Altared Perceptions

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Altared Perceptions: Solstice 2013

Published December 23, 2013 by Susan Woodward


Solstice 2013: Saturday, December 21.  What a gorgeous and uplifting experience!  In the past five years since I began attending First Unitarian Church of Rochester, I have felt that this has been a wonderful place to call my spiritual home; however, I have never felt more at home until our Solstice Celebration.  Stars

The lights draped along the main wall amid shining stars was complimented with the laser show of stars on the ceiling.

We entered the sanctuary in darkness except for these twinkling lights and the center brazier.  The chairs were placed in a circle, sectioned to represent the four directions.  As one with strong ties to earth-based spirituality, the calling of the quarters and casting of the circle brought me an incredible feeling of belonging and peace.

singing bowl1After calling the quarters, the musical director led the opening meditation with a singing bowl.  The tone rang out through the church and drummers beat a pulsating rhythm that mirrored our beating hearts.

When Rev. Kaaren began telling the tale of Jonah in the Belly of the Whale, we all contemplated on those times in our lives when we, too, feel like we have been in the dark.  She asked us to think of those things that hold us back and prevent us from moving forward to the light, and then write those things down on a piece of flash paper (the flash paper was a stroke of genius for this exercise!)

spiralKarren then called to the congregation to come, by quarters, forward to place those things we wished to move toward the light into a waiting urn.  As each quarter finished, she lit a match and dropped it into the urn, and in a flash of light, those things that had once been in darkness were transformed into light itself…and a bright light it was!

Kaaren  flash

The flash was brilliant, and made me feel as if something was rekindled inside me.  For the past couple of months, I have to admit that I have allowed the darkness of depression to creep back into my heart.  Going thorough “the change” into my Crone years has wreaked havoc with my hormones and emotions.  The Solstice Service did much for re-igniting my heart in time for truly enjoying the blessings of the Holiday Season.

Three more times this was repeated until all members from the four sections of the church had an opportunity to let go of something that has been holding them in the dark.  The beating of the drums was accompanied by clapping and snapping from the congregation and built to a frenzy each time just before Kaaren dropped the flame into the urn.  Four brilliant flashes really energized the whole place.


We all also had candles, which were lit from the central fire.  The flame was passed from person to person until the whole church was lit.

lightsEveryone, young and old, held a lit candle…

lights 2The overall effect was not only gorgeous, but it left me with this strong feeling of energy within.

In the five years since I began attending First UU, I have not experienced anything quite like it.  This Solstice Service was the culmination of a tranformative year in my life.    I have loved this church ever since I started coming here, but for the first time, I truly feel at home.   I love the fact that UU’s welcome those from all spiritual paths, including those whose heart follows the Pagan path.  I began coming to First UU because I was seeking a community where I would feel accepted, and with this celebration, I not only felt accepted, but included.

What a blessing!


Altared Perceptions: May 2013- “Imagination”

Published May 12, 2013 by Susan Woodward

“Imagination is an almost divine faculty which, without recourse to any philosophical method, immediately perceives everything: the secret and intimate connections between things, correspondences and analogies.”  — CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

imagine 1I have to tell you, of all the designs for Church decor, this one is my favorite so far.  One thing that isn’t visible in this photograph is the disco ball revolving behind the head, giving off a swirling rainbow of colors as if the brain is in “active-mode” up there.   Every man-made thing that exists in this world started off as an image in the brain first.  Wow.

As I think about the theme for the month, I reflect upon where my imagination has taken me, and I anticipate where I am going in the future.   For me, if I am able to clearly visualize something in my mind, then I know that somehow I can achieve it.   I have also found that if a vision does not clearly come to me, no matter how hard I try, then I know that whatever it is isn’t right for me.

That may sound a bit strange, but I have to admit that when I was younger and tried to visualize myself as an old person with a certain other person, the pictures in my mind would never come to me.   At first it frightened me because I thought maybe one of us would die early or something, and the other would be left alone.  Then it made me sad because it made me realize that if I couldn’t see it, it probably wasn’t meant to be…for whatever reason.   And that has happened for me in myriad situations…so now I come to trust my instincts by trusting my imagination.

