Sacred Arts: Session Fifteen – Installation Art and the Art of Space

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. We talk about space all the time – not just outer space, but safe space, and sacred space, and taking up space, and creating space, and walking through space, and personal space. As multi-dimensional beings in a multi-dimensional world, we are always navigating space, even if we don’t consciously notice it.

In our next session, we’ll be exploring space as well as a genre of art that re-imagines the spaces we are in and how we move among them. Installation art – whether inside or outside, whether performative or static, whether temporary or permanent, whether static or moving, whether silent or audible – is unique in its power to transform both the space it exists in and our own experience of being in a particular space.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Engage and encounter a piece of installation art – remember to follow the process: (Note that if you are not able to personally see an installation, you might engage a video from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” or from the Barbicon Art Gallery.)
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the art – who made it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this installation.

Questions for Reflection

  • Have you personally engaged in an art installation in the past? As you describe it and your reaction, how did the work influence your emotions? Did it seem to “touch your soul” as you experienced the art?
  • What insights did you have about the art and artists from the list of notable installation artists? You might bring photos or videos on your mobile device, or send links to me, your facilitator, so that we can all observe the installations you found intriguing.
  • Our first source, “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life” affirms life experiences, such as finding the thin spaces in life. What has been your experience with thin spaces?
  • In “Are You a Spreader?” How do you use space with your body? What does it mean to take up too much or too little space in multicultural environments?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the various images of gardens we brought to share with one another.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “Bring Us Close to the Earth” by Rev. Lyn Cox:

Spirit of Life,
Ground of our being,
Root of unified mystery
Growing into myriad branches of expression,
Bring us together now.
Bring us close to the earth,
Ear to the whispering grass,
Quietly,
Attentively,
Waiting with slow breaths,
Listening for the very stones to cry out
With their rocky stories of
Tectonic plates meeting and parting meeting
Their mineral memories of
Hadean days, molten rocks flowing and joining
Their ancient legends of
Stars born out of the collapse of other stars
Help us to re-member.
Help us to piece together
Our one-ness with matter,
Our one-ness that matters.
With one more deep breath,
May we rise, star-stuff walking and rolling
Across the surface of an impossible blue-green planet.
May we join together to heal what is divided.
May we find wholeness within, without, among, between.
Eternal Source, Seed of the Universe, help us to grow peace.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercise (10-15 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

This file (Sacred Arts – Session 15 Finger Labyrinths) has 5 different labyrinths; print several copies of each page so that participants can choose among them.

Make sure you have markers, crayons, yarn, glitter glue, and other crafty items available if participants want to travel their labyrinth in art.

Finally, select some meditative instrumental music that will last about 7 minutes; this will give participants time to engage with the labyrinth. If you don’t have a piece you like, play the audio of this YouTube video: https://youtu.be/tX6R7l-lmhI

When we think of space, we often think big, but sometimes it is the small spaces that become meaningful or insightful. For our exercise today, we are going to go small, into our own personal labyrinths.

I’ve printed out five different labyrinths; please select one that appeals to you. Over the course of the next several minutes, be in the space of the labyrinth. You may trace the labyrinth with your finger, or a pen, or another object of your choice, allowing yourself to be in the space and experience the labyrinth. You may also choose to travel the labyrinth by decorating it with markers, yarn, or glitter.

I’ll play some quiet background music, and when it ends, I will invite you to exit the labyrinth for a few moments of reflection.

(When music ends)

I invite you now to come back from the labyrinth.

Invite reflection with one or more of the following prompts:

  • What was that experience like for you?
  • Did you feel like you were in your own space?
  • Did it feel bigger or smaller?
  • For those who chose to travel using art, can you describe that experience?

Invite other reflections and observations.

Shared Observation (20 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

There are two videos; the first is the piece to observe; the second is the artist talking about the creation of the piece. Make sure you have sound enabled. BE SURE NOT TO SHOW THE VIDEO TITLE when playing the first video!

Video for Observation.

