Actively Seeking Joy

On 11 December 2016 Lynsey Bailey, a member of St Mark’s, led worship. We are pleased to print an edited version of her address.

In preparation for a service on Gaudete Sunday, which is the day we light the candle for joy on the Advent wreath, I reflected on making a practice of seeking joy. Looking at a lot of what has been written from a religious standpoint, there is an element of ‘fear and awe’ attributed to it. I personally struggle with that and prefer a more simplistic view, a deep sense of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment.

We all, to a lesser or greater degree, make a regular practice of seeking joy whether we realise it or not. It can be as simple as taking the time to be out in nature, spending time with our loved ones or indulging our creative hobbies, to name but a few. Joanna Crawford from the Live Oak UU Church in Cedar Oak, Texas acknowledges how easy it is to become ‘too busy for joy, too stressed for mindfulness’. She illustrated the point with a story about someone expending a lot of time and effort cutting down a tree with a blunt axe because he was too busy to take the time to sharpen it, which would ultimately save him time and make his job easier. It can be finding the joy in the small, simple things (like appreciating a hot cup of coffee or good meal, spending quality time with our families or even just returning a smile) which sharpens our own ‘axe’ to cope with daily life. With that we get a clearer view and context for our lives.

I wholeheartedly agree with that but, it is one of the paradoxes of human nature that the times we most need to find joy are when we feel the least inclined to do those very things that would bring us joy. As Rev Josh Pawelek of Unitarian Universalist Society, East in Manchester, CT says ‘Joy is essential not only as a foundation for engagement in the wider world, but it is also essential to our health and well-being, to our sense of confidence, to our sense of self-worth, and to our capacity for hope’. It's by no means as simple as willing ourselves to be happy, but there is something about being willing to put ourselves in the way of joy or create the opportunity and potential for joy.

What brings you joy? For me, I could name so many things - family celebrations; hearing the overture strike up for a performance of one of my favourite musicals; completing a set of minutes at work; singing – the list is probably inexhaustible since I can normally always find something to be joyful for, or about. If you find yourself in need of inspiration for ways to practice joy though, I can highly recommend MeiMei Fox's article ‘40 Ways To Practice Joy Every Day’ on www.mindbodygreen.com. One or two of the suggestions are a little out there (talking and dressing like a pirate for a day or giving yourself a crazy hairstyle) but I'm sure even just thinking about how you might do them could bring on a smile.

Copyright Lynsey Bailey

How we feel, What we do, How we cope when things don't go as we expected or planned

On 19 March Rev Jane Patmore led worship. The title of her address was Doomed to Failure. Despite the title, it was a most uplifting service, and most people would be able to identify with what she said.

Prior to Jane’s address, Margaret Ross lit our chalice. Margaret’s chalice lighting words are printed at the end of this article.

Both children and adults actively participated in the clever Time for All Ages story, which was about communication. (See photograph on the above)

Mr Lion couldn't drink his soup. Various other animals asked him why, but it was only at the end of the story that we learnt the reason why. It was because he hadn't been given a spoon. This led seamlessly into Jane’s theme for the adults. She explained that she had begun working on this service since January when some of her friends had unsuccessfully tried to give up alcohol for the month. One friend coined the phrase ‘Try January’ which Jane felt was more realistic than ‘Dry January’. She encouraged us to take a positive self -improvement slant on failure and suggested that we find coping strategies to move forward. Furthermore, we should not shy away from failures; rather we should examine them, using them as learning tools for the future as they can open new doors.

Jane Patmore’s address will appear in a future issue of Waymark

Chalice Lighting Words

by Margaret Ross

Last Sunday we celebrated the achievements of Malala, a courageous young woman with a supportive family and access to a global media platform.

Today I want to bring to your attention thousands of children and young people who are without their families and have no voice in the world.

They are the thousands of the young, unaccompanied refugees in Europe. Europol have confirmed that ten thousand migrant children have disappeared within Europe. One in three of the child refugees from the demolished camp in Calais have disappeared.

Hundreds of child refugees have vanished since arriving in Britain, prompting fears they have been trafficked, abused or worse.

I light this candle for those suffering children and young people.

Gratitude

by Bláthnaid Quinn and Hilary Anderson

In our opening words today, Melody Beattie made some bold claims for the power of gratitude. She states, ‘Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity ... it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.’

As you came in to the church today, you were handed a postit and invited to write on the card something for which you are grateful. The children have collected the combined ‘gratitude’ of this gathering and are making a collage of it.