I love how the tulle flows upward and outward from the mind, and I sit to think about all the ideas “tulling” about in my imagination.   I also love how all the colors flow outward, reminding me of what I was yearning for in last month’s theme: color in my life.   As I look at all the symbols on the tulle, I am reminded of all the ways I can bring that color into my world.pencil

For me, the most obvious symbol that jumps out at me is the giant pencil.  I do love to write, even though I do not do it as often as I would like.  And it’s also a reminder of the novels still “tulling” about in my imagination, waiting to come to life.

paint tubeThe next thing that stands out for me is the giant paint tube, reminding me of the color I wish to add.  For the longest time, I lived a grey existence…. and I am ready to ditch the dull and bring on vibrant life experiences!  Sadly, I have to put off silks for a bit longer.  My arm is not healing as quickly as I need it to in order to continue at this time.  However, I am NOT going to say that I will never be able to fulfill my dream of being able to do a performance… I just have to be more patient.  But I am not going to allow a setback to lead me back into the former doldrums.  There are other ways to color my world, and I am definitely feeling the desire to experience as much of that vibrancy as I possibly can!  I can also imagine doing that silks routine, so I know that it must be a possibility for me in the future!!  If I can see it, I can be it!

butterfliesAnd that brings me to the butterflies.  For me, these symbolize the flights of fancy that dance around and tickle the insides of my head.  They also lead me to go out and finally do things that I had before only thought about.  The butterflies are going up and out of the mind… expanding outward.  That’s what I want for my life.  I want to expand my existence by getting up and moving outward from the sedentary life I once lived.   Butterflies also symbolize change.  I was also once a caterpillar shut up inside a cocoon– still, “housebound”– but that chrysalis has opened, and I am moving outward.  Slowly, yes, but surely outward!

cogsSo what do I hope to build now that I am determined to add that color to my life?

One thing I want is a new body– one that is healthier and stronger than it has been in many years.  That will take work to continue building it.

I have already begun through the Aerial Arts Challenge.  I am still a non-smoker after four months!  I am still working hard to eat healthier!  I am still juicing at least four times a week!  And I am still working out!  So I am still re-building this body.

I also want to build relationships.  As an introvert, this is much more difficult than re-building my physique.  I don’t connect well with others, and I find it difficult to maintain relationships.  It’s my own self-conscious feelings of inadequacy that I still deal with… so I need to work on figuring out which “gears” are not working properly in that realm and put some grease on them!  🙂

reasonTo do that, I will have to tap into the reasoning section of the ol’ brain so that I can discover where my introversion stems from, and how to overcome it in order to have lasting friendships.  It’s very easy to keep to myself.  What’s hard is getting past my social awkwardness (and I really AM socially awkward…) so that I maintain getting out of the house and keeping that colorful life I am working so hard to build.

As I continue to tap into my imagination, I know that the colors will continue to flow forward.  color


Altared Perceptions: April 2013- “Yearning”

Published April 21, 2013 by Susan Woodward

What do I yearn for?  Wow… I would think that would be an easy one: love, financial security, career satisfaction; however, when I think about the diction, I wonder if “yearning” is the correct term for those things on my list.  I know that they are things I really want to have, but wouldn’t those fall on everyone’s list?  So then would that mean we all yearn for the same things?

I don’t think that’s what the spiritual assignment is.  So I have to ask myself again: “Susan, what do you yearn for?”

Yearning 1

As I studied this month’s church decor that reflects the monthly theme, I actually didn’t see what other people said they saw.   When I met with the Creative Team Soul Matters group and we talked about the decor, everyone else talked about the flowers they’d made.  Now I have been away from the Creative Team for three months because of the Cirque du Rochester Challenge, so I didn’t have a part in making these; however, I didn’t see flowers when I looked at the wall.

I saw explosions of color, like fireworks.

After all the dreariness of winter with its grey skies, early darkness, sloshy mud (since we had very little snow), it was the plethora of color that leapt off the wall at me.  Ohhh… I cannot WAIT for color to appear!   I actually yearn for it…

WAIT!  That’s what I yearn for!!  I yearn for more color in my life!   Doldrums and dreariness, be gone!   Bring on the colors of spring and lead me into summer (oh, please lead me into summer…)!   I am tired of the drab I have been experiencing with the weather, but I also want to pluck out the 50 shades of grey from my heart (and not THOSE 50 Shades of Grey!).

I have been working toward that end with the whole Challenge… coloring my life by getting outside my own four walls and doing something new.  I have more color in my cheeks from exercise.   I’ll bet I have more color in my lungs now that they are not sooty and black from smoking!  And at times, pushing myself beyond my former limits led to a bit of colorful language.

Anyone who really knows me and sees me on a regular basis can tell you what is the main staple of my wardrobe.   Basic black.  I wear black all the time.  I guess it’s easier to mix and match other pieces with black pants… but more often than not, it’s also a black top as well.   I think I chose black because it is more “slimming”… well with my coloring, I think it also makes me even more washed out, especially in the winter.

