Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brigid was here

Brigid was here.  There are many ways I can tell.

I can tell because the days are so much longer, so quickly. 

I can tell because the sun comes up earlier.  

I can tell because I hear different birdsongs now. 

I can tell because the sun is in different places throughout the day now than it was at Winter Solstice.  When the cats lounge in the sun in our south-facing main room, they sometimes sit on the floor now, instead of always on the table.  When I'm working at my computer, the sun hits different places in my office than it did six weeks ago.  At Meeting for Worship, the places where one should sit if one does or does not want sun in one's eyes, or on the back of one's head, has shifted. 

The sun is higher in the sky, and that seems to be changing every day. This is dramatically noticeable. 

I can tell because when I'm working at my computer and I need to turn on the office lights, it's later in the day. 

I can tell from the different things that happened at our Brigid-inspired potluck dinner party a few weeks ago: creativity, community, fun, fast friendship between a child who expected to be bored and a normally-aloof cat, lots of laughter, some silliness, learning to make Brigid's crosses (there was some swearing, a true feeling of accomplishment, and some just plain fun involved), delightful food (a beetroot and sheeps'-milk feta torte, sheeps'-milk being traditional for Imbolc/Brigid; chili with Boston brown bread (aka cornbread with corn and rye flours); salad; apple pie and apple crumble and stewed apples; lots of chocolate...).

Brigid was here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Accessibility, Handwork, and Ministry in Meeting for Worship

This article first appeared in the January, 2012 issue of Friends Journal. - sm

Accessibility, Handwork, and Ministry in Meeting for Worship
Staśa Morgan-Appel

In the summer of 2000, I was in a car accident with multiple impacts. I walked away from it, but for months afterward, I couldn’t sit still for more than 20 minutes because of the pain. This was a problem in many areas of my life—work, home, volunteering, meeting for worship.

At the time, I was part of a large meeting which met in a large meetinghouse, and I could usually find a seat on the end of a bench, toward the back of the room. I could lie down on the floor when I needed to; I could get up and go into the back entry way, which we rarely used, and pace when I needed to, then come hover in the doorway to listen to any vocal ministry that was offered. The people in my meeting knew about the accident and seemed to understand the reasons for my odd behavior. It didn’t seem to bother anyone, at least. And as I healed, I was able to sit through more and more of worship again, eventually the full hour.

A few years later, I sustained a severe ankle injury. I was in constant pain: I couldn’t sit, stand, lie down, or walk without pain. Again, this affected every area of my life, and again, I found it very hard to settle into meeting for worship. Pacing in the back of the room wasn’t an option this time. For the first six months after the injury, my ankle was usually taped, so I could shift and wiggle easily in my seat when the pain became too great or too distracting. My usual seat-mate, my spouse, was sympathetic, although I’m sure it did not help the quality of her worship any.

But after six months, when the pain continued, my doctor placed my ankle and leg in a series of casts and braces—too big to make wiggling possible without loud thumps against the benches or being quite noticeable visually. The Worship and Ministry committee, on which my wife was serving, had asked its members to sit on the facing benches even when they didn’t have care of meeting. My squirming would now be even more obvious. I tried sitting on the floor in front of the first facing bench, where my wiggling was less noisy, but I felt that it was still very visible and distracting.

Worst of all for me was the loss of worship. I was not able to take part in communal worship because meeting had become an exercise in endurance through pain, not one of worship and not one of community. There are practices that are about reaching spiritual communion through physical discomfort or even pain, and I have experience in some of them. But meeting for worship is not, and should not be, such an experience.

What to do? There were many options. None of them was worship.

That fall, my F/friend Russell died. I have an active crochet ministry, and I had a very clear leading to make a comfort wrap or throw for his devastated husband. I worked on it mostly during meeting for worship with attention to business, announcements at the rise of meeting, committee meetings, and the like.

One day during meeting for worship when I was in a lot of pain and just couldn’t settle, I took my bag, went to the back corner of the room, and, hidden from view, sat on the floor, crocheting his throw while holding him in the Light, in worship.

It worked. I was able to settle into, and remain in, worship with my meeting.

The handwork distracted me from the pain. Unlike reading, it did not require the intellectual portion of my brain, and so I was able to stay in worship as I’m unable to do always when reading. Because it was ministry, the handwork was enhanced by my being in worship and by my being in worship with my spiritual community. Most of all, handwork was a spiritual tool that made meeting for worship accessible to me in spite of my disability. It was an accessibility aid and a spiritual tool.

Years passed and I didn’t think much about it. My spouse and I had both undertaken mid-life career changes, and we moved several times for her to go to graduate school and to work in temporary positions. We were part of several other meetings.

