From the Associate Rector
This morning, my youngest asked me to hand him an ornament from high up on our tree – the dinosaur one, specifically. I carefully unhooked it from our Charlie Brown-esque tree, and handed it to Sam. He immediately began fidgeting with one of the dinosaurs, and in turn, I immediately felt my anxiety begin to rise, just a bit.
The ornament is fragile and oddly precious, but not in the way that a gorgeous blown glass ornament or delicate antique might be. It is a clear plastic globe, filled with small plastic dinosaurs, with two more dinosaurs glued on top, as if they were giants tromping around the world. One has its foot raised, and so has always been a little precarious. It is silly, and tacky, and I love it.
As I sat somewhat uncomfortably between the desire to protect this odd heirloom and my hope not to be a total nag, my mind turned to the longing that is so pervasive in this season. We sit through shorter and shorter days, darker and chillier nights, waiting, hoping — longing — for God to come among us. And for many of us, that longing lodges closer to home. We long for as yet unrealized possibilities, we long for connection and belonging, we long for those we love and see no more.
Sometimes that longing can get lodged in a particular item or tradition, something small but potent on account of all the meaning we have ascribed to it. This is the case with that ridiculous dinosaur ornament: for much of my youth, my mom and I kept the tradition of choosing a different art material each year with which to make Christmas ornaments. The year that we made the dinosaur one, she was already pretty sick, but it was a good day when we sat down to fill plastic globes with funny items not usually found on a Christmas tree. We laughed, and tinkered, and there was some light even in that darkness. I still miss this time and long for it, even now as I near my seventh Christmas without my mom. But if I’m not paying attention, the longing can leak out sideways — a nagging jab not to break the ornament, a complaint, a curt retort.
‘Tis the season, right? Amidst all the urging to be merry and happy and filled with peace, these longings can grab us and twist our best intentions. Folks are spread thin, running to make it to holiday parties, rushing to work through gift lists, traveling, returning to be with family. This time can be fraught. It’s no wonder that people can display their shortest tempers during the holidays, and yet here we are, right in the middle of it.
Psychologist John Gottman teaches that “behind every complaint is a deep personal longing.” I heard this years ago, and have carried it with me, a bit like those Lenten touchstones we fire and then pocket each spring. What is beneath the frustration, the jab, the harried criticism? Whether we’re on the receiving end or are doling out the frustration ourselves, Gottman encourages us to get curious about what’s beneath it. What is it that we’re actually missing, or hoping for, or looking for as a way to anchor our lives? Where does this longing reside?
And even more to the point, if we can unearth that longing, what then do we do with it? How do we sit with it? I think we often fire off a complaint because it feels easier (in the moment) than abiding in longing. But it doesn’t ultimately serve us.
This Advent I’ve been wondering about how our longings interact with our rituals, and about how the two can speak to each other. In conversation with several All Soulsians just this last week, I’ve been reminded that the rituals we practice shape what we believe, where we place our trust, and then in turn, how we live. It is not possible to keep our minds focused and steady on Christ’s Way all the time. We get tired and confused and distracted. We mistake our longing for annoyance, pinning it on our presumption of others’ shortcomings. We wander.
The rhythm of ritual can help to tether us to what is true, it can bind us to where we have chosen to place our trust. Returning again and again to ritual practices works because it starts in our bodies, rooting its way into our muscle memory. It guides us to remember on a visceral level — to put the parts back together, re-membering — what we hold to be holy and good and real.
We light the candles in our Advent wreath each night, even when we’re flying about, feeling weary and short. At some point in the meal, the flames catch my eye, even if I’ve been ignoring them, and they beckon me to notice the light that is already coming in the darkness. Even as I long for what may not be again, still there is light. When I come in and out of our sanctuary, I reach my hand into the font, touching the water, remembering where it is that we begin, and begin again. Sunday by Sunday, Wednesday by Wednesday, we come around the table with outstretched hands, each person receiving just a little bit differently. Our bodies remember how to do this, teaching us how to be fed, how to tenderly receive strength for the days ahead. Even on the days when we’ve forgotten how little it is that is enough, we are fed.