Also, in relation to the time of silence today, you were invited to consider how you were feeling, to think of someone for whom you are grateful and to reflect on how you felt afterwards.

Apart from, possibly, being pleasurable activities, do they have any deeper benefit for us and for others? Also, do such activities have any validity as forms of ‘spiritual practice’? Is gratitude simply a helpful form of conscious and active manipulation of our feelings? Or, does it enable us to connect with a deeper part of ourselves? And, what role, if any, does gratitude have in faith-based approaches to living? In simple terms, why bother with gratitude?

These are some of the questions that occurred to us when reflecting on gratitude.

As part of our research for this service today, we consulted the modern online ‘spiritual’ treatise called Wikipedia. Some of you might be familiar with this online encyclopaedia. Here is some of the information included in the section about gratitude. In our preparation, we did check out at least some of the references quoted.

Regarding ‘religious approaches to gratitude’, Wikipedia states, ‘Gratitude is viewed as a prized human propensity in the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, and Hindu traditions. Worship with gratitude to God is a common theme in such religions and, therefore, the concept of gratitude permeates religious texts, teachings, and traditions. For this reason, it is one of the most common emotions that religions aim to provoke and maintain in followers and is regarded as a universal religious sentiment’.

Why, then, is gratitude required or desirable or both in terms of religious traditions?

Regarding Christianity, Wikipedia states, ‘Gratitude has been said to mould and shape the entire Christian life. Martin Luther referred to gratitude as ‘The basic Christian attitude’ and today it is still referred to as ‘the heart of the gospel.’ As each Christian believes they were created by a personal God, Christians are strongly encouraged to praise and give gratitude to their creator. In Christian gratitude, God is seen as the selfless giver of all good things … Instead of simply a sentimental feeling, Christian gratitude is regarded as a virtue that shapes not only emotions and thoughts but also actions and deeds’.

Indeed, the theologian, Jonathan Edwards, writes in his ‘A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’ that gratitude and thankfulness toward God are among the signs of true religion. Because of this interpretation, modern measures of religious spirituality include assessments of thankfulness and gratitude towards God. Edwards also claimed that the ‘affection’ of gratitude is one of the most accurate ways of finding the presence of God in a person’s life. Indeed, in a study from 1985, it was contended that in a small sample of Catholic nuns and priests, out of fifty emotions, love and gratitude were the most commonly experienced emotions towards God.

Finally, in the Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches, the most important rite is called the Eucharist. This name derives from the Greek word ‘eucharistia’ for thanksgiving.

So, in terms of Christianity, within various sects and traditions, gratitude is a fundamental component. What about some of the other major world religions?

Again, according to our online source: in Islam, the Islamic sacred text, The Quran, is filled with the idea of gratitude. Islam encourages its followers to be grateful and express thanks to God in all circumstances. Islamic teaching emphasises the idea that those who are grateful will be rewarded with more. Indeed, a traditional Islamic saying states that, ‘The first who will be summoned to paradise are those who have praised God in every circumstance.’ In the Quran it is also stated … that those who are grateful will be given more by God. The prophet Muhammad also said, ‘Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.’ And, many practices of the Islamic faith also encourage gratitude. For example, the Pillar of Islam calling for daily prayer encourages believers to pray to God five times a day in order to thank him for his goodness. And, the pillar of fasting during the month of Ramadan is for the purpose of putting the believer in a state of gratitude.

So, again, in terms of another major world faith, namely Islam, gratitude has a central role.

5 A final example for today, in terms of considering gratitude within a major world religion, is Judaism. Again, according to our online source: in Judaism, gratitude is an essential part of the act of worship and a part of every aspect of a worshiper’s life. According to the Hebrew worldview, all things come from God and because of this, gratitude is extremely important to the followers of Judaism. The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with the idea of gratitude. Jewish prayers also often incorporate gratitude beginning with the Shema, where the worshiper states that out of gratitude, ‘You shall love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might’. One of the crucial blessings in the central thrice-daily prayer, states ’We give thanks to You’. Along with their prayers, faithful worshipers recite more than one hundred blessings throughout the day. In Judaism there is also a major emphasis on gratitude for acts of human kindness and goodness.

So again, in terms of Judaism, gratitude or thankfulness is central to both worship and daily life.

We, however, are a community of spiritual seekers. While gratitude and gratitude practices are central to faithbased living for followers of specific religions, do they have relevance and benefit to us or the wider community?

Turning to consider the role of science rather than religion, some modern psychological studies have focused on the impact of gratitude and gratitude practices both for the individual and the wider community.