I became a member of a meeting that was open to diverse ways of making worship accessible to those having difficulty with mobility, neuro-atypicality, vision, hearing, and mental illness. In our meeting, we often balance behavior in meeting for worship that helps some people center but distracts others. As we participated in several meetings, I discovered that some of these ways of making worship accessible irritated me hugely...until I knew why they were being done.

This bothers me: Why should my knowing make a difference? Why would I assume that someone is being irritating on purpose, that someone is not participating fully? Why wouldn’t I assume that what they are doing—whatever it is: reading, handwork, writing, quiet play with hand-puppets, Sudoku—allows them to be fully present in meeting for worship? And yet, once I know the story (someone is neuro-atypical; someone is a young person who prefers meeting for worship to First-day school; someone is in chronic pain; someone just had news of a loved one in the ICU), my irritation vanishes. It makes sense and it ceases to be a problem for me. This difference in my own attitudes bothers me.

A few years ago (we had moved again and were sojourning in a different meeting), I started experiencing a very unpleasant flare-up of a chronic neurological condition. One of the treatments made it likely that I would become fairly sleepy, unless I had direct sensory stimulation. To my horror, I found myself regularly falling asleep in meeting for worship.
I’m told occasional napping during meeting can be very worshipful, and I have often joked about hosting “meeting for worship with attention to napping.” But my chemically-and neurologically-induced experience was definitely not worshipful. It was awful.

So I was experiencing the loss of worship itself and of worship in community—yet again, at a time when I very much needed it. I didn’t want to read. I didn’t want to get up and leave meeting when I started to fall asleep. And I didn’t want to sleep in meeting. I wanted to worship—in community. On top of that, the meetinghouse where we were sojourning was quite small, and anyone doing any of those things, reading, leaving, sleeping, would be very obvious.

Finally, I thought about trying handwork again. People were used to seeing me crochet in meeting for worship with attention to business. We had a ramp for those who used wheelchairs, and we were engaged in discussions about other kinds of accessibility. People might understand. I explained the situation to the Ministry and Counsel committee and received a great deal of support.

Again, handwork helped me stay present in worship in community. It worked as both an accessibility device and a spiritual tool. Without handwork, worship would have been literally inaccessible to me. I would have had to leave the room; I would not have been able to be in meeting for worship.

This may be a novel idea: things we don’t usually consider to be acceptable behavior in meeting for worship can be spiritual tools that are accessibility aids. This idea also gives us the beginnings of some new ways to answer the question: how do we make our meetings more accessible to people with different kinds of disabilities and accessibility needs?

Here are some things I have learned to ask myself (and for others to ask themselves) when another person is doing something that irritates us in meeting for worship:
  • Could there be a good reason that the person is doing this?
  • Could that reason have something to do with accessibility and a hidden disability?
  • Could what he/she is doing actually be a form of ministry?

Staśa Morgan-Appel is a member of University Friends Meeting in Seattle, Wash., attending Central Edinburgh Quaker Meeting in Scotland. She has a letter of introduction and religious service from University Friends Meeting, with a ministry focusing on spiritual nurture with individuals and groups. She is a middling but avid crocheter and blogs at

© 2012 Friends Publishing Corporation. Reprinted with permission. To subscribe:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Two wonderful videos from UUI's Winter Solstice Celebration

Ever wonder what those Winter Solstice Celebrations based on A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual that I'm always talking about are like?  

Well, I can give you a little window into part of one of them: here are two videos from the 2011 Winter Solstice Celebration at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis!

The first video includes parts of "Imani," by Rachael A. K. Hazen, and "We've Got the Power," a traditional song from South Africa:

The second video includes the grounding and centering from the Narration, co-written by Julie Forest Middleton and Stasa Morgan-Appel:

Excerpted from a presentation of A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual, (c) 2002 Julie Forest Middleton and Stasa Morgan-Appel.  For more information, click here.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In the velvet darkness, II: the rest of the weekend

The third weekend of December -- the velvet night of the darkest time of the year -- was for me filled with light, laughter, absurdity, and magic.

The magic of Winter Solstice

That Saturday night was my first Winter Solstice Celebration in Edinburgh, which I posted about here.

When it was over, and we had finished cleaning up, we caught a cab home.

And such a cab ride it was. 

Through the worm-hole

We lugged our bags and baggage to the taxi stand across the street, climbed into the first taxi, and entered a worm-hole

There was a stocking hung up behind us.  There were a neon tree and an electric wreath on the divider in front of us. 

As we got underway, the cabbie told us "There's a treat for you in the stocking, if you've been good."  I did not have the courage to reach in there, but Co-Conspirator did, and found good chocolate candy, which she generously shared.