Today, we’ll look at this piece of installation art and engage it with our four steps:

  • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body. (2 minutes)
    (play the clip)
  • Now, I invite your initial impressions: what did you observe? (5 minutes)
  • The best way to tell you about this piece is to let the artist, Janet Cardiff, tell you.
  • Now, I invite your reflections on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making. Would anyone like to share a thought or two? (10 minutes)

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to observe some installation art. What piece caught your attention? What did you observe? How do you connect with this installation?
  • How do you connect with the art form you chose? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • How was your spirit touched by this form? What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Have you personally engaged in an art installation in the past? As you describe it and your reaction, how did the work influence your emotions? Did it seem to “touch your soul” as you experienced the art?
  • What insights did you have about the art and artists from the list of notable installation artists? Please share photos or videos.
  • Our first source, “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life” affirms life experiences, such as finding the thin spaces in life. What has been your experience with thin spaces?
  • In “Are You a Spreader?” How do you use space with your body? What does it mean to take up too much or too little space in multicultural environments?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.


Sacred Arts: Session Fourteen – Landscaping and the Art of the Natural World

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. Our private and public spaces are full of trees, plants, rocks, water, paths, and objects, which we call gardens. And whether the garden is a permaculture yard, or a formal herb garden, cement planters or just expanses of green grass, we seem to crave these carefully – or carelessly – curated spaces for nature. For this session, we will consider our use of nature as an artistic medium and how we understand ourselves in relation to nature.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Engage and encounter a garden or other curated landscape that you did not design. If none are available, use an online resource. Hopefully even a small space will be available for direct engagement. Remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the garden – who made it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this garden.

Questions for Reflection

  • When you read in “Gardening” about the “link to the land” and “feeling like an earthling,” did you share in that feeling to a spot of land you love? How do you become a part of the plants, the rocks, the water, and other garden features?
  • Ruchotzke’s observations about sustainable leadership in faith communities is tied to our ability to mutually care for and find sustenance in our faith communities. How does your balance sheet look in relationship to your congregation? How do you balance your giving with your receiving? How is this mutuality leading to burnout or sustainability for you?
  • In the video on biomimicry, what touched you about the line between creating spaces to observe nature unspoiled? What do you notice about yourself when spaces integrate nature into design? How does observing, manipulating, and incorporating the natural world for human consumption speak to you?
  • What insights did you have about the social/political/ethical drivers of the people you learned about from the list of influential landscape artists? You might bring photos or videos on your mobile device, or send links to me, your facilitator, so that we can all observe the spaces you found intriguing.

As a Reminder

Our shared observation was the enjoyment of shared improv exercises.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “A Garden Prayer” by De Vandiver (UU): https://www.questformeaning.org/quest-blog/a-garden-prayer/

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Shared Observation (30 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

Hopefully, some of the participants brought/sent videos or photos from works by one of the landscape architects on the top ten list. In case no one has anything to show, use this video tour of Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmstead:
https://youtu.be/wjn8QcZzmQA

Today, instead of encountering an unknown garden, we will share a bit about the landscape architects you found intriguing, and view some of their designed spaces.

Instead of our typical process, I will invite each of you to share a bit about the landscape architect and then show one of their designs. Our discussion can investigate the artist’s philosophy or design, the impact or meaning of the space, or our aesthetic impressions.

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to observe a garden. What space caught your attention? What did you observe? How were you able to connect with this landscped space?
  • How do you engage with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons about life might this form teach you?
  • Turning to the reading, what moved you or piqued your interest?
  • When you read in “Gardening” about the “link to the land” and “feeling like an earthling,” did you share in that feeling to a spot of land you love? How do you become a part of the plants, the rocks, the water, and other garden features?
  • Ruchotzke’s observations about sustainable leadership in faith communities is tied to our ability to mutually care for and find sustenance in our faith communities. How does your balance sheet look in relationship to your congregation? How do you balance your giving with your receiving? How is this mutuality leading to burnout or sustainability for you?
  • In the video on biomimicry, what touched you about the line between creating spaces to observe nature unspoiled? What do you notice about yourself when spaces integrate nature into design? How does observing, manipulating, and incorporating the natural world for human consumption speak to you?
  • What insights did you have about the social/political/ethical drivers of the people you learned about from the list of influential landscape artists? You might bring photos or videos on your mobile device, or send links to me, your facilitator, so that we can all observe the spaces you found intriguing.

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.


Sacred Arts: Session Thirteen – Improvisation and the Art of Letting Go

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. Imagine what happens when creativity, relationships, and new ideas are encouraged rather than denied. Imagine what happens when we let go of expectations. Imagine what happens when we set aside our egos and embrace imperfections.