A large body of recent work has suggested that people who are more grateful have higher levels of subjective well-being. Fortunately, for those who are not followers of any specific religion, this appears to be separate from faith-based or religious associations. Grateful people, apparently, are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and relationships. Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Grateful people are also reported as having more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpret and grow from experiences, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem. Grateful people even sleep better, and this seems to be because they think fewer negative and more positive thoughts just before going to sleep.

Unsurprisingly, numerous studies therefore suggest that grateful people are more likely to have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression. While many emotions and personality traits have been identified as being important to well-being, there is, in fact, evidence that gratitude may be uniquely important. Firstly, a study showed that people who were more grateful coped better with a life transition. Specifically, people who were more grateful before the transition were less stressed, less depressed, and more satisfied with their relationships three months later. Secondly, two recent studies have suggested that gratitude may have a unique relationship with well-being, and can explain aspects of well-being that other personality traits cannot.

Within that context, regular gratitude practices such as the two that we have undertaken today, although simple, could have considerable impact for each of us as individuals.

But, what about the wider community? Can gratitude have an impact there?

Well, yes, apparently. Gratitude has, in fact, been shown to improve a person’s altruistic tendencies. One study from 2010 found that gratitude is correlated with economic generosity. In this study, using an economic game, increased gratitude was shown to prompt increased monetary giving. From these results, this study shows that grateful people are more likely to sacrifice individual gains for communal profit. Or, we might hope, for the common good. In fact, a study from 2002 found similar correlations between gratitude and empathy, generosity, and helpfulness.

So - modern psychological studies have allowed us to study and measure how gratitude and gratitude practices can have a positive impact.

For those among us who are interested in trying gratitude practices, the two practices we carried out today as part of the service could be developed. The first practice could be extended into keeping a gratitude journal (for example, by writing down three things every day for which you are grateful). The second practice could be extended to writing a letter to someone for whom you are grateful and delivering the letter to that person. We invite you to consider how using such practices in your daily spiritual life could benefit both you as an individual and have a possible ‘ripple’ effect into the wider community.

So, to return to some of the questions posed at the start of this address:

  • Do gratitude practices have any deeper benefit for us and for others?
  • Do these activities have any validity as forms of ‘spiritual practice’?
  • Does gratitude enable us to connect with a deeper part of ourselves?
  • And, what role, if any, does gratitude have in faith-based approaches to living?
  • In simple terms, why bother with gratitude?

Possibly, many of you will by now have devised your own answers to those questions.

In terms of our own reflections, it seems to us that the prevalence of gratitude and emphasis on gratitude in some of the major religions of the world demonstrates its significance as part of a faith-based approach to living. Therefore, it is reasonable to deduce from that that gratitude practices do, in fact, count as forms of ‘spiritual practice’. In terms of ‘practical’ spirituality, the role of gratitude in increasing altruism, empathy and generosity would seem to be very well aligned to the values of those who seek to make a positive difference to the lives of others and, in particular, to Unitarians and Universalists. The combined approach of spiritual enquiry and commitment to social justice would seem to be well served by gratitude.

Regarding our own lives, can gratitude help to sustain us through challenging times and provide support and even joy in the simple and everyday elements of our lives? Well, the outcomes of studies regarding gratitude and its link to health and wellbeing indicate that the simple awareness and practice of gratitude in some form is good for both mental and physical health.

Put simply: why bother with gratitude? we would suggest: because it’s worth it.

[Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratitude]

Copyright Bláthnaid Quinn and Hilary Anderson
used by permission
given in St Mark’s on 22 January 2017

Bláthnaid Quinn and Hilary Anderson are members of
Unitarians in Edinburgh

BLÁTHNAID QUINN reflects on … Second Chances

In a previous life, I worked as a process engineer/project manager with large multinationals, but I also have worked with adults in the community in informal educational settings (literacy, numeracy and employability groups) for many years and this has become my main area of work now.

Just last week, I watched and listened as one of my students stood up and gave a presentation on his local town for an assessment. He is an intelligent man but struggled with dyslexia in his youth and not a small amount of teenage stubbornness (he freely admits now as a mature adult) and the unforgiving education system of its time.

He left school with few if any qualifications and a great deal of bitterness. He went on to make his way successfully in life. He came to us in his thirties, when a supportive partner persuaded him to face this literacy issue, one of his demons. He claimed to not be able to write his address and was not up to the task of reading anything aloud to anyone beyond one supportive listener, much less give a presentation. I provided the environment and tools to give him a second chance to tackle his literacy issues. He grabbed it with great determination and not a little stubbornness.

