“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of our desire to understand.”
― Neil Armstrong

Every time I take Irida’s kids to Pulaski Park, Jasmin needs to spend time at the “water mountain” (fountain), playing in the water. Even now that it is cold and snowy, she examines it, exploring the dynamics of water and ice. This feature of the park that I never even noticed is actually a scientific lab from her perspective, a place to research the mystery of water. One of the many things that I love about working with young people is getting to witness and -- when I am lucky -- participate in their sense of wonder. Kids remind me that we are surrounded by beauty and mystery.Snowflake

As a family, you can take time this month to celebrate mystery together through experiences in the natural world and practices of slowing down. A walk in the woods is a great lab for exploring mystery and we are lucky to be surrounded with woods walks that are good for children of all abilities. I have found that asking questions is a helpful way to elicit the sense of wonder. “I wonder who made these tracks in the snow? Why is this stream frozen in some places and not others? Why does everything get so quiet after a snowfall?” Even though a lot of natural observations can be explained, leaving them in the realm of mystery helps me to appreciate them more. On December 18, you can check out the Geminid meteor shower. Some shooting stars associated with the shower should be visible from December 7 through 16.

A lot of people feel very busy and stressed out during this time of year. See if you can carve out some time to slow down, do less, and celebrate the mystery around you.

Giving thanks for abundance is sweeter than the abundance itself.

-Rumi

Our theme this month is abundance and there are plenty of ways to use this theme to grow with your family and develop spiritually. This theme is annie spratt 418638 unsplashparticularly timely as we prepare for winter, harvest the last of the crops, and celebrate Thanksgiving. How can we remember that there is abundance and extra to share when we are moving into a time of scarcity?

When I hear the word abundance, I automatically think of gratitude. It is easy to take abundance for granted and gratitude is a helpful way to remember and appreciate. There is more and more research that shows that being consciously grateful leads to greater happiness. At meals (perhaps one special meal a week or every night), go around the table to share something you are grateful for. Write or draw things that you are grateful for on slips of colorful paper. Hang the slips on a tree in your yard, a branch in a vase, or tuck them into a special box for safe keeping. These can be helpful reminders on a gloomy day.

Another way to remember our abundance is through service and giving back to our communities. On November 4, RE families are invited to help out with the bike path clean up that Gail Gaustad organizes every month (spring through fall). The Food Bank of Western Mass has monthly volunteer days that are open to people of all ages. Join us on November 17 for educational and hands on opportunities. Or perhaps this month your family makes a meal for another family, invites a special guest to dinner, or helps a neighbor rake leaves.

This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.

-Alice Waters

To me, one of the most valuable aspects of religious education is gathering in community and in service to others. When we come together, we have the opportunity to get to know each other and ourselves better, explore together, and have fun. It is during the times when we come together across ages and with purpose that we get to practice the UU principles. As we gather, we realize that each of us is important, we search for truth and meaning together, and we work towards spiritual growth. Even when we are just gathering to eat and play games (January 12 Games Night!), we are laying a foundation of trust, safety, and support with the members of our community. 

During the month of December, Religious Education students, youth groupers, parents, guardians and friends gathered on 2 occasions. One Thursday night, we had pizza and then jumped into projects: making cookie dough, cards, and a weaving (that was started at the all congregational gathering in November). On Sunday afternoon after the Hot Chocolate Run, we reunited once again to bake and decorate the cookies and make more cards. These seemingly simple events felt deeply meaningful as reminders to slow down, connect, work together, and live. 

It was awesome to see how many people joined us to help with these projects! Thank you so much to the volunteers of all ages who worked on cards and cookies and to those of you who supported our card fundraiser by buying cards. We served half of the cookies at the coffee hour on December 3 and donated the rest to the Pastoral Care team.

Our holiday cards raised over $500 that will be distributed to nine organizations that the children chose, including the Dakin Animal Shelter, UNICEF, the Cancer Research Institute, and the Center for New Americans. 