We can build these skills through the art of improvisation. For our session today, we’ll look at some videos and writings about improv that challenge us to let go.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Engage and encounter some improv; you may go to a show, or watch a program online (some suggestions: Whose Line Is It Anyway, Improv-a-ganza, any recording from Upright Citizens Brigade). As always, remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body.
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the art – who made it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this piece of art.

Questions for Reflection

  • Are there similarities in your spiritual practice and the “letting go” that Fey explores in improv? How does letting go deepen your spiritual life?
  • In UU Wellspring we are called to listen deeply and fully to one another without judgment. How is this similar to Hunter’s rules of improv in “Be an Improviser, Change the World?” How are the results similar? different?
  • Reflect on the question Keely asks: “How is God calling us to attend to patterns, to take risks, and to use our imagination to meet the challenges we face?”
  • Price talks about living in authenticity to live into our beloved community. How does our perfectionism keep us from living in beloved community? How does “having each other’s backs” share power? How do you do this in your own life?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the delightful jokes we told one another.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “For When I Don’t Really Want to Learn This” by Elizabeth Nguyen (queer, Vietnamese-American, UU) ():

Spirit, I would really rather not learn this.
Didn’t think I needed to.
I thought someone else could do it. Thought a leader was coming to do it. Thought the young people could do it. Or the elders could do it. Or the professionals.
Or I don’t want to learn it ‘cause it means letting go of something I hold dear.
Letting go of being someone who knows the answers.
Letting go of being someone who doesn’t know.
Letting go of the way I see the world.
Letting go of how I might have to change.
Letting go of certainty, of logic, of facts, of control.
Of the myth that you can live on this earth and not harm.
Or the myth that I can’t learn anything new.
Help me to learn it. Please.
And then help me to live what I have learned.
And do right by the gift of being taught.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session. Note that you may choose from the activities that might best suit your group.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercise (30 minutes)

Today we will be playing some improv games. The good thing about these games is that anyone can play them: you don’t have to be good at them, you don’t have to be funny, but you do have to adhere the basis rules of improv: start with responding “yes-and,” accepting offers, and letting go of expectations with the goal of making your improv partners “look good” as Rev. Julie Price explained in her sermon.

We will begin with some warm-up exercises, then move on to some other games. After each game, we’ll pause to reflect for a minute or two. At the end of our games, we’ll have more time to reflect on the experience as a whole.

Note to Facilitators:

Whether you’ve done improv before or not, these exercises should be easy to figure out and pick up. As much as possible, I’ve linked to videos of the various exercises so you can see how they go. Additionally, when a suggestion is required, I’ve offered some options if the participants can’t think of any.

Be cognizant of people with different abilities, from physical limitations to speech or vision limitations. You may choose to do some of these while sitting, or pre-select subsets so that everyone gets a chance to play something they have a good chance of doing well.

Most importantly: There is no such thing as failure here; any time a game doesn’t go well is an opportunity to talk about expectations and process.


Finally: All times are approximate; some games may go longer than others, but be aware when there’s a natural end or a sense of boredom. You may only have time for a few of the exercises.

1. Zip Zap Zop (2 minutes)

This is a very popular warm up to get our energy going. To begin, stand or sit in a circle; players are ready when their hands are pressed palms together in front of the chest. The initiating player points at another player and says, “Zip.”  That player then points at another and says, “Zap.”  That player then points at another and says, “Zop.”  That player starts over again with, “Zip.”  Play continues with energy building.  Everyone should try to give off more energy than the person before them and keep an even rhythm. 

Focus: Energy and awareness.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

2. Counting Circle (2 minutes)

To begin, stand or sit in a circle. Everyone in the circle looks down at the ground and closes their eyes. Start by saying the number one. Then someone else will count off the number two. No one knows who will speak the next number. If two people speak out at the same time then the group must start again at one.  How high can we go? 

Focus: The focus is focus; also failing without judging.

3. Bunny, Elephant, Chicken (3 minutes)

The third of our warm up games builds on the focus, energy, and listening of the previous two games. Remain in your circle. One player becomes a bunny, putting their thumbs against their temples and waggling their fingers like bunny ears.  They repeat, “Bunny, bunny, bunny” as fast as they can.  The adjacent players join in, each only using their outside hand.  When all three are in synch, the middle player passes the bunny to someone else in the circle by pointing to them.  When that person is in synch with their adjacent players, they pass it. 

