Circle Blessing for the Ancestors

Please join hearts for a Circle Blessing Upon the Ancestors,
turning together, as you are able, to the directions called:

First, we turn to the NORTH: blessing the elders, who carved the paths we now walk; whose curiosity and vision, whose creativity and commitments,
gave flesh to our bodies, nourished our minds and spirits

We turn to the EAST: blessing the men, who walked and danced this earth, as home-builders and peace-makers; as dreamers, explorers, healers, teachers and revolutionary lovers

We turn to the SOUTH: blessing the infants and children, sent to open our hearts; to teach us to feed one another, and delight in all living things!

We turn to the WEST: blessing the women, who walked and danced this earth, as home-builders and peace-makers; as dreamers, explorers, healers, teachers and revolutionary lovers

We turn to one another, blessing the ancestors who live on within us and through us, as we step out into this day and week ahead, renewed in faith and in commitment to the circle of life.

May the circle be unbroken.

– Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale, 2014

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Excerpt of a Response to a Curious Student!

Thank you for your interest in Unitarian Universalism. You can find a great many resources on the website:

Meanwhile, it is fair to say that Unitarian Universalism impacted society as much as society impacted and continues to impact Unitarian Universalism!

As a “living tradition” UU is very attentive and responsive to current issues, actively influencing societal attitudes and this country’s laws!

In the 19th century Unitarians and Universalists were at the forefront of social reform movements, working as abolitionists, working on prison reform and healthcare reform, working to assure women’s rights, etc. That tradition of social/political engagement continues today, as UUs work on behalf of economic justice, GLBTQ rights, immigration reform, reproductive justice, and environmental issues, etc.

Many people join Unitarian Universalism because it is “relevant religion” – active in the world today, focusing on the power we have to improve the world we live in, rather than focusing on what may or may not happen after we die.

Central tenets are: the worth and dignity of all people, equity and justice, peace, democratic process, the right of conscience, and the responsibility that comes with interdependence.

The discovery/translation of Buddhist and Hindu religious texts in the 19th century also influenced Unitarian Universalism – opening it to a broader understanding of and appreciation for the wisdom of traditions beyond Christianity.

The horrors of the Civil War, WWI and WWII, that led to the overall decline of religious affiliation of any sort in this country (“how can there be a God when such horrors exist?” was a common question of those times) also influenced/broadened Unitarian and Universalist theology. Today Unitarian Universalist congregations honor a wide range of traditional religious beliefs, as well as humanism, agnosticism, atheism.

Reverend Stefanie Etzbach-Dale

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The Between Place

We live always in the “between place”
The “liminal space” between one breath and another
Between one day and the next, one season and another.

Rushing: poised always on the brink of something else, “yet again”.
We reach out, seeking to grasp “something of the eternal”. Holding it close,
A talisman against that most feared portal of all,
“That day” when breath will pass to silence.
And all grasping will cease.

Always in the “between place”, always rushing,
Always poised between delight and fear,
We need reminders to STOP!
To honor where we are,
To recognize the gift of the moment.

Arise now, and greet the day.

(A Poem in Anticipation of the Ten Days of Awe, 2014)

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Today Is The First Day of The Rest of Your Life!

Opening Words for the 09/14/14 Worship Service: “Fresh Start”

Today is the “first day, of the rest of your life”!
A time to step out, of old sorrow or strife!

To lay down the burden, of “things left undone”
To consider “anew”, what hasn’t begun!

We gather together, awake to this gift!
Seeking our minds and our hearts to uplift!

Seeking to walk, with integrity, true?
Guided by values, some old and some new!

“Love”, for example – that labynth-ine word…
In circles like this, is quite often heard!

It lies as the heart of this UU Tradition,
Joined with respect for the gift of cognition!

So settle in now, to this place and this time,
And forgive me, I ask, for this impious rhyme!

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Interview Questions!

I was recently sent a list of questions intended to inspire a press release in support of my new position as Minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City. Here are the responses (press release text to follow soon!):

1. You say your mother instilled in you a love of learning. What was your early life like? My father worked shifts, so my mother was the primary influence in my early childhood. She put great focus on creating “learning-experiences-on-a-shoestring” for me and my brother and sister. Every week we took field trips to museums, parks, concerts and community events. And every spare moment we were curled up with a box of books purchased at rummage sales. During those rare family dinners, when all were present, conversation ranged across all disciplines – from ancient history to current events, poetry to philosophy. I was motivated to contribute to those conversations, not only with questions, but also with information and ideas. (My mother, for whom English was a second language, went back to school at 40 for her BA and went on for her MA after that. She’s 83 now and continues to inspire me with her passion for learning.)