Watching him present his talk to the assessor and the rest of the group, despite all his nervousness, in a calm and competent manner, has caused me to reflect on second chances. It can be hard in adult life when we feel that our life has been mapped out and we are hemmed in and defined by our choices to break out of the mould we have given ourselves and define ourselves by. But there are second chances. I have taken many myself and ended up somewhere very different from where I started, carving a new identity for myself with children, a new career and a new country. I took that leap of faith into a new life and I watched my student also take that second chance and felt again all the thrills of that dizzy feeling of risk as you end up in a new place. I meet many people in my work now staring that second chance in the face. It is scary but oh when they face their fears, jump off the edge and snatch that second chance, the effects can be exhilarating, life changing and wholly uplifting.

‘Some Things are Good’

by MARY MCKENNA Convener of Council

During a recent service Lesley Harley told us we can’t do everything, but reminded us that we can do something. I agree with her and suggest that, between us at St Mark’s, we do some things very well.

  • We continue to have a range of services on varied and interesting themes which are well attended. We have a well-planned programme of services through to the summer supported by our Members and friends, old and new.
  • We have great music. We have always been known for the quality of our music, and the addition of the Chalice Singers has enhanced our musical offerings.
  • In partnership with other organisations we actively support Interfaith work in Edinburgh, provide meals to homeless people in Edinburgh, clothe refugees in Syria, train Dalit women in Chennai, India.
  • We have a great monthly newsletter and are building our web skills to ensure our website is up-to-date and reflects St Mark’s today.

Our building is generally well maintained and well used, hosting community and artistic events throughout the year. We are financially sound and have a good infrastructure of committees and volunteers who support the organisation of the church.

This is thanks to the work of a number of people who are committed to supporting St Mark’s in many different ways. We are grateful to all who support us. St Mark’s has a unique place in your heart and there are many ways that everyone can continue to support our community. Attendance at services, participation in fulfilling slots on duties rota, welcoming people on Sundays, preparing for the Sunday service, making coffee, regular giving, singing and tweeting. There are also a range of behind-the-scenes roles in managing St Mark’s, in order to fulfill our aspirations, to meet charity regulations, and to maintain the upkeep of our historic building. We understand that serving on committees and Council may not be of interest to everyone, but we need your support and skills to sustain our community.

We will be holding our AGM on 7 May and we are looking for some new Council members. Our committees, particularly the Management Committee needs additional energy. If you have particular skills or knowledge and think you can make a contribution to the organisation of St Mark’s, I would love to hear from you. Please give this your consideration. stmarksconvener@gmail.com

We are doing some very good things at St Mark’s. Together we can not only sustain ourselves during this transitional period, but can continue to thrive and grow.

‘#BeBoldForChange? International Women’s Day’

International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated on 8 March. Four days later, on 12 March, three members of our congregation, Katie Brown, Ailsa Davidson and Bláthnaid Quinn led worship at St Mark’s.

We had all been invited to wear, or carry, something purple, white, green or gold. As you can see from the image, Anne Snoddy and Jill Stamper, as well as many others, rose to the occasion!

In celebration of IWD, and in memory of the struggle for women’s suffrage, Katie, Ailsa and Bláthnaid chose the IWD’s 2017 campaign theme ‘Be Bold for Change’ as their subject.

Ailsa lit our chalice ‘for a world where all people, no matter what their differences, are included and valued. Where women will bring their skills, on equal terms with powerful men, to the process of managing competing interests constructively. Only then will sustainable peace come within reach’. Bláthnaid then read Malala Yousafzai’s story during the ‘Time for All Ages’.

Katie’s inspirational and uplifting address traced the history of women’s suffrage and suggested ways of keeping up the momentum. At the end of the service, we were each given slip of paper and asked to write ‘one thing I will do to be #BeBoldForChange’. These ideas will be collated and shared in the future.

During the service Aisling and Euan, assisted by Ida and Lynsey, made collages of prominent women, returning later to show us their work.

Photographs by Kaye Fuscone and Jane Aaronson.

Charity in Progress What do we do next?

Phillida Sawbridge reports

In February’s Waymark, Brian Robertson asked ‘what do we do next?’ with regard to helping refugees. Here are two possible suggestions.

At the service on 26 February, Jeanne Bell from Edinburgh Direct Aid (EDA) brought to life their impressive programme of help to refugees in Arsal in Lebanon, where the 35,000 local residents are outnumbered by more than 2 to 1. The help ranges from delivering container-loads of clothing, to building and equipping a school, and providing vocational training. St Mark’s donations of clothing, toys and toiletries were gratefully received before Christmas. More such donations are always welcome, as are basic school supplies: paper, pencils and pens, etc. so we might want to think of creative ways of collecting items to contribute.