The cabbie, having heard my American accent when we gave the address, asked where I was from; I said the US, he asked where, I explained, yada, yada.  Conversation ensued about how America has given the world some of the best music and musicians and recording artists, like Luther Vandross, you know, and...

Would we like to hear him (the cabbie) sing?  It's something he learned from one of the greatest American artists...

Sure!, we chorus.  (It's only a short cab ride, and we're punchy anyway.)  

He puts on a karaoke CD (truly!), and starts singing Barry Manilow's "I Made It Through the Rain."


I'm in the middle, wedged between Co-Conspirator and Beloved Wife.  Co-Conspirator is clutching my shoulder; Beloved Wife is carefully not looking at or touching either of us (well, except for being wedged tightly together).

This guy can actually sing, and sing well.  And he's clearly practiced and has good breath control.  (He even timed it well with the speed bumps!)  

And here is where our accounts diverge.

I think we're having a meaningful experience.  Sure, it's schmaltz!  But there's something really lovely and wonderful about it for all that.  Right? 

Noooo.  Beloved Wife and Co-Conspirator are having a completely different experience of the schmaltz.

(Or maybe it's treacle for them -- ?  That could be why.)

So we get back to the flat, get everything inside, and --

Collapse into gales of laughter. 

None of us can quite believe it all, and we all think it's the most surreal thing ever.

Co-Conspirator (who has a degree in a relevant field) decides it was a worm-hole.  There is just no other explanation.

I decide we must have gone through New York City on our way from St. John's back to our side of town, because really, where else would this happen? Edinburgh??

Eventually we have cups of her amazing peppermint tea and eat lots of dark chocolate digestive biscuits before she returns to her own nearby flat.  But we keep bursting into giggles.

The 80s are back

The next day, Beloved Wife and I went grocery shopping.

There's a Clarks shoe store in the same shopping center as our nearest grocery store, and we had a little bit of time and I needed boots, so we decided to duck in.  Plus, they were having a big sale.

I tried on some of what I needed, with Beloved Wife urging me away from plain weather-proof boots in hiking-boot styles, and towards trendy/dressy weather-proof boots.

"You know, it didn't occur to me that I could get dressy winter boots.  No wonder I wasn't excited about those.  These are much nicer." 

"No, no, you definitely need stylish boots."

(I feel like somehow, over the years, our shoe conversations have flipped 180 degrees.  I think I definitely used to be the one with dressier shoes (and boots).  Now she is.  (Maybe it's the influence of Dr. Isis -- ?)) 

They didn't have what I decided I wanted in my size, but I tried on some similar things. 

And then Beloved Wife found these lovely black leather zip-up slightly-slouch ankle boots with a buckle and chain on sale for £30.  They would fit a hole in my wardrobe, but were not what I had gone into the store to buy, and therefore I couldn't buy them, right?  But they were so cute.  And Beloved Wife thought they looked fabulous (actually, she used a different word).  And they had them in my size, and they fit.  (I have hard-to-fit feet.)  And they were on sale.  And they were sensible, comfortable, walkable, and sexy.

And they were giving me flashbacks to my adolescence.

I tried them on and walked over to the mirror.  "I feel like I'm back in high school.  Only I'm finally trendy!" 

The second (older) salesclerk looked at me and said, "Wow.  All you need are leg warmers!"

At which point I -- yes, it's true -- I pulled up my jeans legs and pulled down my leg warmers.

At which point she, Beloved Wife, and I collapsed into gales of laughter.

The salesclerk who was helping us returned from the back with another boot in another size.  "What?"  I showed her.  "Oh, that's cute!" she said, smiling and nodding.

Clearly of a generation which could not understand why it was hilarious rather than "cute." 

I looked at the other salesclerk and asked, "Have you seen 'Flashdance'?"  She nodded.  I solemnly intoned, "I promise I no longer own any ripped sweatshirts."  She giggled. 

I did buy the boots.  And they are totally awesome. And quite comfortable. 

And you can't even tell they're 80s boots if I'm wearing them inside my jeans.


Monday night, I went to a small work party/get-together with Beloved Wife, her work group, and some of their assorted family members.  In general, I enjoy her colleagues and their collective (and sometimes slightly warped) sense of humor.

Our host had said in the email invitation, that because they were missing pieces from the set, there would "probably be no flaming tongs"... but it turned out we were treated to the German tradition of Feuerzangenbowle, or flaming punch, after all.  Here's a link to a video, but it does not completely capture the magic (in the spiritual sense or the geek or chemistry senses) of blue flaming rum and sugar dropping down into the punch bowl and running around til burned. 