2. What are your spiritual roots? And, why Unitarian-Universalism? My spiritual roots lie in a deep curiosity about and reverence before the natural world. I remember gazing at the stars during childhood camping trips, my parents singing softly by a fire, telling stories of ancient people who had likewise been awed by them. I remember my father telling me that my bones contain stardust and that every living thing is related – that the very air we breathe once filled the lungs of dinosaurs! I remember being told that each grain of sand was once part of a mountain, worn down by time and the elements. All of this opened my eyes, my heart and mind to life’s mysterious, precious, grandeur. My lifelong study of world religions, while lifting up diverse perspectives and practices, affirmed a shared unity and obligation to life. Unitarian Universalism is the context in which I feel best empowered to explore that unity and to live up to that obligation.

3. You found your way into ministry through chaplaincy—a desire to be of service to people at their most profound moments of need. How did that idea get started in you? I’ve always found myself drawn to life’s deeper questions and challenges, to the joys and sorrows that tend to be hidden in the secret chambers of the heart’s memory and the mind’s imagination. Often, when people find themselves unexpectedly thrust into an awareness of life’s fragility (through loss of a job, ability or relationship, through illness or death), the desire and ability to keep all that tucked away tends to dissolve. There is a startlingly profound and perplexing yearning to connect with meaning and purpose, to face one’s highest hopes, deepest fears and greatest potential. Chaplaincy encourages presence to that which is most true about life – much of which is universal, while being utterly unique. I consider it a deep honor to walk with those undertaking that journey. Those experiences and conversations nurture and sustain my own faith.

4. It’s hard to leave a career in mid life and adopt an utterly new path—especially one that requires substantial schooling; loss of income; uncertainty about future income, etc. What was that decision like for you? I actually felt “the call” to ministry when I was very young. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to find the right “context” (Unitarian Universalism) and faith in my own ability to contribute something meaningful to this Living Tradition. It wasn’t until after a significant illness in my 30’s that I realized it was time to “stop avoiding” the call to ministry, and to get serious about life. I set off to seminary in 2001, carrying along all my doubts and fears. These many years later, I can say that the doubts and fears still tug at my sleeve. But my faith in the journey is strengthened. And so is my joy.

5. What drew you to this congregation? Among your other choices, why this one? While at Regional Assembly in San Jose last year, I commented to a colleague on what I experienced as an extremely rich UU culture in the Pacific Central District. She jumped up from her seat and said “oh, you’d be perfect for UUFRC!” That planted the seed. When I got home, I did a lot of research – and even drove up a couple of times to see the community. When the time came last year to engage in a full search, I applied to several positions all over the country, but kept feeling drawn back to UUFRC – which was known to be a creative, “healthy congregation”, with a history of being in right relationship with ministry. In re-reading the UUFRC congregational packet, I was moved by a stated willingness to articulate the “ambivalence” this congregation currently has about growth. I found this refreshing, as it indicated an awareness that deep reflection and conversation is still needed, and that there is a desire to engage in that process with a new minister. I appreciated that honesty. At that point I withdrew my applications to the other congregations and “put all my eggs in the UUFRC basket”!

6. What are your dreams for UUFRC? What do you most want to accomplish here? My main dream right now is that we can spend this year truly getting to know and appreciate one other. It’s important to me that I understand not only how you function as an organization (the ins and outs of committee work, what works/what doesn’t, and how you’re connected to the larger RWC and UU community, etc.), but also to begin to know individuals, their hopes, gifts, fears, commitments and connections with one another and this faith tradition. (Of course I also want people to get to know who I am, to be patient with my growing edges and supportive of the commitments I bring!) I’ll be doing what I can to be an authentic, grounded, caring presence to membership, to model covenantal right relationship, to support existing UUFRC goals/programs and Staff development, and to connect meaningfully with the wider community. It is my dream that wounds (old and new) can be openly unbound and transformed, that individual and collective UU identity will unfurl and inspire greater visibility in the wider community. This world needs to feel the influence of Unitarian Universalist values writ large.

7. How does your family view this move? My daughter has been telling me for years that I’m more “NoCal than SoCal”, and George has been wanting to move to the Bay Area all his life. We have a lot of family living in the area and are excited about the prospect of deepening those relationships, as we settle in. My mother, who lives in New York, is not quite as happy – because we used to have regular phone dates during my 2-hour commute to the congregation I was serving (now I’m 5 minutes from church and less likely to call from the car). That being said, she’s delighted for me, and looking forward to visiting in December.

8. What are your impressions of Redwood City? How does it differ from Santa Monica? I very much enjoyed Santa Monica’s casual outdoor beach culture, with hippy shops and yoga studio’s on every corner, but found it extremely difficult to connect with people in an authentic way, to put down roots. My hope was that moving to a “smaller community” would allow me to do that. Since my arrival in Redwood City, I’ve been deeply moved by the friendliness, the genuine kindness, of total strangers. While out and about, walking our dogs, people greet each other and stop to chat. Neighbors have even been by to welcome us and orient us to the Peninsula. I miss some of the offerings of Santa Monica, but I’m also delighted with the RWC downtown area and all the outdoor activities offered here, as well as with the fact that you can take the train to San Francisco and that Half Moon Bay is just 20 minutes away.