Once everyone is comfortable with how the game is played, offer two variations – the chicken and the elephant. When the game is ‘passed’, the person who ‘catches’ it decides whether to continue with “bunny, bunny, bunny…”

…or to switch it up to ” buc buc buc” and makes a chicken (the player mimes a beak and the adjacent players flap wings)…

…or to switch it up to a silent elephant (the player makes a trunk by putting one hand across the other, and then bending the lower hand so that they can grasp their own forehead.  The two adjacent players lean in and form the ears with their outside hands by making a fist and bending their arm so that the fist is against their temple).

Focus: energy, listening, and peripheral awareness.

4. Do a Verb (5 minutes)

Our next game will build into the next one; in this one, each person should pick a verb and act it out. They can do it sitting or standing, walking or staying still, big or small. The player’s turn is over when someone guesses the verb they are doing.

Note to Facilitators:

If someone in the group is blind, ask the participants to make sounds. If someone in the group is hard of hearing, ask the participants to refrain from making sounds. (These two adjustments help even the playing field.)

If the group feels comfortable, they can choose their own verbs. Alternately, print and copy this sheet of words, cut and put them in a basket, and have them choose one.

5. What Are You Doing (5 minutes)

Now that the participants are comfortable doing verbs, we will complicate matters a little.

One player begins by acting out a verb. The next player approaches and asks “what are you doing?” The first player responds with something completely unrelated to the activity they are doing (for example, if Player A is miming washing the dishes, and Player B asks “what are you doing?” then Player A might respond “reading a book.”).

The second player then starts doing the spoken activity (in our example, reading a book). Another player comes up, and the process continues until either everyone has gone or there is too much repetition or the game has gotten ridiculous.

Focus: Doing one thing and thinking another, challenging expectations.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

6. Questions only? (5 minutes)

Two players start a scene in which they can only ask questions. (Get a suggestion from other participants or select one from this sheet of scene suggestions (print, cut, put in a basket). If they make a statement, hesitate, or ask a non sequitur, a new player replaces them, takes over their character and continues the scene.

This game should go at least until everyone’s had a chance to go once. If a player has ‘eliminated’ three other players, they should tag out and let someone else go.

Focus: listening, asking inviting questions, yes-and.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

7. One Word Story (5 minutes)

We’ll end with this fun game for listening, the one word story. The game is simple. A player begins a story with one word; the player next to them must add a word to continue the story. The game continues until the story is told, or it gets too silly.

Focus: listening, yes-and.

Note for Facilitators:

Watch it being played here.

Questions for Reflection:

  • What were you thinking and feeling before we began the games?
  • How easy was it for you to let go of your anxiety, expectations, etc.? Was there a particular moment when you felt yourself letting go? What was that like?
  • What did it feel like to make mistakes?
  • Many of these games required listening or watching to know what to do next. Thinking back to the active listening we learned in Sources and practice in all of our different UU Wellspring classes, how easy or not was it to do in this different situation?

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to watch some improv. What piece caught your attention? What did you observe? How do you connect with this building?
  • How do you connect with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Are there similarities in your spiritual practice and the “letting go” that Fey explores in improv? How does letting go deepen your spiritual life?
  • In UU Wellspring we are called to listen deeply and fully to one another without judgment. How is this similar to Hunter’s rules of improv in “Be an Improviser, Change the World?” How are the results similar? different?
  • Reflect on the question Keely asks: “How is God calling us to attend to patterns, to take risks, and to use our imagination to meet the challenges we face?”
  • Price talks about living in authenticity to live into our beloved community. How does our perfectionism keep us from living in beloved community? How does “having each other’s backs” share power? How do you do this in your own life?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.


Sacred Arts: Session Twelve – Stand Up Comedy and the Art of Telling Our Stories

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date]. On his website, the author of The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gotschall states that:

“Humans live in landscapes of make-believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives. Yet the world of story has long remained an undiscovered and unmapped country. It’s easy to say that humans are “wired” for story, but why?”