I am trying to wear more colors.  A few months ago, I bought some little jackets in bright colors that I do like to wear… with black pants.  I think I am afraid to wear other-than-black pants… that is something I will definitely have to work on.

So back to yearning and how I long for more color in my life.  What KIND of color do I want?  Colorful foods?  Colorful visions?  Colorful friendships?  A colorful relationship?  I guess I’d like a sampling of all of the above, please!  I want to open that Crayola box and start digging around!

Well, it is very true that the idea of doing the Color Run is appealing because of the color-shots one will get along the way (huh..ironically, the Dirty Girl also appeals to me… with the stand-out color being brown mud…).  There was one held in Louisiana just yesterday, and I was looking at the pictures online… what LIFE is in those faces!  And I want to be a part of that!!

Color Run banner

I yearn to be more lively, more energetic, more outgoing… to be more colorful!  Colors make people smile… and I don’t do enough of that.  Sometimes I get so overwhelmingly sad, right out of the blue (pun intended).   I think that happens when I allow the dreariness of the season to creep in on my heart… and in April, it’s a time to yearn for green trees, green grass, blue skies, yellow daffodils, red and pink tulips.  But when it SNOWS on April 20th, there’s acolor problem!!!

I am making those changes in my life… I will ditch some of my black wardrobe.  Heck, the last exercise outfit I bought was bright orange (well, not the pants… they were black…).  But at least the top was neon colored!

I am juicing with brightly colored fruits and vegetables every morning.

I am carrying a lovely purple bag filled with my exercise clothes to the YMCA on a regular basis.

And I just dyed that grey right outta my hair!

So… what do I yearn for?  I yearn for a more colorful existence!   And one thing that will help bring that about will be my participation in the Buffalo Color Run on August 17.

I yearn to color me happy!

Altared Perceptions: March 2013- “Inquiry”

Published March 24, 2013 by Susan Woodward

Yes, I know… I missed February’s decor.   With my involvement in the Aerial Arts 12 Week Challenge, it was tough to move on Sundays for a while, let alone leave the house to get to church.  Sorry!  I did do my Soul Matters work on the theme of “Devotion,” so I did not entirely miss out on the month.  Now that my body is beginning to adjust and even feel more energized, I have returned!  I will even be returning to our Thursday evening Creative Team Soul Matters group!  Yay!

March 2013

As I look at the decor for the theme of “Inquiry,” I like the use of the various windows.  Notice that all the window panes are different as some have two, others have four, six, eight, or even twelve.  Also, I have to ask myself, “Hmmm…even though there are clouds in the paintings that indicate that one is most likely on the inside looking out, maybe some of that cloudiness is me looking from the outside at the fogginess/cloudiness/greyness within.”  An interesting point to ponder.

Let me start with looking outward with inquiry.  UUs do this like it was their job… always inquiring.  It’s one of the things I love about being a Unitarian Universalist!  For the month of March, I have begun to inquire about new ways to be more devoted to honoring myself (tying in to the theme of “Devotion” from February).   This month I have begun to learn more about healthier eating habits more in-depth than in the beginning of the 12 Week Challenge.  By making my body more healthy, that will give me more energy and confidence to do more in this world!  After a depression-filled hiatus for more than six-months, it feels good to actually FEEL GOOD!  I am devoted to caring for me so that this “me” can become part of the living community.   This month, I began inquiring about juicing and better eating habits overall, as well as  exercise habits once the Challenge is over.  So that is me looking outward at this point.

But today, Revs. Kaaren and Scott got me looking inward with Robert Bly’s “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us” (click bag to read the story) and  “What gets under your skin?”   And there are the clouds…ugh.

bag  I really did not wish to inquire about what’s hiding in my mile-long black bag behind me.  I prefer to look OUT the window, not IN!  That’s a heck of a lot easier…There really are too many things that I really don’t want to look at and would rather just sever the ties and leave it somewhere.

However, what really go to me was Scott’s question of “What gets under your skin?” followed with a resounding, “GREAT!!”  He asked us:

“Does that person’s laziness get under your skin?  Great!”

“Do pushy people get under your skin?  Great!”

And I added a few of my own in my head:

“Do education reformers get under your skin?  Great!!”

“Do apathetic students who don’t seem to care about failing get under your skin??  Great!”

I had a few more in that thread as he continued, and it left me feeling…well…yucky.  And uncomfortable.

So what’s under my skin and in that bag that I don’t want to look at?  What is it about education reform that makes my skin crawl?  Why do I allow student choices to affect how I think about myself as a teacher?  What kinds of insecurities lurk inside that might be best dragged out into the light?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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