So we had light in the darkness, good-natured teasing, conversation, company, friendship, and lots of laughter on Monday, as well.

And then Beloved Wife and I had a few quiet days to ourselves before spending the rest of the holidays with family.


I hope your holidays were similarly blessed with magic, laughter, good companionship, friendship, family, love, chocolate, fire, unexpected blessings... and schmaltz.

(Just in case, here's a little extra schmaltz for you.  I'm sorry he doesn't have a Scottish accent like our cab driver.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poetry for Brigid: "Contradance" by Judith Laura

Please check out this wonderful poem by Judith Laura!  There's also a great video following, from the weekly contra in Glen Echo, near DC, with the amazing Cis Hinkle calling and music by the fabulous Moving Violations.  (I have danced to Cis' calling, and she rocks.)

Many of you may find Judith Laura's name familiar from her poem "Hear Our Great Mother," used with permission as the invocation to the Goddess in the Winter Solstice Celebration / A Winter Solstice Singing Ritual ("Hear our Great Mother, robed in midnight, around Whose head shine all the..."). 


Poetry for Brigid: Maya Angelou reading "And Still I Rise"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In the velvet darkness I: The magic of Winter Solstice

The third weekend of December -- the velvet night of the darkest time of the year -- was for me filled with light, laughter, absurdity, and magic. 

The magic of Winter Solstice

That Saturday night was my first Winter Solstice Celebration in Edinburgh.  As as I do pretty much every year -- even when I also do something else for Solstice, and even when I work with it by myself -- I worked with A Winter Solstice Singing RitualI did a community Celebration, as I often do.  And this year, it was completely different from any other year, as is often the case.

I was not working with a choir this year, instead depending on... whomever was led to show up.  In the past when this has been the case, I've at least known ahead of time who was coming.  Not so this year.  I taught two music workshops ahead of time, both of which were lovely, but had small attendance, and then spent an evening singing with my Co-Conspirator, the F/friend who was my co-planner/publicity helper, going over music.  (Heh heh heh heh.  She subsequently turned up on my doorstep compulsively singing "Imani" and "We've Got the Power."  *happy cackle*)

It turned out we would have four singers as anchors, including me.  Hmmmm.

Other volunteers are also needed to make this happen: one Narrator, four Readers, some candle volunteers, a greeter, people to set up and break down...

The week before, I had met with the person who'd agreed to be Narrator, someone from my Meeting here.  I was really looking forward to hearing her narrate; she has a beautiful reading voice, she was convinced this was going to be lovely, and she was looking forward to seeing it in reality.  Co-Conspirator and Beloved Wife had agreed to be Readers #1 and #3 and to help with set-up, and Beloved Wife had agreed to be the welcome person/staff the door.  We still needed Readers #2 and #4 as well as candle volunteers, and were going to ask people as they arrived.

We felt pretty confident this would work.

I had no idea who would show up.  I'd sent announcements to both the closest Quaker Meetings and to several local Pagan groups, had posted fliers in the businesses closest to the Hall we'd rented as well as several other crunchy-granola businesses and my library, had emailed friends, and had posted to Facebook and Witchvox, etc. -- all the usual.

It was a big experiment, and I had layer of "Eeek!" in there somewhere, but mostly I felt a kind of flexible, happy expectation: I didn't know what would happen, but it was going to be neat to find out. 

The night before the Celebration, the Narrator called: she had a terrible cold and barely had any voice.

Beloved Wife had narrated before, and agreed to be Narrator instead of Reader #3.

Now I needed three Readers.

Looking at my to-do/still-need list on Saturday morning, I was somehow delighted and inclined to laugh.  I was slightly stressed, and yet convinced it would be fine.  Yes, we really would create this together.

And we did.

It was magical.

And it was one of the most drama-free Winter Solstice Celebrations I've ever had. (From the start of planning through to sorting everything out in the end.)

People sang.  Starting with "Round and Round." They even sang in parts, they sang together, and they sang with confidence.

People read. 

People helped with candles.

People took ownership of their experience.

People passed the Light, nourished it, sheltered it from drafts, encouraged it when it faltered, until the room was aglow.

People helped collect our candles and make sure they were safe while we moved around.  

With Co-Conspirator's wordless encouragement, people took up percussion shakers during "This Little Light" and "Imani" so that I wasn't alone on my drum.

People sang.  People moved their bodies.  People sang in harmony.

They smiled. 

They re-grounded.

They built community.

Folks stuck around for a little while after, talking, being together.  And then they helped clean up -- my blurred impression is the only things that were left for us to do were the things that only we could do.

The Celebration started at 7:05, and we were out of the Hall by 9:15.

And then, we caught a cab home.