Every joke is actually a short story. As you watch the videos and explore stand-up comedy on your own, watch for the story lines and your reactions to them. As you converse in the coming weeks, you might pause to think about the underlying themes coming across in your stories and if you are a joke teller, in your jokes.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • Find a joke to tell. It can be long or short, familiar or new – but it must be suitable for your UU Wellspring audience. Practice telling it and be prepared to tell it in our next session. In your journal, reflect on why you chose the joke you did, and what the experience of preparation is like.
  • Watch some stand-up comedy from those who specialize in storytelling. Find clips online or specials on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon, etc. Some recommendations: Hannah Gadsby, Maria Bamford, Ellen DeGeneres, Aisling Bea, Greg Davies, John Mulaney, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Mike Birbiglia, Patton Oswalt, Jim Gaffigan.
    • After you watch, journal about the things you connected with or especially made you laugh.
    • Think about one of the stories or bits that particularly worked for you, and try to outline the plot points, the particular words or phrases that seem to stick out, etc.
    • Reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with the comedian, the comedy, and your own stories.
    • Look for ways you felt empathy towards a character in a joke or a story. How might that affect your real life relationships and viewpoints?

Questions for Reflection

  • In “Comedy Makes Us Better People,” Stephen Amos states: “When it comes to issues like social justice, ‘humour can be a social corrective,’ he says. ‘We see this in African American comedy, LGBT comedy, Latino comedy, religious humour, feminist humour. It validates shared experiences, gets us to think more flexibly and reframe situations in this shared experience we call life.’” How do you respond to humor that pokes fun of your own culture? What is your reaction to jokes about a culture or ethnicity different from your own? How does a specific focus in humor connect us? Distance us?
  • Jonathan Gotschall helps us see that stories allow us to see different perspectives. In “What kind of Asian are you?” visual storyteller Ken Tanaka takes an awkward conversation and flips it to make us chortle, perhaps at ourselves or at seeing a new perspective. Which character did you associate with? How did the clip empower or develop empathy in you?
  • In his TEDx presentation, Gotschall talks about the Will and Grace effect: that it is important to be consistently exposed to ideas in order to lean into them. His example of several TV shows portraying no judgment about gay people affected our collective communal leaning in that moves communities or culture in a particular direction. If you are a storyteller, is there a current social issue you might tell stories about to move people to action or to a particular perspective? Have stories or jokes moved you to have more empathy for a subject?

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session was the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou. Here are some links for more information: 

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness; be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “Come Sit by Our Fire” by Jennifer Kitchen (https://www.uua.org/worship/words/opening/come-sit-our-fire):

Come sit by our fire and let us share stories.

Let me hear your tales of far off lands, wanderer, and I will tell you of my travels.

Share your experience of the holy with me, worshipper, and I will tell you of that which I find divine.

Come and stay, lover of leaving, for ours is no caravan of despair, but of hope.

We would hear your stories of grief and sorrow as readily as those of joy and laughter, for there is a time and a place and a hearing for all the stories of this world.

Stories are the breath and word of the spirit of life, that power that we name love.

Come, for our fire is warm and we have seats for all.

Come, again and yet again, come speak to me of what fills your heart, what engages your mind, what resides in your soul.

Come, let us be together.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercises (20 minutes)

Six-Word Story

According to urban legend, sometime in the 1920s (perhaps at the Algonquin in New York City) someone made a ten-dollar bet with Ernest Hemingway that he could write a novel in six words. He wrote, simply, ”
For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn. ” After penning the famous line on a napkin, he passed it around the table, and collected his winnings. 

While the origins of the story are unknown, the power of the six word story continues, and today, we will write some of our own.

How do you write a six-word story? Consider the CAR: conflict, action, and resolution. Your story should progress; in Hemingway’s example, it takes us from someone putting the shoes up for sale, and a flashback to why, and the recognition of empathy in the reader of the advertisement – and the story.

Here’s another example, from UU Wellspring participant Lois Porter: “Small child near pool; disaster averted.” Here we have a whole scene many of us have seen ourselves, from the innocent place to the action that causes the crisis, and the relief of the outcome.

I invite you to take the next 10 minutes to write five to ten six-word stories.

(Provide quiet time to write – participants may move to another room but should come back on your signal.)

As we return, let’s share one or two of our favorites. After each one, we will take just a moment to reflect on the story – what we saw, what we felt, how we connected.

Shared Observation (10 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

Our observation today is each other’s jokes.

Today, instead of observing an unnamed example of comedy, we will observe each other’s jokes. And instead of the regular observation techniques, I invite you to observe differently:

  • One at a time, tell your joke to the rest of the group, who is a willing and supportive audience.
  • After the joke lands and the laughs dissipate, the joke teller should share a bit about where the joke came from, why it was selected, and anything it brings up for them.
  • The rest of the group may also offer affirmative observations, but no criticism, as it’s hard to tell jokes, even for people who are willing to be supportive.

