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Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

A Beacon of Light in the Northwoods


Building Your Own Theology


Welcome to the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Fellowship service for March 29, 2020.  Since we cannot meet in person due to COVD19, the Spirituality/Program Committee is offering an alternative way to share our thoughts and interests.

Since last October two groups at NUUF have been meeting twice a month to discuss spiritual topics.  Our plan was to present the service on March 29, with individuals saying whatever they want about what stood out as meaningful for them.  Since we cannot meet in person, we offer the following reflections instead.

The five members of the Friday evening group used UUA’s curriculum Building Your Own Theology, Book 2 Exploring.  Topics include truth, diversity, the holy, sin and salvation, evil, justice, community, suffering, and afterlife.  You can imagine the wild discussions.

The twelve participants in the Tuesday morning class had already finished all three BYOT books over the last three years, so they chose to study The Book of Joy, in which Douglas Abrams moderates and reflects on a week of discussions about joy between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Their discussions focus on obstacles to joy (fear, anger, sadness, despair, loneliness, envy, suffering, and death).  That sounds negative, but then they emphasize the pillars that support joy (perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity).  Each chapter includes one or more meditations that clarify the obstacles and pillars. 

Call To Worship

As a way of entering the atmosphere of a service, let’s begin with our chalice lighting. 

     We light this chalice for the light of truth.

     We light this chalice for the warmth of love.

     We light this chalice for the energy of action.

     And….we hold all these in our hearts until we are together again.

Musical Introduction

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, "Ode To Joy"

Reflections From Celeste Gonder

As I journey, and it is a never-ending journey into the great unknown, I have come to these personal beliefs:  that God is love;   that no one religion holds all the truth;    that there is beauty and truth in all religions and cultures;   and that our diversity is a source of strength.    I believe that love, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude are the foundations of joy.  And that we ultimately return into the loving arms of the source of our being.


Reflections From Barb Kane

Reading The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutuover the last few months has been timely and helpful, especially during these recent challenging times. This book has reinforced what I value and has given me new ways of looking at life and finding joy.

This is a book that I will, no doubt, read over and over again when I want to recharge my spirits. I will share a few ideas of what I’ve taken away that I hope encourages something in you.

The Book of Joy acknowledges that suffering is part of life, but says that we can find joy despite this.  What is joy? It is a state of mind associated with varying feelings such as pleasure, amusement, contentment, excitement, relief, wonder, and gratitude.

Is it possible to find joy in the midst of suffering, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic? I say, yes, though I have worries. I don’t know what the future holds, but the book reminds me, “A brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” It means that joy can be found in the midst of a crisis. I can focus on having gratitude for what is good in my life, helping out and choosing my thoughts and my responses.

As stated in the book, “We are wired to be caring for the other and generous to one another. We shrivel when we are not able to interact…ultimately, our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.” 

I’m finding joy these days reaching out to others that are experiencing social isolation. So many people are worried about death and illness, finances, childcare, etc. and rightfully so. As a result, I’m using some of the book’s ideas, such as expressing loving kindness to others. I communicate with people more than ever with cards, letters, phone calls, emails, texts, etc… In doing so I try to provide sources of joy through amusement and comments that may bring relief. I express my gratitude for them. I hope it brings them joy.

The book has also encouraged me to continue to journal and reflect. As I write, I become more aware of the wonder in the world and the gifts that emerge out of darkness. This allows me to reflect, prioritize, gain insight, and make course corrections on my life journey. This is truly a source of joy.

The book has also encouraged me to ‘quiet my mind’ with different forms of meditating. This is a practice that I continue to work at. I’m certain that this has helped calm me and I know it has lowered my blood pressure. 

During this crisis may you be filled with loving kindness, safe from inner and outer danger, well in body and mind and at peace and happy.

Reflections From Jana Mirs

It is difficult to manufacture Joy. In trying times Joy seems to disappear, leaving the way clear for all of the negative emotions to crowd in and overwhelm any situation.

But Joy is always present–a wellspring waiting to be rediscovered, then tended, and nurtured. Ultimately–hopefully–to overflow.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are constantly seeking Joy and coaxing it to the forefront of their emotions, providing a perspective which guides their life choices. 

During this series of Building Your Own Theology discussions, I was frequently struck by how much fun these august men have–despite the horrors of their respective pasts. This was extremely inspiring, and provided much grist for discussion at our group sessions.

