Author: Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

I had the privilege of serving as a member of the worship team at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia for three years. One of my favorite elements of being a worship associate was the opportunity to compose words to open the service--an invitation for people to bring their whole selves to the shared communal experience. An invocation. Because I am moving into a different leadership role at church this fall, I will no longer be helping to lead worship on Sunday mornings. I realized, however, that I would enjoy and benefit from the spiritual discipline of writing invocations every week anyway. I will share them here. I've already posted here words I wrote and shared at UUCA worship services throughout the past three years. My intention is to post something new every week or two. I would love to hear from you about what these invocations invite in your life. Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso September 6, 2018

The Hardest Part of Being Human

The hardest part of being human
is holding every shiny and perfect and brutal and excruciating piece
in your heart at the same time

The sorrow of knowing a kind young mother
with two extraordinary children
much like your own
who is lying
unresponsive
in hospice

The pride of watching your daughter
push
push
push
herself through a challenge and
stick with it
for years

The shattering tragedy of
ANOTHER white man with
ASSAULT WEAPONS
who cannot accept or
understand the value of
others
who feels threatened and so
turns to hatred

The comfort of a friend
whose struggles are
your struggles
who knows how to
make you laugh through the misery
or when to let you cry

The despair of a parent
who feels trapped
in the chaos of
explosive
kicks and screams
when demands
aren’t answered

The joy of watching your son
open up his world
with words
deciphering and expressing
new ones every day
discovering the power of
reading and writing

The absence of familiar faces
and the pain of separation
when people who you loved
and counted on
are missing
knowing the empty spaces
will always leave you
hollow

The sweet release that comes from
sunshine
and warmth
after the clenched fists
and hunched shoulders
of winter

The exhilaration of
shared new experiences
seeing people you love
delight in the bright colors
and sensations of magic

My heart will always overflow

Baby Bird

I invite you to close your eyes and put your feet on the floor. Envision how they are connected to the earth, how all of us are connected to the earth. Place your hands, palms up, open to the universe, on your legs. Feel how your chair supports your body. Know that this can be a moment of rest. Feel the spaciousness of this sanctuary. Know that this can be a place of refuge. Feel the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Know that they, and you, are worthy of love and compassion. 

Feel your breath. Know that the air you inhale and the air you exhale is shared among all of us. 

Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in wonder. Breathe out compassion. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Cup your hands together, as if you are holding a baby bird. Imagine that this baby bird represents the stirring in your spirit that brought you here today, the yearning, the questions, the gratitude. Maybe you don’t have a baby bird. Maybe you have a baby dragon. Maybe you have an egg that hasn’t yet hatched and still needs to be patiently kept warm. Now picture what is held tenderly within the hands of those who surround you. Maybe their birds look a little like yours, or maybe they are wildly different. Maybe they are chicks or emus or penguins or flamingos. Maybe your bird is a kind of bird never before seen or heard of on earth. Be as gentle with yourself and with others as you would with your baby bird, or theirs.  

Amen.

February 2019

This is Not a Metaphor

Starting a fire is easy
especially when a kind someone has arranged the wood
and twigs and newspapers just so, and opened the flue
which is the part you definitely did not know how to do

Especially when you have a box of sturdy green-tipped matches
that light on the first strike
Not the flimsy matches discovered in the back of a drawer
in a matchbook you took from a restaurant
years ago, just as a souvenir since you don’t smoke
Those matches never work,
particularly when you’re trying to light
birthday candles, so don’t even bother

What’s significantly more challenging
is keeping the fire going
You can’t just leave it alone all night
You have to poke it, help the logs shift
into their proper places
You have to add a log or two or three, but make sure to leave
room between the logs for the fire to breathe
which you learned about from a poem
of all places

Occasionally you can crumple up the newspaper sections
that you brought with you and toss those in and watch the
fire grow wild for an instant and then settle down
You marvel at the warmth of the chair
where you are sitting and of the left side of your face
and your body

When you suddenly realize, close to midnight,
that only two charred pieces of wood remain
you feel inexplicably proud–as if you consumed the wood,
rather than the fire burning it down

You rearrange the last half-burned log
so it will sit squarely in the fire, and
know that you will see this through

In the morning, you will sweep the ashes
looking for clues of what once
was there

January 18, 2019

Just As You Are

If you are broken, shattered, utterly depleted 
come in just as you are and be with us
lay down the shards of spirit you are carrying
let us hold them for you

If you are purposeful and strong
filled with resolve
come in just as you are and be with us
share your strength so
we may be lifted

If the glue is still drying 
from where you put yourself back together 
as best you could 
and you’re tentative
but tinged with optimism
come in just as you are and be with us

We can hardly even 
see the cracks 
and even when we can
we don’t mind

We have them too

Let the light wash over us
illuminating the hopes 
we let fall away 
during dark winter nights

Together let us pick them up 
and start again

February 2019 (revised from August 19 version)

Invocation for Christmas Eve

We come together hoping for a miracle
Or seeking comfort because we don’t believe in miracles

We come together brimming with excitement and anticipation
Or weighed down by weariness and exhaustion

We come together satisfied by a sensation of wholeness
Because those we love are by our sides, where they belong

Or blindsided by loneliness and isolation,
longing for family and friends
whose absence leaves a scar on our hearts.