Reflections (45 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to observe some comedy. Who caught your attention? What bits in particular did you choose to engage? What did you observe? How do you connect with the comedian and/or the bit?
  • How do you connect with stand up comedy? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • Turning to the reading, what moved you or piqued your interest?
  • Can you name a movie that developed empathy in you (similar to the horror clips in the Gottschall video)? Share how it engaged you in creating a deeper understanding of the emotions of others.
  • In “Comedy Makes Us Better People,” Stephen Amos states: “When it comes to issues like social justice, ‘humour can be a social corrective,’ he says. ‘We see this in African American comedy, LGBT comedy, Latino comedy, religious humour, feminist humour. It validates shared experiences, gets us to think more flexibly and reframe situations in this shared experience we call life.’” How do you respond to humor that pokes fun of your own culture? What is your reaction to jokes about a culture or ethnicity different from your own? How does a specific focus in humor connect us? Distance us?
  • Jonathan Gotschall helps us see that stories allow us to see different perspectives. In “What kind of Asian are you?” visual storyteller Ken Tanaka takes an awkward conversation and flips it to make us chortle, perhaps at ourselves or at seeing a new perspective. Which character did you associate with? How did the clip empower or develop empathy in you?
  • In his TEDx presentation, Gotschall talks about the Will and Grace effect: that it is important to be consistently exposed to ideas in order to lean into them. His example of several TV shows portraying no judgment about gay people affected our collective communal leaning in that moves communities or culture in a particular direction. If you are a storyteller, is there a current social issue you might tell stories about to move people to action or to a particular perspective? Have stories or jokes moved you to have more empathy for a subject?

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.


Sacred Arts: Session Eleven – Poetry and the Art of the Metaphor

Email to Participants

Our next session is on [date].  In her book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, Jane Hirshfield writes

“Poetry itself, when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery. Poems do not simply express. They make, they find, they sound (in both meanings of that word) things undiscoverable by other means.”

Religious language – what Rev. Bill Sinkford (black, male, former UUA president) called “the language of reverence” – is full of words trying to make discoverable the undiscoverable; the very words we use are metaphors for the divine, ethics, connection, purpose. In this next session, we will encounter poetry, write poetry, and consider the power of metaphor as our way to explore meaning and connection to the world around us.

Readings and Videos

Exercises

  • If the spirit moves you, write a poem! It can take any form and be about anything. 
  • Engage and encounter a poem – remember to follow the process:
    • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body
    • Initial impressions. Note what you have observed.
    • Learning: learn about the poem – who wrote it, when, why, the style/school, etc.
    • Sharing: reflect in your journal on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making with this piece of poetry.

Questions for Reflection

  • In “That Which Holds All,” what metaphor about God would you choose? If you were to write your own metaphor for God, what might it be? You may need to brainstorm a list in your UU Wellspring journal to find a few that speak to you. 
  • In “Metaphors Be with You,” Meg Riley explores a more creative way to look at our differences in UU theology and life. Which “What if…” Questions might you ask  to liberate new perspectives on UUism, climate change, racism, immigration,  or other issues we face today.
  • The poetic language of our first source describes direct experience: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.“  Which words in the source suggests a description from within, as LeGuin suggests? Which words might you choose to explore the first source from the outside in? 

As a Reminder

Our shared observation during our last session were our various views of the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia.  Here are some links for more information: 

  • Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/Borobudur/
  • Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Borobudur
  • UNESCO: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/592

Please take a few moments to provide feedback on sessions 6-10.

I look forward to being with you!

In faith,

Session Plan

Gathering (5 minutes)

Note for Facilitators:

Allow for some chatter, settling in, and other busy-ness;be gentle but firm as you call people in to listen to the reading and check in.

Chalice Lighting, Opening Reading, and Check In (25 minutes)

Our opening reading is “god is no noun” by Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, director of worship at the UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, MI (UU, black, queer, cis-male).

Note to Facilitators: 

You may read it, or play the audio found on the page linked above.

What are you carrying in your heart tonight? How is your spiritual practice going?  Your work with your spiritual director? Do you have anything to share from your creative work- either something you’ve observed or something you’re working on?

