Story for All Ages
Amaterasu and her little brother, Susanoo (photo by Rev. Jason Shelton)


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So Amaterasu has run away to hide in her cave. Chelsea has taken us through how she might be feeling, and how those feelings are felt in her entire body — just like we feeling our feelings not just with our minds, or our hearts, but also with our bodies.

There’s a few things about this part of the story, when Amaterasu in is the cave, that I want to lift up for you today. The first is that even Amaterasu, the primary goddess of this tradition, has folks in her life that she can’t control and who do things to upset her. In this case, it’s her brother — but even if we don’t have a sibling, each of us has people in our lives that annoy us, that test our patience, that sometimes do things that upset us so much we feel that we need to separate ourselves for a little bit.

And that’s okay. Amaterasu goes into a cave. I go to bed and under the covers. Some folks go for a walk. Each of us is different — the important part is to spend time figuring out what works for you. What in your life will be your cave, where you can retreat to think about your feelings?

Taking the time to be in the cave is important, because it helps us be smarter about when we’re outside of the cave. This is the one of the most important lessons that we have been given from our Earth-centered traditions — the understanding that the world around us exists in cycles. We cannot have spring and summer without fall and winter. The ecosystem needs the period of rest before it can create something again. We have been in the season of fall, feeling the nights get longer and the days get shorter– Amaterasu is fleeing into her cave

But even though this week marks the Winter Solstice, and those of us in the northern half of the world transitioning from fall to winter, it also marks the return of the sun — Amaterasu emerging from her cave to bring sunlight back to the world so it will become spring again. This is a holiday about knowing we are in darkness, that it is necessary, and that we have hope for the future nevertheless.

This story is also about community. Amaterasu has a gift for the world — her light, a gift that world needs in order to survive. Each of us has something to offer that is equally necessary to our community.

And in the end, it is her community, and the power of laughter, that brings her back out again. Retreat time is important, yes. But sometimes, we try to think our way out of difficult situations are experiences. We get trapped inside our own heads. When Chelsea and I were discussing this service, she said — “Some things you can’t think your way out, But you can laugh your way out.”

It is through the power of laughter, offered by community, that Amaterasu is drawn out of her cave, out of her isolation. The story is not complete without both the willingness to go into the cave, and the understanding that something wonderful is waiting for you outside. And sometimes, we’re the ones in the cave, and sometimes we’re the ones drawing them out.


The Feast

This was originally posted on the Patheos blog Nature’s Path, August 17th, 2016.


Last month I wrote about the holidays of Lammas and Lughnasadh, waxing both poetic and academic about their ancient origins and relevance to us in modern times. But this month, I’m writing about how I actually celebrated the holiday, possibly for the first time in my life.

Like I wrote previously, summer, especially late summer, is a brutal time for me in which I am usually too hot and too rushed to do much celebrating of anything, especially if it requires time and effort. I’ve also been away from my congregation and its CUUPS chapter all summer, doing my clinical pastoral education at a local hospital, and therefore weren’t participating in events they were organizing — even my beloved full moon drum circles. But with the growth of our two children out of being babies and toddlers, my partner and I are increasingly feeling the need to make the wheel of the year fully present in our household and how we construct our lives as a family. So this year, he put together a Lammas feast.

Oatmeal Apple Bread, Chilled Berry Soup, Herb Fritters (dipped in honey my mother had brought back from a trip to Ethiopia), Armoured Turnips, Baked Acorn Squash, Blackberry Pork Ribs, and Cucumber Mint Sorbet were all on the menu. My cousin opened up her home (and her wonderful kitchen) to us as the space to celebrate. When the rest of our family had arrived, there were three generations spending the evening together honouring the precious bonds of relationship and the turning of the seasons.

I have not done coven work in many years, and even when I did, those relationships were not very strong for me. I know many for whom this is a powerful and necessary practice for religious community and spiritual growth — it just never worked that way for me. Perhaps that’s why celebrating the actual holidays has been traditionally a struggle for me — they are, fundamentally, about the interdependent web of which we are all a part, cycling through the wheel over and over again, and I personally cannot tap into that ritually without having a web present with me, holding me in its embrace.

That night, surrounded by my family that has supported me through thick and thin, eating food prepared by my partner with deep and abiding love, and watching my children weave themselves into webs of their own creation, I found a way back to myself. What a gift we are given when we are open to creativity and collaboration.

Blessed be.


For Orlando

This was originally posted to the CUUPS Patheos blog, Nature’s Path, on June 14th, 2016.


You for whom the house of love
Has become the house of death–
I Who am the Goddess
of love and death
open My arms to embrace you

(Excerpt from “Inanna’s Prayer”, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, Starhawk & M. Macha NightMare)

I had many thoughts about what I would offer up to you this month, especially with the solstice arriving soon (summer for us in the northern hemisphere, winter for our siblings in the south). All of that disappeared when I woke up Sunday morning to news of the massacre in Orlando.