Support is also needed by refugees in Edinburgh. Liz Marshall and I visited Sabine Chalmers of Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees (SFAR) to find out more about the Weekend Club. This arranges weekend events once a month, to help refugees meet local people, overcome the loneliness of weekends, practise their English and have an enjoyable outing. The project seeks to increase inter-cultural understanding by both the host community and the new arrivals. St Mark’s could be a suitable venue for one such event, if enough volunteers wanted to organise and host it, sometime in the future. SFAR has a small team of volunteers who are taking responsibility for managing the overall programme, and who would be available for consultation and advice.

A collection box in the vestibule will be in place until early April for people to bring along the following items, pens and pencils; paper and notepads; shoes and toiletries; new underwear; and clothing. Brian Robertson has kindly agreed to transport these items to EDA

Blessing of the Animals

On 2 April KATIE BROWN and AILSA DAVIDSON will lead worship. Their theme will be A Blessing of the Animals’. KATIE BROWN writes:

'A Blessing of the Animals' is a popular Unitarian service that celebrates our animal companions and the joy, friendship and love they bring to our lives. This Sunday coincides with the start of the UK's Pet Awareness Month that promotes responsible pet ownership. To learn more go to: http://www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk/ So on 2 April we invite our pets to bring along their happy, healthy humans to join us in St Mark’s to celebrate the love we share for each other first-hand (or paw). There is no doubt that our relationships with our pets are very special and important.

Learning to live without our dear companions when they leave us can be very hard to do too. So we will also share a time of thankful remembrance for the pets we have loved who no longer - in this life - are by our sides

Note: If you are bringing your companion to this service please consider the safety, comfort and wellbeing of all attending by ensuring your pet/ human is under your suitable control at all times, is house trained and is happy to be coming!

Rekindling our search

by MARY MCKENNA Convener of Council

At the beginning of February, Council and the Search Committee held a workshop to reflect and learn from our first efforts to find our next minister. We were privileged to have Simon Bland, the new Ministry and Congregational Support Officer join us to share his knowledge and experience. It was helpful to consider all our options, and wrestle with some of the complexities of considering a certain amount of interest from American ministers. We knew there could be Visa complications, but had not fully appreciated the onerous demands of this process including the costs and the requirements on us and on potential applicants. We had also not fully understood that there are interviews, training and a probationary period required by the GA as part of their acceptance onto the roll for British Unitarian Congregations. We can appoint a minister who is not on the GA roll, but the salary we offer is enhanced by the Speed Trust, which is granted only to ministers on the GA roll. In the light of both these complications Council and the Search Committee agreed, that in future, only applicants who are on the GA roll, or are in the process of being accepted on the roll, will be considered, and we will not accept applicants that require a Visa, as we are not a sponsoring agency.

In making this decision we are aware that we will need to put energy and effort into attracting interest from a qualified minister, probably from within the UK, or from a ministerial student in training. We will be renewing our promotion and advertising of our vacancy within the next few weeks. Through Simon Bland’s encouragement, we felt much more confident about our ability to attract a new minister, and felt much more supported by our active link with the wider movement.

The Search Committee has undertaken a very demanding responsibility on all our behalf, and Council expressed its confidence and gratitude to them. All five members of our Search Committee are busy people, Jon Bagust, Roger Hartley, Jill Woolman, Kris Calder and Margery Mackay. Despite all the demands on them they are committed to continuing with this task. As before, their role is to focus their energy on advertising and promoting interest from possible applicants. They have then to interview potential applicants, obtain references and make recommendation to Council on a preferred candidate. Council has agreed that together with the Search Committee, we will study any recommendations before inviting an applicant to come and lead a service of worship. As in the past, it will be the Members of our Community who make the final decision on the appointment of the next minister. There will be a confidential ballot at a Special General Meeting.

While we have a plan for going forward, we are unable to outline our timescales at this point, as this will be dependent on the response to our advertising and there may be constraints on potential applicants. What we do know is that all recruitment processes take months, not weeks, and it will be some time before we have a new minister in post. We hope to update progress at the AGM in early May. Meanwhile, Lesley Hartley is compiling an interesting programme of services led by our own members and guest ministers. By spreading the load, we are continuing to thrive, confident in our belief that we will find the right minister to lead us in the next stage of our development.