaining out of the crosshairs of conflict! Yes, flexibility is an asset.

You in turn have offered to share curiosity, encouragement, and courage in this wonderful world of parish ministry. Your new stole represents this life to which you are called. When you wear it you are yoked in service of something greater than yourself.

Both you and the congregation spoke of love. That’s hardly a term to be taken lightly because it carries with it one of the most fundamental desires from the moment of birth until the dying of the light.

My charge to you this evening is for you to take care of your spirit, mind, and body.  Infuse these three with love and the knowledge that time waits for no one. The dates in your calendar are closer than they appear!

So take care of yourself for the long haul. You already have a split residency between here and Austin. Make the most of your time in each place, but don’t wear yourself to a frazzle at either end of that stretch of road. You are the one to set boundaries on your work. No one but you will know how much has been asked of you. Ministry never ends so you have to draw the line somewhere every single day. It will wait! And you will work much more efficiently and quickly on the things that matter if you are well rested and in a good frame of mind.

Pray. Center yourself to the point that you know how your spirit is today. Then you can pray for guidance, pray for the people, pray for the earth and everything riding on it. Seek out spiritual direction from someone who will encourage you to grow your spirit. Or find a text or poem that leads you on a path of growth and challenge. Do whatever it takes to feed and nurture your spirit.

As for your mind, read and discuss as widely as possible. Join a book club that chooses books and subjects you never knew existed. Read to learn and read for fun. Get involved in activities outside the church. All of these encounters help keep your mind open and agile.

As for your body, celebrate your health and pay attention to keeping it. Good nutrition and exercise of heart, lungs, and muscles will go a long way toward satisfaction with life and in ministry.

Take time for your family, beginning with Natalie and Isla, who teach you so much about the world through their eyes. Living as an independent family unit is not always easy, especially when you combine different cultures and personalities. It takes time and patience when you are together and it helps that Natalie understands quite a lot about church life behind the scenes. Isla brings youth as well as wisdom and a special bond with her dad as girls so often develop.

Remember your family of origin. Although they may be far away in miles, you carry them in your heart: your mum Margaret Ferguson, so far away and so frail in Scotland and her older sister Aunt Marion; your brother Alistair who lives in Moscow; your cousin Anne Reid with whom you are still so close she might well have been a sister; your father Ian, who died four years ago but remains a part of you. They are your roots and branches and will remain so forever even though you are scattered around the world.

Love your family; love your neighbor; love God; love life itself. Do you know yet what you love at the center of your being? Let love of something be your foundation, your faith, your north star.

Love the congregation, who range from those who feel self-assured to those who find it difficult even to love themselves.  Each of them needs you. But before you can love anyone or anything else you have to love yourself first.

Ministry will call upon you to serve as a leader, a pastor, a priest, a prophet, a role model and a rabbi. Have you already learned to juggle? There will be lonely times when you have to stand alone for something you believe is right and honorable. There will be crowded times when you can scarcely hear yourself think.

Whenever you feel alone and isolated and whenever you feel crowded and overwhelmed that’s where your colleagues come in handy. A number of us have driven many miles for this great occasion because we want to show our support today and in future years. None of us can stand in your shoes, but you can be sure that we will support you when you call upon us, just as we will turn to you when we need advice or a listening ear. Take care of yourself: spirit, mind, and body. Infuse yourself with love and nurture yourself over time. That will be the basis of your great ministry.

One more thing, Brian. Take everything I’ve said with a grain of salt . . . so long as you remember this: have fun! Celebrate! Leap for joy! Believe in miracles! Be yourself!

. . . and let your inner Scot shine!


What a great occasion!

First Days Record


Shifting gears, big time! Phone calls, emails, and meetings with key leaders have started to fill me in on the weeks I was away. At the same time I have been picking up many balls all at once, as though I had never been away. Some things have waited for my return; some balls were dropped altogether; many positive things have moved us forward in our mission. Already I have had to say goodbye to a member who is moving away.

Even as I ramp up it is important for me to maintain a wide perspective, a metaphorical view from the balcony. Life IS short. Healthy balance requires considerable effort because there is always something personal or professional that can throw that balance right out the window.

So I go back again and again to the spiritual heart of my being. Meditation, poetry, music, writing, and prayer–early and often during each day. Such a joy it is to fall back on the spiritual wisdom of the ages!

Today has been a reading and writing day. I’m outside under the shade of a patio umbrella and there is almost enough breeze to offset the heat and humidity. The weather will only get worse as summer takes hold, so I might as well avail myself of this beautiful spring day. Too bad we haven’t had enough rain lately. I’m trying to be super conscious of water consumption already and to appreciate every drop.

Here’s a closing reading from Anthony de Mello’s Song of the Bird

A Parable on Modern Life

The animals met in assembly and began to complain that humans were always taking things away from them.
“They take my milk,” said the cow.
“They take my eggs,” said the hen.
“They take my flesh for bacon,” said the hog.
“They hunt me for my oil,” said the whale.

Finally the snail spoke. “I have something they would certainly take away from me if they could. Something they want more than anything else. I have TIME.”
You have all the time in the world, if you would give it to yourself. What’s stopping you?

I don’t need ALL the time. Just enough. And you?