I’ve been trying to piece together why this was so deeply devastating to me, personally. Given the number of gun deaths, mass shootings, rapes and other assaults, not to mention my own country’s bloody history of genocide when it comes to minority populations, why was it this particular story that opened the floodgates of sorrow and left me barely functional all day long?

Lives are supposed to matter. We live up to that as UUs, and as Pagans, by making sure that the ways in which our human systems prevent certain lives from mattering — systems of racism, sexism, ableism — are called to account and made to change by our efforts. Not only was Pulse a haven for queer lives to celebrate themselves in their whole selves, a place where they could find the connection between their bodies, hearts, and minds through dance, but it was also a place to find a communities. And within that community, on this particular night, Pulse was celebrating Latinx drag queens and queer Latinx sexuality.

Pulse was one of the few places that our queer siblings could fight back against all the cultural messages that bodies are sinful, and that queer bodies in particular are not just sinful but destructive. The Goddess was there, in that place, every night, helping them unlearn hateful messages about themselves and instead learn to love all of who they are from head to toe — including not just their queer space, but also the colour of their skins. It is as if they were shot down in a sacred temple while in the midst of prayer — the prayer of dance.

This was not just an attack on the queer community, but also the Latinx community. Out of fear and anxiety, many are also now turning the backlash into an attack on the Muslim community, fueling the Islamophobia that has the US culture in an iron grip. I have written before to you of how our Pagan lens of interconnected to each other and to the Earth calls us to reach out to our neighbor as ourselves, to hear them when they cry out in pain and suffering. We are needed now, more than ever.

So I am asking you, today, to bring yourself to vigilance. Every time you hear someone denigrate Islam, speak up to love. When you hear someone say the queers deserved it, speak up to love. When it is said that it’s irrelevant that a majority of those slain were Latinx, speak up to love.

May it be so. Blessed be.


The Light of the Moon

This was originally posted on the Patheos blog Nature’s Path, May 11th, 2016.


One of the many blessings I’ve experienced during my internship at First UU Nashville is participating in our CUUPS chapter events, especially our monthly full moon ritual and drum circle. Shared ministry is deeply embedded into the culture in this congregation, and it manifests in creative and transformative ways. With my internship ending in a couple of weeks, I’ve been meditating on how much ministry I’ve received from the ritual work done at our full moon celebration, and what a gift it is to be able to participate as often as I lead.

I’ve written before about the value of Pagan rituals and energy work for our Unitarian Universalist communities. It’s also widely acknowledged that healthy communities set aside time for reflection and processing on a regular basis. I’ve realized that the monthly full moon rituals are the perfect combination of these two things for me, and for many members of our congregation, and it has the added bonus of being an environment that is supportive of and inviting to our children and youth.

First, we gather, bringing food and drink to share. There is fellowship, and welcoming, and the sense of community. Our priestess (sometimes we are lucky enough to have two!) calls us to the ritual circle, and we are given a sacred space in which to look at the last month of our lives, and to look toward the future ahead. We hold our children with us, teaching them how to follow the moon in their lives as they grow into their wholeness of being. We remember that life works in a cycle. We are asked to offer up a single word of focus for the month ahead, of what we wish to send our energy towards as the moon completes another cycle of waning and waxing. We close the circle, and then, we dance!

I write about this today because, for many of us, a cycle is coming to an end. Many of us in school, or who have children of that age, are nearing the transition to summer break. Those of us in UU congregations are nearing the end of the programming year, and the annual meeting in which decisions are made about the future of our spiritual homes. I, personally, am ending one internship and beginning another in chaplain training. For some, the path of the next few years is already clear, for others, like me, it is not. I have found myself having to sit in the uncertainty of a long-term transition period, receiving my children’s anxiety about their futures along with my own. The ritual of the full moon has given me, and them, an anchor in this sea of uncertainty — knowing that every month, we will come under the light of the moon and be reminded of our own power, and the love of our community.

May it be ever so, and blessed be.


Snow In My Bones

Snow In My Bones

This was originally posted to the Patheos blog Nature’s Path.


IMG_6755I’m writing this from Nashville, TN, which is currently under a Level 3 State of Emergency due to Winter Storm Jonas. Mayor Barry opened emergency and overflow shelters four days ago in anticipation of the storm. Residents cleaned out the grocery stores and stocked up on firewood. Power is out is patches all over the city.

This kind of weather is disastrous for those who depend on every single day of work to pay their bills every month, and that for some kids, school is often the only place where they find reliable warmth and food. I’ve spent lots of time the last few days in discussions with congregational leadership and my supervisors over whether we could open this Sunday morning (we couldn’t). As part of the interdependent web of which I am a part, I know people are suffering in various ways.