Covenant Review (2-5 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

Use whatever process your group has established to stay current with the covenant, including reading it out loud together at each session.

Is there anything about the covenant that we should address?

Exercise (10-15 minutes)

Note to Facilitators:

This exercise invites participants to write a haiku about a concept; twelve concepts – words – are laid out in this file: print it out, cut and fold, and put in a bowl, hat, basket, etc. to pass around. 

In his book The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within, author and actor Stephen Fry (British, white, cis-male, gay) writes

“I believe poetry is a primal impulse within us all. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small, often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it … the private act of writing poetry is songwriting, confessional, diary-keeping, speculation, problem-solving, storytelling, therapy, anger management, craftsmanship, relaxation, concentration and spiritual adventure all in one inexpensive package.”

We’re going to try it. If you recall from Sources, we were invited to write haiku about humanism. We’re going to write haiku again, but this time we’re going to think more deeply about the metaphors. 

I am going to pass around this bowl – each slip of paper contains one word – a concept we talk about in Unitarian Universalism.  Don’t show your word to anyone else. I invite you to write a haiku (syllable count 5/7/5) that explores this concept without using the word itself. Take a few minutes to write (up to 10 minutes), and then we’ll share our haikus with one another and guess what concept you each wrote about.

After a time of writing, invite them to share their haikus and guess what the word or concept it is about. Once all have been read, invite their reflections on writing about something they couldn’t name, and any metaphors from theirs or others that particularly resonated.

Shared Observation (20 minutes):

Note to Facilitators:

You may wish to have printed (or projected) copies of the poem “Caged Bird” to look at after watching the video (link to the text here: 
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48989/caged-bird ). Be careful to hide the title – although I suspect many of the participants will already know it. 

DO NOT SHOW TITLE OF VIDEO: https://youtu.be/FIYG9zIUDF0

Today, we’ll hear a poem and engage it with our four steps:

  • Observe in silence. Look with your heart, mind, body. (3 minutes)
    (play the clip or show the image)
  • Now, I invite your initial impressions: what did you observe? (5 minutes) (This is a good time to share the words of the poem.)
  • Let me tell you about this piece:
    • This poem was written by Maya Angelou (1928–2014), one of America’s leading female contemporary poets. Angelou also wrote plays and novels, and was active in the Civil Rights movement. Angelou’s most famous work is her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
    • This poem first appeared in the collection Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? in 1983. It was inspired in part by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy,” and in part by her own difficult childhood and the broader experiences of African Americans in the mid 20th century.
    • The actress who performed the poem is Carla Renee, a performance artist, actress, and motivational speaker in the DC area. She has performed “Caged Bird” throughout the country and was featured on a PBS special.
  • Now, I invite your reflections on the impact, meaning, and connections you are making. Would anyone like to share a thought or two? (10 minutes)

Reflections (50 min):

Note to Facilitators:

Invite participants to choose the prework observation, reading, or reflection question that most intrigued them. (Participants often reflect that the readings inform their observations and experiences but don’t necessarily lead them into deeper discussion; often, they set the stage for the individual and shared observations or their own creativity.)

  • In the prework, you were asked to read some poetry. What poem caught your attention? What did you observe? How do you connect with this poem?
  • How do you connect with this art form? Are you a practitioner, spectator, first timer? How does that affect your approach to this art?
  • What lessons might this form teach you?
  • In “That Which Holds All,” what metaphor about God would you choose? If you were to write your own metaphor for God, what might it be? You may need to brainstorm a list in your UU Wellspring journal to find a few that speak to you. 
  • In “Metaphors Be with You,” Meg Riley explores a more creative way to look at our differences in UU theology and life. Which “What if…” Questions might you ask  to liberate new perspectives on UUism, climate change, racism, immigration,  or other issues we face today.
  • The poetic language of our first source describes direct experience: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.“  Which words in the source suggests a description from within, as LeGuin suggests? Which words might you choose to explore the first source from the outside in? 

So What? (10 minutes)

How does this reflection relate to your spiritual journey? Your creative work? What are you inspired or challenged to do next?

Gratitude and Closing (5 minutes)

As you prepare to pack up and clean up, each person, as moved, says one or two words about something from this session for which they are grateful or how they are feeling in this moment. After everyone has said a word, close with a brief statement of thanks and appreciation, and clean up art supplies as needed.