First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church • 330 First Parish Rd, Scituate MA 02066

A UU Yoga Pose - April 2, 2017

           At our monthly meeting of the Scituate clergy this past Tuesday, we were introducing ourselves to Estelle Margarones, the new minister at First Trinitarian Congregational Church.  In addition to the usual information – name, the church you serve, how long you’d been in Scituate, we each said something we were passionate about in our ministries.  I talked about helping people within the church and outside it to transform their lives and the world.  And all my colleagues, more or less, named the same thing!  None of us is in ministry to convert people to our particular understanding or faith tradition.  All of us are working to help people, inside and outside our congregations, find connection, healing, and ways to use their gifts.  I commented on this theme when we’d gone around the table, and Bob Schipul, the interim minister at Christ Lutheran Church, I thought, raised his hand.  We don’t usually raise hands to be called on, but I said, “Yes, Bob?”  And his hand just went up higher.  Everyone else around the table was nodding, and I finally realized that Bob didn’t just have one arm up in the air; he had the other arm stretched out.  Since I clearly wasn’t getting it, he explained, “like the cross – we connect with God and with each other; not one or the other.”  I thought it was a lovely image of faith for those for whom the cross is a powerful symbol, but since it’s not a symbol I use, I started wondering if there was a gesture which could sum up our stance. 

            What would a UU pose look like?  I turned to some of our First Parish yoginis to help me.  Milena Davidova responded to my email, and we started to work out together a UU yoga pose.   I liked the arm out to connect, but since I don’t believe in a God up in the sky, the arm pointed up needed to move.  What about outstretching it too?  Pointing with the first arm?  No – that narrows our perspective and limits our reach and our embrace.  Pointing downward indicating our connection with the earth?  Perhaps.  But Milena and I settled on reaching it behind.  That direction indicates our welcome of all people; and if many of us find the presence of God in the world around us and in our connections with other people, that arm still points us to the divine, just with a different point of reference.  The arms also point ahead and behind, tying us to our past but pointing us to the future. Like the words “aspire” and “beacon” in our vision statement.  They point us to the future but also remind us of our past history, when our church spire was a beacon of safe harbor to ships at sea.  We want to bring our past with us into our future; the words and the outstretched arms remind us to do that.  
So there are the arms.  Now the feet?  The stance needs to be wide, rooted.  But should they point ahead?  Or outward?  And the gaze?  Should the eyes look ahead or outward?  Milena showed me that as UUs we didn’t have to settle on one position – she saw it not as an either/or but as a flow – and how UU is that?!  So here’s our UU yoga flow – a movement between Warrior 2, gathering up the past but pointing us forward, and the five-pointed Star pose, embracing all here and now.  And what lovely symbolism in the names themselves – Warrior 2, a pose of strength but also of peace; and the Star, shining out, offering not one light but a cosmos of twinkling lights, like all of us, sending out our energy to the world.

            This flow is one way of embodying our liberal religious understanding of the divine present in the everyday world, of human beings inherently good – made of star-stuff - and of our shared call to flow, to fight, to stand, to help all people be rooted in that strength and that love.

  Thank you, Milena, for demonstrating the poses and the flow and for holding them for so long – that’s not easy – try it at home!   And it’s not easy to live it out in the world today.  So often we get pushed into just looking backward or forward.

Take the song the choir sung earlier about Bonnie Prince Charlie.  I assumed that the song was written around the time of the events it remembers:  how in 1745, Charles Stuart, a descendent of James II of England who had been deposed from the throne in the Glorious Revolution, traveled through Scotland and England, gathering up an army to overthrow King George II and restore his family to the throne.  He actually won some battles, but his army was defeated in the Battle of Culloden.  After the battle the prince fled to the Isle of Skye disguised as a maidservant, and from there returned to France, where he tried without success to gather the funds for another invasion.  He died in Italy 43 years later, embittered and alcoholic, but the image that lives on is of the handsome Young Pretender.  After the Battle of Culloden, the English dismantled the Scots system of clans which had ordered their families and their country, making it illegal to wear your clan tartan, play the bagpipe, or speak Gaelic.  So this mournful song about the “lad born to be king” who would come again seemed a natural outcome of the loss and devastation which followed the uprising.  But when Beth suggested singing it and I began to think how it would fit in with the service, I did some research and found that The Skye Boat Song was written nearly 150 years later and by an English Baronet!  How’s that for looking backwards – and to a past that never was!   The song was a product of a general wave of nostalgia in the second half of the 19th century.  As the Industrial Revolution reshaped society, strange alliances were formed.  The well-to-do and powerful mourned the clear distinctions of the former times; the poor mourned the loss of jobs to machines and the emptying of farms to factory cities.  The chivalry of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the valiant Highlanders who supported his lost cause became a metaphor for all that they were losing, regardless of whether they were Scots or not.