While I was personally unable to practice a daily meditation ritual during this time, it was helpful to hear about the several hours which each of these men spend each morning, reflecting on the cares of humans throughout the world, while maintaining a spiritual practice 

Our group brought thoughtful and provocative insights and personal stories to each session, which deepened our connections, and expanded our awareness of ways of moving through the world.

The exercises that we journaled about each time reminded me of past self help groups, and strengthened some of my long-held mantras, such as Practice An Attitude of Gratitude, and When Life Gives You Lemons–Make Lemonade.

Studying this book also made me feel closer to Candace Zahn Cain, whose favorite word was Joy. It will remain in my personal library, and I expect to remember and reconstruct our shared search for Joy in those times when it seems elusive.

Reflections From Jim Leschke

Some developmental psychologists, as well as others, describe the process of the development of people, animals, organizations or what have you, as a cycle of differentiation and integration. Another way of saying this is asking the questions: “How am I different from you and how are we the same?” And then, asking that question over and over again. A version of the opthamologists question, “Is it better now or now”? Two cells, each from a different organism, come together—integrate—and form a third organism. Never mind that these two cells are the product of the process of differentiation, and have separated themselves, or have been separated by their host organizations. Perhaps because they have become so specialized that they can no longer integrate at the cellular level, or maybe just for the fun of it! Who knows!? We really don’t know the why of this phenomena, nor do we really know the when of the process as in when did it begin, but many interesting stories have been told in answer to that question.

At any rate the process, differentiation and then integration, continues on and on. The process leads to spectacular differences and integrations, a group of cells becomes enabled to differentiate between very small changes in the presence of light. Another group develops the ability to notice disturbances in sound waves. Another group of cells, which can do neither of these things, develops the ability to bring the information from both of those groups together. Then it sends information to yet another group, which can move the host organism in one of many directions----or not. At some point this collection of cells, now is an organism in its own right, reaches a point where it can/should differentiate itself from its host—perhaps it’s the other way around—the host no longer has the desire/capacity or whatever, to continue hosting and expels the organism into the outer world. But the process does not stop here. The newly formed group of cells, known as an infant among people, discovers that touching herself, while in intimate contact with here mother, is a different experience than touching herself. An astounding discovery that there is a difference between touching and being touched; and yet both surfaces are warm. Differentiation and integration; and so the process continues. Last fall a small group met and differentiated itself from the rest of this gathering. The purpose was to form a study/discussion group. A decision was made to read the book “Joy”: a book reporting on a meeting between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu and authored by Douglas Carlton Abrams. The meeting centered on discussion about the differences, as well as the similarities between the religion of the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu. Our group met on 10 Tuesday mornings, discussing the book, our understandings of the material, (how we understood it differently and how we understood it in the same way.) We have finished out task, and now as a way of integrating with this gathering of people, make this report”

Reflections From Toni Polfus

I learned so much from reading this book along with our group discussions. I read this book two years before and thought as I read it I would so much like to discuss it in full. I was so excited when our group picked this book to work on for the fall and winter months. My three greatest insights and gifts from the book were The Morning Intention Setting, Journaling for Gratitude and Compassion Meditation.

* Each morning when I awake I focus on what is my intention for the day. What is my heart’s desire? What do I wish for myself, for my loved ones and for the world? Examples might be “Today may I be less judgmental” or “Today may I be more patient with myself and family”. Then throughout the day I try to remember what I said to myself in the morning. It has become a little harder thinking of new intentions with everyday staying the same as the day before with social isolation, but I am still working on my actions coming from my intentions.

* Each night before drifting off to sleep I go through my day and reflect on 3 things that I am grateful for in my daily life. This review has calmed my mind and centered my spirit that I drift off to sleep so much faster than before I began the practice. Each night I purposely choose 3 different things I am grateful for and it isn’t hard coming up with new ones.

* MaryBeth lead us in the Compassion Meditation at our last meeting. I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy for the world and my place in the world. The other night I woke up at 5am, it was very dark out and I didn’t want to get up, so I meditated on sending compassion with breathing (peace, breathe in, wellness to all, breathe out) to my inner circle and then going out to family, friends and people of the world. I relaxed enough to fall back to sleep without worrying about what terrible things that are happening in our world today. 

* A Tibetan prayer of the Four Immeasurables: very helpful in our world today,

May all beings attain happiness,

May all beings be free from suffering,

May all beings never be separated from joy,

May all beings abide in equanimity.