We come together for the chance to make
a connection with another human being
or with the holy and the sacred
that sometimes fills us up and sometimes feels just out of reach.

We come together with hearts bursting with joys and yearnings,
With hearts crowded by fears and regrets

Take a deep breath. Breathe in the love that is manifest in this place.
Take another breath. Breathe out peace.

May we be fully present for this hour, open to love, open to peace, open to the possibility of transformation.

 

The Fortunately Unfortunately Game

My daughter once taught me a game that her third grade teacher taught her called Fortunately Unfortunately. Someone starts a story and the next person continues with a twist of fate, either positive or negative. It can be very funny, and more philosophically a good reminder to count your blessings. There’s a story told by Stillwater the Panda in Jon Muth’s Zen Shorts with a similar moral.

I feel like our lives this weekend have been a litany of good fortune and misfortune. Not all of them are funny, but all of them are true.

Unfortunately my wallet fell out of my back pocket into the toilet. Fortunately I had only peed, and the $25 in cash remained miraculously dry.

Fortunately I accomplished a lot of cleaning and organizing. Unfortunately, I fell hard after mopping the floor because the soles of my feet were covered in lint and therefore slippery. Fortunately I didn’t have to go to the hospital!

Unfortunately I also whacked the back of my head hard on Zeke’s bunk bed while trying to make up the bed for my nephew to come for a sleepover. Fortunately Zeke and Charlie had a great time together. Unfortunately there’s a giant knot on the back of my head. Fortunately it didn’t bleed!

Fortunately I convinced my kids to go on a walk with me this afternoon because it was  sunny and warm after yesterday’s endless torrential rain. Unfortunately Zoe stepped in the creek and soaked her feet, despite wearing her boots. Fortunately she shrugged it off and we continued on our walk and went to the playground for a bit, which we all enjoyed.

Unfortunately our thermostat stopped working last week, just as it was getting rather cold out. Fortunately Randy called in an expert who determined that it was just the thermostat and not the heating system, which was much less expensive to replace. Fortunately Randy was able to get a new one on sale and the guy came to install it on Saturday morning and we are masters of our indoor temperature once again.

Unfortunately the kids complained and dragged their feet when we wanted to take them to the No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick Gallery the other day. Fortunately we finally got ourselves together and drove downtown. Unfortunately it was raining and we got a little wet on the way, despite our raincoats and umbrella. Fortunately it was warm and dry inside the museum and, more importantly, the exhibit is AMAZING (if you’re in DC between now and January 31 I highly recommend it!) and everyone loved it. Unfortunately at the end Zeke begged for something from the gift shop and I refused, so he sulked. Fortunately his sister was kind and spent her own money to buy him something. Unfortunately this may ultimately be sending the wrong message, but I’m not going to worry about that right now. Unfortunately when we were about to leave it was raining even harder. Fortunately Randy volunteered to go get the car and pick us up. Unfortunately he got completely soaked. Fortunately we went home and he changed and everyone had hot chocolate and we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Unfortunately, services at my church were canceled this morning because a car ran up onto the lawn of the church, ran over the church sign, and crashed into the power line pole, and somehow ended up half suspended on one of the power lines. Fortunately, no one was hurt, which I can’t even comprehend.

Fortunately, my kids have started a tradition of their own volition of filling a stocking for each other to put by their beds late Christmas Eve. They asked me to take them to Five Below to buy presents for each other. I was helping Zeke shop and he said, “I want to make Zoe really happy this Christmas,” which filled me with happiness. There’s really no unfortunately to this except that we spent more money than I was anticipating, but it’s really not a big deal compared to the awesomeness that they wanted to do something nice for each other. In case you’ve never been to Five Below, it’s a lot of toys and accessories and candy. Zeke asked if Zoe liked Pop Rocks and I said yes, so while I was looking at something else he put about 25 packets of Pop Rocks into our basket. I put about 23 packets back on the shelf.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, tomorrow is Monday and we have to return to school and work. For Zoe this seemed unfortunate. Fortunately, we spent a while talking with her about the good things and the bad things about middle school and what could be done to tip the scales toward good. Unfortunately she seemed despondent throughout our conversation. Fortunately I think she may try some of the things we suggested. We’ll see. Unfortunately (but not unusually), Zeke didn’t want to shower tonight. Fortunately I distracted him from his complaining but asking him to teach me the lyrics and dances to the Go Noodle songs he is obsessed with and sings around the house constantly. Next time you see us, ask us to demonstrate our sweet moves.

Unfortunately, our country and our world are in incredibly bad shape right now, and so many people are treating their fellow humans with contempt and cruelty. Unfortunately there are more examples of this than I can count and it feels like things are getting worse every single day. Fortunately, I know there are a lot of people–including many I have the privilege to know–who work to care for their fellow humans and the planet. Fortunately, there are people such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who was recently elected to Congress and who has quickly become one of my heroes, who are not afraid to stand up for what is right.

And so it goes. Unfortunately I know there will be more sorrows tomorrow. Fortunately I know I will also find joys.