            And if their sense of loss and displacement sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because nostalgia has once again spread its warm, sepia tint over our view.   Once again our fears for the future have made many mourn for an idealized past – one of plentiful good jobs paying decent wages, of strong families, safe and welcoming communities, of the American dream making each generation more successful than the last.  Of course that never held true for all people at all times, especially for those not of European ancestry.   But those who did experience those benefits may feel like a time traveler transported from a lush valley to a barren desert.  “What happened?”  and “How can I get back?” are the natural human response.

            There is no easy response, no simple path to a society where all, not just a few, have work which feeds our sense of worth and dignity and also feeds, houses, and clothes our bodies.   Trying to go back to some imagined past won’t do it.  Jumping into an imagined future whatever it may be doesn’t help here and now either.  This though tends to be our Unitarian Universalist downfall.  We often minimize the way things aren’t working in the present so that we can see ourselves as on our way faster to our hoped for future.  I think this might have contributed to the recent problems at the UUA – the president and high level staff wanted to see their institution as healthy, so that rather than do the work around them that needed to be done, they could leap on to the more exciting work of getting others to transform their structures. 

            But we can’t get to the future we want if we don’t prepare the way here and now – doing the inner work, the close to home work, sometimes the boring and unglamorous work, of making sure our systems are healthy.  Though it didn’t turn out to be boring, this is the work our Vision and Mission Team is doing.  We are making sure we are clear about who we are, where we hope to go, and how we will get there.  And doing this work will direct our efforts toward that future more effectively than merely trying things that sound good but may not be in line with that envisioned end.

            Robert Louis Stevenson’s re-working of The Skye Boat Song gives us an example of how the future may build on a clear-eyed view of the present and the past.  He wrote his version a few years after the publication of the English Baronet’s verses, during that same period of nostalgia for a past that had never been.  But his differs sharply from the earlier one.  That one is told from the perspective of one of the defeated Highlanders and the final verse, which our choir didn’t sing, goes:   
Burned are their homes - exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again!

Stevenson’s poem offers the perspective of Charlie himself, no longer the young, bonnie prince, but the later disappointed adult in exile.  He wishes he could have again that younger self’s optimism and hope but recognizes that time as ended.  “All that was good, all that was fair,/ All that was me is gone,” ends this version.  And while this is version is more poignant than the earlier one, it also offers hope in a way that the first nostalgic song doesn’t.  For those who sang “Charlie will come again!” knew full well that Charlie will never come again.  But “all that was me is gone” is true of every age – not just Prince Charlie – each of us individually and communally are never the persons and institutions we were.  Only when we realize we must go forward from that knowledge rather than backward, can we flow to the future.  Perhaps if the real Prince had had the wisdom of the poetic one, his life would have had a happier ending, not as the restored King of England and Scotland, but living fulfilled in the circumstances that were his. 

This is the practical and spiritual tension we try to live in as Unitarian Universalists.  We don’t look to the past as a time of salvation or of glory; we look to the present to make sure our beliefs and our actions take their shape from the way things are.  And from that present, we flow toward the future.  These are the postures that give shape to our faith.
How shall we flow from here?
- Pamela M. Barz 

Sing Me a Song of a Lad that is Gone (1892) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

From Nostalgia and Its Discontents by Svetlana Boym
The twentieth century began with utopia and ended with nostalgia. Optimistic belief in the future became outmoded, while nostalgia, for better or worse, never went out of fashion, remaining uncannily contemporary. !e word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots, nostos meaning “return home” and algia “longing.” I would define it as a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed.Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.
…..[N[ostalgia appears to be a longing for a place, but it is actually a yearning for a different time—the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to turn history into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition…. [And] nostalgia, … is not always retrospective; it can be prospective as well.The fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future. The consideration of the future makes us take responsibility for our nostalgic tales.

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