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All posts for the day January 8th, 2012

Altared Perceptions: January 2012- “Love”

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Rev. Scott Taylor’s sermon today reiterated the monthly theme of “Love”, but focused on how lack of self-love has led to a “numbing” of our souls in always expecting the worst in situations.

I gazed quite intently at this month’s altar as I listened to Scott’s words.   The more I heard about self-doubt, self-criticism, self-loathing, and self-defeating behaviors, the more I saw the scarcity of branches on the tree.  It reminded me of how I have written about my feelings of being disconnected and isolated.   Before the decorations were added, I would highly doubt that even Charlie Brown would have chosen this as a Christmas tree!  It must have looked bare, scrawny, and neglected before the love was added.   So many times I, too, feel like that tree must have looked in its natural, undecorated state.  One of my Mayan-sized resolutions for 2012 is to work on that feeling inside myself by letting go of fear of rejection.  If I were this tree, I would certainly feel neglected, scrawny, insignificant, and not lovable.  Too often, I DO see myself that way (ok… not the scrawny part…), but in learning to let go of my fear of rejection, I can learn to love me.

Even the trees without an abundance of branches still have something to offer.  This tree is able to provide a branch for a bird feeder to offer sustenance to others.  Like the tree in December, this one also is a gift.   In loving myself, I can see what I CAN do for others instead of focusing on my self-imposed limitations.   The hearts can symbolize not only the love that the tree has for the birds in providing them with food during the cold times, but the love that the birds have for the tree in providing that food as well as perches to rest themselves upon.   No matter how I view myself, I know that I always have the ability to give to others who don’t see the limitations that I do when I look in the mirror.

The flowers at the base of the tree are white and remind us of the snow at this time of year (well, most often at this time of year, anyway… no snow presently in 2012!).   The snow is a blanket of beauty spread upon the Earth, but most often it is viewed as a reminder of the cold that surrounds us.  But this tree offers its gifts in the midst of the cold… a place to hang the bird feeder and a place for the birds to land and rest.   And winter is a resting time.  The Earth is at rest after working hard to provide its inhabitants with the food that we enjoy year round.   We all need a time to rest after hard work… winter reminds of that.  It’s a time to recharge our batteries to get ready for the work ahead.

The heart at the top of the tree is to remind us of love… love for others, as well as love for ourselves.  The tree top is placed on the tip-top of the trunk of the tree… the same trunk that I viewed as sparse and unwanted earlier.

Again, I am only sharing what I see in this month’s altar, and if anyone would like to add comments here, I welcome them gladly!

Altared Perceptions: December 2011- “Engagement”

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

The theme for the month of December 2011 was “engagement” and we were asked to think about how we not only engage with others, but how we engage with ourselves and the world at large.  

When I first saw the decorations in the church, I was awestruck.  I have always admired the creativity of those who decorate the sanctuary, but this really did blow me away.

The overall effect was quite dazzling, and this picture does not do it justice.  What I see about how this relates to the theme of “engagement” is how the tree is personifies the act of giving.  It reminds me of an earlier post that I wrote about For Giving, Not For Getting.   Notice that there aren’t any gifts under the tree.

This takes away the notion of “getting” something; however, the tree is shaped like a person, and the gift bow is ON the tree, symbolizing that the gift is the person herself  (I shall say “herself” because the tree is obviously depicted as a female!).

I also like the stance of the “person”: hands on hips as if to say, “Not what you were expecting, huh?”   For some, this might be surprising, like my students whose first question to me after returning to school after the holiday break was, “What did you get for Christmas?”

I loved the idea of engaging in being a gift to others instead of thinking about what one might “get” for the holidays.

The detail of the “head” of the person is a lit star.  For me, this symbolizes how we bring light to others.  No matter what tradition one celebrates at this time of year, light seems to be a central focus.  There is the Star of Bethlehem that the Wise Men followed, the lights of the Menorah to commemorate the continuation of light even after the oil ran low during Hanukkah, and even the return of the Sun God on the Winter Solstice for Earth-based believers.  No matter what one believes about the symbolism of the light, this reminds me that we should always strive to bring light to others, especially to those who live most of their lives in darkness.

The detail of the shoes makes me think about how I might try to “put myself in another’s shoes” more often.   As part of being a gift to others, what better gift could we give but one of empathy?  Not pity, or sympathy… but putting ourselves in their place and try to bring to them the most joy we can.  This applies to all year, not just during the holiday season.

The beauty of Nature was depicted by the snowflakes that descended on either side of the altar.   And true to the spirit of being kind to the Earth, the decorations were made out of scraps of tin foil and white plastic garbage bags.  Things that are normally thrown away in our society were transformed into something lovely.

While I am not entirely sure what the “Altar Society” had in mind when creating this work of art, these are my impressions.  I most certainly welcome any and all engaging comments… I would love to hear your thoughts about what you see!

Altared Perceptions

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

Although I am not quite sure if the correct term at a Unitarian Universalist Church is “altar”, I thought the name of this new category I am adding was pretty clever, so I hope that Reverands Scott, Kaaren, and Jen will forgive me!

What has always struck me at our church are the beautifully decorated meditative focal points (ummm… altars?).    Ever since I became a member two years ago, I have admired the creative and thoughtfully poignant decorations in the sanctuary.   Each fits in with our monthly themes at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, and I have decided to share my thoughts about what these creative people have brought to us.

For the first two, I shall have to apologize for the picture quality as I was using my phone camera.   I took pictures of the December display, but it only occurred to me today to begin writing about them as I snapped a shot of the January altar.  Beginning in February, I will use my “real” camera and hope that the pictures will be of better quality!

This is a bit of background about the decor from Betty Jane Evans:

In case you didn’t already know, I’ll give you a little history. Madlyn Evans created the decor each week by herself from the beginning of our church until she retired several years ago, passing her leadership on to Anita Rosenfeld, who leads the decor team of Karen Evans (Madlyn’s daughter), Elaine Anderson, and me. We each do the decor one week each month except for holidays and/or special occasions (flexibility is essential) such as the decor that was up for nearly a month in December.

Thanks for sharing!

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