This is one way we can sit in the longing. By practicing the ways that remind us, year over year, what is true. By building that trust into our muscle memory. Not so that it becomes rote, but in order that these practices of trust become the way we move through the world, shaping our breath and our words, and guiding the way we live.
From the Stewardship Team
Six weeks ago we started making our financial commitments, our pledges, to support All Souls in 2019. So far 190 parishioners have shared their plans for giving to the church. Those pledges have been generous and have made a significant contribution to closing the gap between our income and expenses. But we have not closed the gap.
If you have not yet made your 2019 pledge, please make a choice today to commit to All Souls.
The Finance Committee is wrapping up its work on the 2019 budget and will use the pledge totals as of this Friday, December 14, to finalize the budget that will support our work throughout 2019. Now is a particularly important time to have your pledge counted.
Pledges received by Maggie Cooke, our Giving Secretary, by this Friday will be integrated into our overall spending plan.
If you have not yet pledged, please make that commitment by tomorrow. Every pledge moves us closer to a financially sustainable foundation for our ministries.
Just a reminder: pledges are a reflection of your plans for giving throughout the year. Pledges can be paid at any time over the year, in one payment or many, and are often fulfilled in small, regular contributions.
You can pledge, confidentially, by using a google form to pledge on-line, or by emailing your pledge to Maggie Cooke, at email@example.com.
The Stewardship Committee
Mariko shared this reflection as part of our Advent Taizé service last night, and we’re glad to share it again here for those who couldn’t be there. Please join us next Wednesday evening for our third and final Taizé service in Advent, and one more story from another All Soulsian.
A Resonance in the Story
My old boss has lots of stories from his time spent among indigenous communities here in California, but there’s one story that has stuck with me most. It goes like this:
There was one old guy. He was an Ohlone from the Fremont area. And he talked about hunting, fishing, catching sea lions in Mowry Slough during the Depression and he’d haul them through the streets of Fremont up to his house, and they’d cook them up and they’d eat them. He was always afraid of being caught by the police or by the game warden so he was always looking for other places. And one day he was moving it along, he was hauling the sea lion along a part of the marsh that he’d never been to before and the sea lion suddenly fell into a groove and he hauled it along that groove, and he realized he’d found the place where his ancestors had been hauling sea lions for thousands of years, and it now moved easily along.
I don’t mean to share this story with you for the purposes of stuffing indigenous culture into a Western framework, especially given the fraught history of Christian colonialism in California among indigenous peoples. It’s just that there’s a lot about the story that doesn’t make sense to me, or rather it just seems odd. Was the groove really deep enough to last a couple of centuries of disuse? Can you only find meaning in your particular ancestry, and what does it mean if you find it elsewhere? My boss who tells this story usually remembers not only everyone’s name but their grandparents’ names too. Why don’t we get a name for this man?
This is my first Advent as a baptized Christian. Kind of as a sidenote but not really, baptism is something I’d wanted to do since I was maybe eight or nine, but I was kind of reluctant to do it before. I think I was scared I didn’t understand the theology of Jesus enough to “earn” my baptism, which is obviously hubristic and stupid, but I digress. I still long for that cognitive ease of understanding Jesus, the way it seems to come naturally to others.
Advent. Just saying it puts a good, crisp taste in my mouth, like juniper berries and fir needles and something bright like grapefruit. I think of deep snowdrifts with the Tomten abroad, or cold desert air that makes the stars shine even more radiantly. I don’t know why I think of these images. I grew up here in the Bay Area, where on my walk home from work today I saw blooming roses and succulents. The story of the guy finding the ancestral groove is pretty much as rooted-in-California as you can get. It is factual.
But as we anticipate the coming of Christmas, as the nights get longer and then shorter again, I feel a resonance in the story of the man and the sea lion. Stories and imaginings have kinship with us, I think, alongside the kinship we have with our ancestors. I think that’s how we stay in relationship not only with one another but also with awe itself, how we are reminded that our capacity to understand the world is far outstripped by the wonders of the world, seen and unseen. I think the stories that don’t quite make sense to us are often the ones that might mean the most, and as I await the commemoration of Christ’s nativity, I trust in my relationship to the divine. For me it is kinship, and story, and imagination. Not in the way that fairytales are imaginary, but that it is imaginative; in that the capacity for these things is necessary, because they are stunningly cosmologically wondrously real.