All of that is relevant to my outward self, to my work as a minister in my congregation and in my community. My inner self, however, that sustains my outward self, is having a great time.

We woke up Friday morning to a landscape covered in perfect, powdery snow. It fell all day long, creating that particular precious kind of quiet that only nature can make as the flakes dampen the movement of sound waves through the atmosphere. My young children, who have only lived in Los Angeles until last August, are learning a whole new way of interacting with the world, seesawing between joyous playtime and sudden shock when their brains register their wet, frozen limbs.

IMG_6723And while I have always known I loved the snow and the cold, I’ve discovered this weekend that after nearly twenty years in southern California, I have been missing, at a deep, primal level, this connection with the snow and the cold. All my ancestors are European, from Scots to English to Vikings and beyond, and it shows in my complexion and my enormous bones. A couple of weeks ago I even had a congregant say that she can imagine me as some kind of Norse goddess.

Hours of meditation and prayer on my part paled in comparison to the effect of mindful walking in the snow, feeling it crunch under my feet with that distinctive sound. I stare at how it sparkles, in sunlight, and moonlight, and how it reflects the man-made light so powerfully that one can walk around in the winter night as if it’s barely sunset, despite it actually being hours later.

All this is to say that in the last couple of days, I have reconnected with that part of me that I had forgotten, or perhaps didn’t even know existed when I moved to the searing desert as a young girl. I can feel the memories of thousands of years in these bones, genetic memories rising up into my consciousness and feeding me for the long, hard work that is still to come to create justice in our communities, a part of which is making sure that weather like this doesn’t cause harm and suffering like it does today.

What are the seasons like where you live? How do they call to you?


On A Starry Night


He was singing a melody he did not know, and yet the notes poured from his throat with all the assurance of long familiarity. They moved through the time-spinning reaches of a far galaxy, and he realized that the galaxy itself was part of a mighty orchestra, and each star and planet within the galaxy added its own instrument to the music of the spheres. As long as the ancient harmonies were sung, the universe would not entirely lose its joy. — A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Madeleine L’Engle, p.77

This past Sunday I attended a concert performed by Portara Ensemble, one of our very talented music groups here in Nashville. I knew it was going to be good, but I was unprepared for how deeply and profoundly the performance would affect me. The theme of the evening was “On a Starry Night,” and it featured songs written about the stars from a stunning variety of sources. More than that, however, was the music itself, the live performance of the voices and instruments.

I grew up reading the work of Madeleine L’Engle, and have carried with me her descriptions of the stars of the universe as living beings, interconnected, who sing songs and speak to humans willing to tune themselves to the earth around them and their fundamental link as part of the larger cosmos. I have spent many an hour contemplating the songs of the stars: what they sound like, how hearing them would make me feel, and what else must I do in my life, with my life, by honouring the earth and the interdependent web, to be able to hear the stars singing back to me.

photo by Kartik Ramanathan ‘Milky Way - Mobius Arch” (cc) 2013.
photo by Kartik Ramanathan “Milky Way – Mobius Arch” (cc) 2013.

On Sunday night, I heard the songs of the stars. Not only were the lyrics a multitude of stories about the stars and how they reach us, but the performance itself, the vibrations made by voice and piano and flute seeped into me, saturating my being until I could hold no more and it flowed out as tears of joy. In A Swiftly Tilting Planet, when Meg hears her brother join the cosmic song, she says, “the music–it was more–more real than any music I’ve ever heard. Will we hear it again?” I did not need to be singing myself to feel, to know, in that moment, that I was also a part of the cosmic, galactic song sung through the ages.

It was one of the few times in my life that I have experienced simultaneous immanence and transcendence. I had the sense of the full power within me, the life force of my individual essence and its physical, emotional, and mental forms, and the ability to bend the arc of the universe towards justice. At the same time I was dissolved into the interdependent web, inextricable from the people around me, the ground below me, the sky above me. I was what Nicholas of Cusa called a “coincidence of opposites”, the finite and the infinite folding and enfolding into one another to make something larger than either thing standing alone.

Of course, not everyone reads Madeleine L’Engle. Not everyone reacts to music in the same way. I share this with you only to express my joy at having experienced such a moment of deep connection with nature in a culture that is constantly trying to teach us to disassociate from our bodies and the world around us. What brings you that sense of connection? What sustains you on Nature’s Path? How can you sustain our efforts as Unitarian Universalists to bend the arc towards justice, not just for ourselves, but for the cosmos?


Originally posted on the Patheos blog Nature’s Path.

Picture by Kartik Ramanathan and used unaltered under Creative Commons license.