Barsana Dham


After a trip to India, what could be better than a yoga retreat at Barsana Dham? Organized by Jogendra “Jogi” Bhagat, it was a weekend filled with various yoga and meditation practices in a union of body, mind, and spirit. (A henna tattoo added a nice touch.)

Barsana Dham is dedicated to Krishna and his consort Radha. The two are depicted indoors and out, referred to as Radha Krishn. There are also examples of Gopis, female devotees, with whom Radha Krishn would dance and play. From a brochure: “Braj [present-day Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India]) is a holy land where Shree Krishn descended on this earth planet 5000 years ago performing uncountable loving leelas [plays]. Barsana is the village where Shree Radha Rani appeared.”

FYI, we didn’t see the guru hiding out in the ashram–apparently he’s somewhere in Mexico. We yogis just rented the space and enjoyed the surroundings. Bear Creek connects Barsana Dham with the Salt Lick. That has a touch of irony, since Barsana Dham does not allow meat or alcohol. Or pets, except for their own flock of peacocks and peahens!

Lovely temple. Its ceiling is painted like blue sky with white clouds, a perfect Texas sky. Gold-plated trim around the doors; beautifully decorated. Naturally, no pictures were allowed inside. However, I took photos throughout the weekend, including a purchased scarf and a miniature veena, a musical instrument I had admired in India.

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The ashram was comfortable and quiet (in part because we took off our shoes outside every building). The Ancient Yoga Center and the Gardenia yoga room held most of our activities. Food was very good and plentiful; we got used to snacks, coffee, tea, and Indian chai available most of the day. One delight was peach cobbler made with peaches from their orchard.

Visitors are welcome to services and darshans (devotionals). Here’s a link to their website. and another link to Barsana, U.P., India. Read the rest of this entry

Wellbeing for Clergy


I am so gratified that I attended the Clergy Wellbeing seminar in Santa Barbara, CA. The retreat setting is lovely–La Casa de Maria. The 26 acres were once Indian land, of course, then became a ranch, then was turned over or sold to the Catholic Church for a novitiate, where young women prepared to become nuns. However, some time or other, the women got a bit uppity–they wanted to ditch the habits, for one thing. The Bishop said No way, and the women said, OK, we resign!

It became a retreat center. There are still religious statues and iconography like Mary, angels, and stations of the cross, but it is open to people of all faiths. There was a monastery on site until it burned a couple of years ago. No one was hurt, but the building was a loss. There are both a large chapel and also a small meditation chapel. The smaller chapel was donated by a Dutch family. Its focal point is a large circle of light on the back wall, bisected by a vertical line and a horizontal line, also of light. In the dark space, the image is striking. I had no desire to turn on the room light.

For the seminar, Larry Peers facilitated about 30 clergy of multiple faith traditions in a very interactive process of identifying our lives as they are, how we would like for them to be, and specific changes (however small) to shift in that direction. The participants often became the teachers, when they shared their stories and Larry asked questions to help them figure out new directions. We were Unitarian Universalist, United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcoplalian, Ukranian Orthodox, Religious Scientist, and seminary professor, all as equals. We made lasting connections.

I’m very glad I attended. It exceeded my expectations and has given me a lot of food for thought!



While Jon holds down the home fort, here’s an overview of my sabbatical plans. (Excerpt from Sunday’s sermon):

My sabbatical is coming up in two weeks, beginning the 24th. Unlike within the corporate world a sabbatical is not a time to look for another job. It is a time to enhance my ministry from a larger perspective. The term sabbatical comes from the Hebrew shabbat, a period of rest. I expect to rest, to acquire new skills, and to rediscover exactly what I love about ministry, especially serving this congregation. In fact, I will abide by a covenant that says I will not leave Live Oak for at least a year after my return. You can be sure that I have a plan with a schedule, places to go, people to see, projects to pursue, books to read. My plan is to begin with a workshop in Santa Barbara, CA, on clergy wellbeing, where we’ll touch on some of the same ideas Chuck and I presented in our sermon series on wellbeing.

Then I’ll go to Monterey where about 350 UU clergy will gather for our first CENTER Institute, a major opportunity for continuing education. My particular focus will be on the Vocal Community. The leader will be Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, who is a UU and a founding member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. She is a prolific songwriter and teaches in an oral tradition often found in African American churches—by rote and without written music. I can hardly wait to spend 15 hours with her and also sing in the choir for worship services.

Four days later I’ll make a giant leap to visit India! The 3-week trip will be led by a leading UU minister the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi and his delightful wife Lalitha. Some of you heard Janamanchi’s wonderful sermon at General Assembly a couple of years ago. We’ll visit several cities and their sacred places in southern, northeast, and north India.

After India I’ll travel to Boston with a colleague on some denominational work, so that will give me a chance to visit the UUA headquarters, and of course the bookstore, and across Beacon Street to Boston Commons. Close to my final weekend will be a yoga retreat held near Austin at the beautiful Hindu temple Barsana Dham. And, of course, I’ll spend some time with my entertaining husband Jon Montgomery mainly so he won’t get too used to having me gone!

That gives you an outline of my plans. But until they actually unfold day by day, I won’t really know what to anticipate. In fact, I fully expect to be surprised by people and places I encounter, especially when traveling in India. I expect intense spiritual growth that will take me far beyond my regular meditation practice. I expect to be changed. Already it is certain that my routine will be disrupted.