Reflections From Ed Stoever


I would like to dedicate this commentary to Terry Hoyt in recognition of his past, present, and continuing work toward the creation of the Northwood Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

THE BOOK OF JOY represents the collaboration of the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist monk, Desmond Tutu, an Anglican priest, and Douglas Abrams, a Jew, assisted by countless others. Taken as a whole the book promotes a life style. That this was intended is evident in statements made by these authors.

The Dalai Lama: “I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness. The ultimate source of happiness is within us, but we have the ability to create more joy. 

Desmond Tutu, “Joy is a way of approaching this world. We are wired to the caring for the other and generous to one another.”

Douglas Abrams: “(This book) is about what the Dalai Lama called the very “purpose of life” - the goal of avoiding suffering and discovering happiness. These two shared their hard-one wisdom of how to live with joy in the face of life’s inevitable sorrows. Together they explored how we can transform joy from an ephemeral state into an enduring trait, from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of life.”

This lifestyle is characterized by what they called the eight pillars of Joy: PERSPECTIVE, HUMILITY, HUMOR, ACCEPTANCE, FORGIVENESS, GRATITUDE, COMPASSION, and GENEROSITY. 

Stimulated by a recent talk by Terry, it occurred to me that there was another book that in a similar fashion promoted a lifestyle. That book is the New Testament, and that teacher was Jesus. And so I looked through a number of books that I have that deal with the attempts of the Jesus seminar and other scholars of the Westar Institute to uncover the actual teachings of the human Jesus at the time and in the context in which he taught.

To my surprise and pleasure I found very close parallels between these two sets of authors.

For example, David Galston, Executive director of the Westar Institute, in a book titled, “Embracing The Human Jesus - A Wisdom Path For Contemporary Christianity,” says: “It is possible to be serious about (the human) Jesus and seek the path of wisdom (i.e., lifestyle) that he inspired without being desperate about Jesus and demanding from him our own salvation. It is possible to stand in the momentum of Jesus troubled but hopeful, not in search of final answers but in the spirit of awakening wisdom (lifestyle). That wisdom can be expressed in what can be thought of as five gospels of the historical Jesus: (1) the Gospel of the Anonymous Self (humility!); (2) the Gospel of Equilibrium (perspective!); (3) the Gospel of Comedy (humor!); (4) the Gospel of Non-violent Resistance (acceptance!); (5) the Gospel of Joy (what a lifestyle based on the 8 pillars of Joy represents!).”

Many other examples can be found in the parables, aphorisms and sayings attributed to the human Jesus. 

Isn’t that interesting? It would be beneficial to each of us individually, and to everybody collectively, to continue to be educated in the wisdom that would enable the world to have a life-style that led to a joyful life. 

Are we in fact working toward this goal in a productive and effective way? Am I? Are you?

Reflections From MaryBeth O’Halloran

Each chapter in The Book of Joy is accompanied by one or several meditations, such as gratitude journal, laughter, daily intention, or breathing through stress. My favorite is Metta Meditation. Metta is the ancient Pali and Sanskrit word for lovingkindness. The meditation is easy to do, takes five to twenty minutes, and can change both perspective and compassion. You might want to have someone very slowly read the steps to you, or just read through them a couple times so you know what to do. It also helps if you note the groupings and phrases on separate paper so you can check them the first few times. Once you grasp the process, it’s easy to ad lib for whatever purpose you have in mind. 

Instructions For Metta Meditation

PREPARATION – Sit comfortably in a quiet spot without distractions. Relax your muscles, especially shoulders and face or wherever you personally hold tension. Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm yourself. 

PROCESS – The procedure is the same for each group of people beginning with yourself. Imagine yourself standing in a ray of sunshine. Let that image become full and rich. The stronger the image, the more satisfying the meditation will be. Hold yourself in that beautiful ray of sunshine, and let your heart reach out. There is no need to time it, but let the image develop for a several moments. Then slowly recite each of the lovingkindness blessings, allowing time for each blessing to soak in.

For example, say:

May I be happy.

May I be healthy.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be full of joy.

May I be at peace. 

After completing the blessings for each group, relax and very gradually let your awareness return to your everyday awareness.

Self (May I….)
Close family (May they….)
Casual acquaintances (neighbor, grocery clerk)
People who irritate you (small or large disagreement, policians you distrust, old competor)
Whole town and state
Whole world (people with covid 19, people in poverty, the oppressed, the rich and happy)
May they (I) be happy
May they be healthy
May they be free from suffering
May they be full of joy
May they be at peace

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