Seizing An Alternative


Although the aim of Life at novelty, growth and richness of experience counters the forces of entropy, there are limits to the carrying capacity of the planet. […] However, reaching the limits of the planet’s carrying capacity does not necessarily entail an end to all growth, but is does require a change in the types of growth that occur so that the ecological sustainability rather than economic and population growth becomes our goal. — Paul Custodio Bube, Ethics in John Cobb’s Process Theology, p.97-98

One of the classes I took during my time at Claremont School of Theology was called “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization.” It was lead by Dr. Philip Clayton and Blake Horridge, and was part of the International Whitehead Conference of the same name this past summer. The premise of the class was that our current cultures of consumption and consumerism are unsustainable, and that we as religious leaders had to find ways to educate ourselves about the realities of this problem and re-think how we engage with people so as to help shift our respective communities away from self-destructive behavior and thought processes that are already wreaking havoc on a global ecological scale. The real problem, especially through the Western lens in the U.S., is the lack of comprehension that ecological disaster is inextricable from social, civil, and economic disaster.

photo by Mark Rain ‘This is your Earth on global warming” (cc) 2007
photo by Mark Rain ‘This is your Earth on global warming” (cc) 2007

For those of you reading this who think what I’m saying is a stretch, I would point you to this amazing comic done by Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche, which outlines how climate change, and the subsequent prolonged drought in Syria, led directly to the downfall of what experts considered a stable government and has caused war, destruction, and the massive exodus of refugees from the area. If we do not shift away from a cultural, almost religious, obsession with consumerism and consumption without consequences, we will continue to contribute not only to the fall of other communities, but eventually our own. Our bubble of safety and prosperity is not impervious.

What I took away from the class — what I chose to be my practical manifestation of what I had learned into my work as a Unitarian Universalist minister — was the profound need for Earth-centered spiritual development in our religious lives as UUs. I am not someone who can organize community gardens, or petition the city to change laws about beehives and chickens and goats in urban homes. I struggle with how to get close to zero-waste living and how to be an effective minister to a congregation without using my car, or having to go into debt to buy one that is powered by sustainable energy.

What I do know is that I am surrounded by people who can do all those things, and much, much more. My job is to change the narrative we hear in congregations during our worship services from one of thoughtless abundance to one of cultivated sustainability. And I truly believe that narrative will come from our CUUPS members and from our relationships with indigenous cultures in our local communities.


Originally posted on the Patheos blog Nature’s Path.

Through the Veil

This was published in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville October 2015 newsletter, and adapted for publication on Nature’s Path, the CUUPS Patheos blog.


Blessing For Those Not Here An extra place setting at dinner. Photo by Julie Gibbons 2010(cc)
Blessing For Those Not Here
An extra place setting at dinner. Photo by Julie Gibbons 2010(cc)

October 31st, which most of you know as Halloween, is also known as Samhain. In the Wheel of the Year, it is the Wiccan New Year, the time when the Blessed Lady mourns for her dead Lord at the same time she prepares for the rebirth of his incarnation on the Winter Solstice. This juxtaposition of grief and hope is, to me, one of the most poignant fundamentals of the human condition.

Once upon a time I had some toxic, manipulative people in my life — people who tried to take away my exuberance. My ability to find joy in little things, or efforts to follow my bliss, were either repeatedly mocked or deliberately silenced. And I let it happen, until a few years ago when I simply could not take it anymore.

I have spent a lot of time since then trying to figure out exactly how I broke free. I had a support system in place, yes, but it had also been there before I escaped that awful situation. Over the years I’ve come to the understanding that it was the memory of my grandfather, Dada, that gave me the strength to persevere and make a new life for myself.

He was not broken by his months of torture as a POW in Korea. He loved his wife, and understood that even a storybook romance requires effort to maintain. His sense of honour and commitment were so profound that he was selected for service to the President of the United States as a pilot for Marine One. I know all of these things are true, and yet the things about him that have survived the years most clearly for me are his smile, as broad as the horizon, and his laughter, which came freely and loudly and proudly.

I believe it was this memory of his presence, and knowing his story through others, that saved my life all those years ago. If finding joy and laughter in as much of the world as possible was good enough for this man, who had every right to be angry and hard… then surely it is good enough for me as well.

This Samhain, as the veil between the world gets thin, like the Blessed Lady I, too, find myself at the juxtaposition of grief and joy. I cry that Prudence and Percival will never know his laughter, that he and Josh’s dad will never discuss the beauty of God manifest in nature. I wish he could have seen me realize my call to ministry. But I am also overwhelmed with joy at my life — that I refused to settle for anything less than the standards he set in love and life, and that I will no longer wear the masks others try to set upon me. I remember the dead by making them part of me, and using their wisdom to help me follow a path of living justice — not just for others, but for myself as well.

Blessed be.