9. What’s on your Bay Area to do list? Over the years, each time I’ve visited San Francisco, I’ve mostly just visited friends and made a pilgrimage to the Grace Cathedral labrynth. Beyond that, I haven’t really seen very much. I’m looking forward to visiting Starr King School, going to museums and walking over the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d love to explore the Redwoods and find favorite hiking trails – and places to replenish my spirit, when I have a day or two free. (Right now I’m still trying to find a primary care physician, a dog kennel, and a good boxing trainer!)

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Super Moon Dream

Last night I dreamt myself into a cozy little venue where an amazing magician (Jeff McBride) captivated and stunned the audience by waving his hand over sand in which his name miraculously appeared. Holding his hands front and back out to the audience, he suddenly turned them palms forward to reveal the name of the Eternal radiating from them in day-glow colors. I gasped, falling forward in awe-struck delight, filled with love and peace and deep knowing.

After the show, I asked him if he would let me see that trick again. He smiled and, gracious as ever, waved his hands over the sand. His name again appeared. He then turned his palms toward me with a flourish, and with a twinkle in his eye, and I saw again that which had so delighted me. And I knew it to be Divine Love.

“Nice, huh?”, he said. “Well the point of this is to let you know NOT to write your name in sand. Choose something permanent. Something that will last. Something on which many can stand. And use those hands of yours to reveal to others that which IS eternal.”

Both directives I’ve been struggling with for quite some time, challenging myself to recognize and re-direct those pesky urges for trivial, immediate gratification and to actively connect with Divine Love (so I, as a minister, can talk about it with integrity).

Since it’s so very easy to get distracted I appreciate reminders like this dream. I welcome this dream particularly, because it shifts focus to “the hands” – as opposed to the “the words” I might speak.

I like that. It’s who you are and how you put your love into action that matters – not how skillfully you may be able to speak of love.

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Emotional Whiplash

Someone shared a story with me once about how important it is to rest periodically when you are on an arduous journey, in order to allow your spirit time to catch up.

The last 24 hours have been such a journey, as have been the last 12 months.  Come to think of it, so have the last 15 years.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But as I pause now, in these last few days of saying goodbye to my congregation, to my beautiful home, to all those places and people in Southern California that I have come to love, and to the cat “who opened my heart”, I realize that I have a case of emotional whiplash.   I need my spirit to catch up.


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In Honor of the Fathers

Honor to all the fathers, who give or gave of their time and love, their work and worry.

Honor to the fathers, who set aside their armor so that young eyes can behold the shape of true strength and courage.

Those, who teach through patience and virtue, and allow themselves to be taught a thing or two in the process.

Those, who do not hesitate to drop to their knees to tie a child’s shoelace, wipe a tear, or enter the kingdom of awe and wonder so vivid to the young.

Honor be to all the fathers, open to discovering within parenthood the heart’s liberation and the secret to eternal life.



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Reflections on Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric”

I don’t know that I agree with Walt Whitman that the body IS the soul – because I’m still not clear on if, and what exactly, the “soul” is.

Those who believe in it speak of it as being eternal.  And that the body clearly is not.  Those who believe in the soul speak of it as being“transcendent, which means “not subject to the limitations of the material universe”.  And “subject” the body clearly is.

I don’t know that I agree with Walt Whitman about all that.

But I do resonate with his sense of awe and wonder at the human form.  All its “attitudes and belongs.” Not just his own. Not just those most readily visible. Not just those considered particularly attractive or fit for public consideration.

His recitation of those “parts and poems” of the body took me aback when I first encountered it.  It seemed a bit vulgar to point out the obvious.  I read on, curious what words he would choose to describe some of those parts.  Expecting, I don’t know what.

But as I read on, those words took on the feel of a prayer.  One that lived within my flesh, within my bones, circling within me and through my own breath, mingling with the prayers of all those subject to time, and space, and gravity.

The likes of other men and women. The likes of friends and lovers and strangers, like you.Image

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Prayer to the Four Corners

Spirit of the East, of the Air that fills our lungs and gives voice to our dreams,

Spirit of dawning yellow wisdom, clarity of thought, and pure faith, be with us always

Spirit of the South, of fire, of flaming red courage and passion,

Spirit of hope, burning away the lead of our being, Be with us always

Spirit of the West, the generous blue Waters of life

Spirit of nurturing, purifying love and charity, ever-flowing, Be with us always

Spirit of the North, of verdant Earth, musky beneath our feet and in our bones,

Spirit of strength and stability, of law and reason, Be with us always



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