We are looking forward to future gatherings (see the Religious Education calendar) open to everyone from the congregation to have some fun together and feel more alive! In January, we will have a games night and chili dinner in the social room on Friday, January 12, 6-8 pm. You could also come on January 11 to cook some chili from 5-6:30. On January 21 after the service, there will be a parents’ group in the social room from 11:20-12:30 and childcare will also be provided. On February 10 from 6-8 pm, we will have a bingo night and potluck dinner. Save any extra holiday gifts for prizes!

 

Book Group

We will be starting a new book group for kids and youth on January 21 from 11:25-12, meeting after the service for 8 weeks. We will be reading Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. This book is about a Sudanese refugee who comes to Minnesota. It presents the experience of an immigrant in a very real, relatable, and sometimes funny way. It will offer an opportunity for us to think about the experience of a refugee, discuss immigration issues, and think about what offering sanctuary will mean for us. Snacks will be provided.

books

The whole world is built and rebuilt by the stories we tell ourselves and each other.
-Rev Misha Sanders

One of my favorite memories from childhood is when my dad would read to me. I loved sharing a book with him and having it come to life between us. As an adult, reading to others is one of my greatest joys. There is something so magical about a story that is shared between people.

The theme of story provides an invitation for us to come together in community to share our personal stories, our family stories, our favorite stories, and the stories of our faith and congregation. As religious education classes get to know each other, they have the opportunity to share stories to reveal more of themselves. Indeed, stories shape our identity, our values, and our understanding of the world around us. What stories are meaningful to you?

Take time this month to share family stories with your children. Do you have stories that have been passed down over the generations?

Around the dinner table, leave time for everyone to share a story from their day. Discuss what our experiences teach us and how our stories can inform our actions. We can choose to tell stories that uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person and respect the interconnected web of which we are all a part. Think about how our stories can reinforce our principles.

Roots

"There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: Roots and Wings."

Welcome to Roots and Wings, the new RE blog! In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing updates about the Religious Education program at USNF!

“The great end in religious instruction, is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own….In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul; to bring understanding, conscience and heart into earnest vigorous action on religious and moral truth, to excite and cherish spiritual life.” 
-William Ellery Channing

turtlesLast night, I had an incredible nature experience -- a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience that is both life-affirming and humbling. I watched 90 loggerhead turtles hatch and race from their nest to the ocean. As I crouched close to the sand, it struck me that this wonder is a great analogy for education. 

In preparation for the turtle hatching, volunteers had done all they could to help ensure the turtles’ survival. Only one out of every 5,000 sea turtle babies survives. From moving the nest, to erecting a black cloth chute, the volunteers created a structure to help guide the turtles to their survival and healthy adulthood. 

The idea of creating a structure and establishing as much safety as possible struck me. As educators, we create a structure of routines, objectives, and lessons. In religious education, we use the 7 Principles and other Unitarian Universalist doctrine to inform our context. In making decisions about the interventions for the turtles, the volunteers used research and lots of love. So too, we design the lessons, spaces, and experiences for RE with research and love. We hope that the chute that we build will guide as many students as possible, while also allowing enough room for them to travel independently and pursue the route that makes the most sense to them. 

The turtles certainly seemed to do their own thing. Several turtles decided to turn around at various points on their way to the water. They climbed persistently back towards the nest -- and one even got back in! Some moved so quickly they were hard to see, while others seemed to dawdle. Some seemed to travel together, while others moved on their own. Some pushed against the black fabric of the guiding chute. As they approached the ocean, most kept right on course into the water, while others decided to move out onto the beach to explore. 

As we begin this year of religious education together, I hope that we are providing a path for the diverse students and volunteers to feel safe and cared for. My intention is for the lessons, activities, projects, and service events to inspire and bring people together and move us all towards something greater. Within the structure that we are creating, I aspire to leave room for exploration, independence, leadership, differences of opinion, and growth. As William Ellery Channing said, we are hoping to stir up and awaken our students -- then we get to see where they will go. I am looking forward to many incredible shared experiences with USNF this year.