– Mariko Conner
Welcoming New Members
Last Sunday we welcomed many new members into the All Souls parish community. Today and in the weeks ahead, you’ll hear from them.
I am a native of SF and attended a SF Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Seminary in San Anselmo where I received Masters Degrees (3 degrees) in Arts and Values, Systematic Theology and Divinity. My career has been High Tech Talent Management for an Executive Search Firm, several well known start-ups (Netscape and VMware) and a Venture Caplital firm. Now I run my own business as an Executive Coach. In 2000, I became a Chaplain and worked for 7 years at UCSF Medical Center and Heartland Hospice.
I came over to All Souls very recently, as I was searching for a church that would be a good fit for me personally and spiritually. Before this, I have been attending a Covenant Church. But as I attend All Souls, I feel the holy spirit filling me with wonder and joy. I love the sense of celebration here, I am grateful to have found you all. And I know this is where I belong now.
– Julie Kramer
Tim Sullivan joined the Episcopal church 35 years ago, and was a member of St. Mark’s, Berkeley, for about 25 years, where he was active in vestry and in communications ministries. Tim married his wife, Karen Ericksen, at All Souls almost 33 years ago. They have a daughter, Elaine, who is 30 years old and currently in Belgium. Tim has just retired from the California Public Utilities Commission, where he worked for 30 years, most recently as Executive Director, where he worked to implement state policies and programs to improve the safety of the electric infrastructure and to reduce greenhouse gases.
CAMPUS MINISTRY AT CAL BERKELEY
So, did you know that the Episcopal Church sponsors a ministry to Cal Berkeley? Yes, indeed! Chaplain Tom Poynor’s office is at St. Marks Parish on Bancroft, where he holds evening services and seminars, but he spends much of his time in dialog with U.C. students, faculty and staff. Tom’s seminars feature scholars, clergy and musicians addressing issues of faith and culture. Recent topics include: “The Jesus Sutras and Contemporary Issues in Faith” – how 7th Century Christians in China blended Taoist, Buddhist, and Christian scriptures; “Jane Austin and Religion” – exploring faith in her novels; and “From Reformation to Reconciliation” – studying the effect of the reformation on politics, culture and music.
The ministry is supported by the Berkeley Canterbury Foundation, led by board members representing the Bishop and local parishes. At present, Bob Cross is the only All Souls delegate to BCF, but it would be great to have others. If you have a connection to Cal Berkeley, or just an interest in campus ministry, please talk to Father Phil, any member of the staff or Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the Chaplain, email Tom Poyner: email@example.com.
– Bob Cross (Cal ’67)
December 16: UC Berkeley Food Pantry
This Sunday, we’re collecting canned soups, canned tuna or salmon, shelfstable milk, soy milk, or almond milk, low-sugar breakfast cereals, or hot cereal/oatmeal, rice, grains, or beans. This program provides food to students and their families who have used up all financial aid. 39% of undergraduates and 23% of graduate students at UCB regularly have to choose between paying for housing, class books, or food to eat.
The period for vestry nomination has begun! Nominations are due by next Sunday, December 23rd, so get ‘em in this week! Rules: 1. A nomination should not be made without the nominee’s knowledge and approval. 2. A nominee must be a current pledging member, and 3. S/he must have two years at ASP as an active member. The nomination box is on the back counter in the Narthex.
Christmas at All Souls
We’re getting close! Please think about who you will invite to join you here for the wonder and beauty and song – it’s meant to be shared! You can learn about how the services are different and which might be the best fit here. Here is the schedule of services for Christmas:
4 pm: Festive Eucharist with Children’s Nativity Story
8 pm: Carols and Candlelight with Eucharist
10:30 pm: Midnight Mass
10 am: Festive Eucharist