Mind Jar for Centering with Kids


Our minds are busy! Even when we are perfectly still and feeling relatively calm, we find that our thoughts continue to chatter. This is what Buddhists call “Monkey Mind”. One of the reasons that meditation is a spiritual practice is that it can help us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings.

All ages benefit from taking a deep breath and being “mindful” even if it is only for a moment in a busy day. In this way we train ourselves to be able to find a place of calm even in the midst of challenges or overwhelming feelings.

A Mind Jar is a simple spiritual tool. While watching the glitter swirl, sparkle and settle, your mind, body and spirit will feel calmer. As a parent or caregiver of children, making a Mind Jar together is a way to introduce spiritual practice at home.  Download the “Mind Jar Instructions” for what you’ll need, what to do and how to use a Mind Jar.   Enjoy!

Mind Jar Instructions (PDF)

What you’ll need:

  • Mason Jar or Jelly Jar with a top
  • Water
  • Corn Syrup
  • Glitter—size and color of your choice! (Fine glitter stays suspended longer.)
  • Strong holding glue or duct tape.

What to do:

  • Clean the jar and remove any labels
  • For this recipe you will need one part water and one part corn syrup.
  • Before you start, measure the amount of liquid that fills your jar.
  • Heat the water on the stove—do not boil!
  • Once it is hot, stir in the corn syrup.
  • Let it cool.
  • Put the cooled liquid in the jar.
  • Add glitter—at least 2 Tablespoons but as much as you wish.
  • Secure the jar top with glue or duct tape.

How to use:

  • Shake the Mind Jar!
  • Put it down on a flat surface like a table or the floor.
  • Watch as the glitter settles to the bottom.
  • A Mind Jar can be enjoyed any time! You can use it alone, with others or at bedtime for a centering moment.

Special thanks to Kristin Stiles-Hall for sharing her recipe with us (she tried six kinds!) and for teaching Mindfulness in our RE program.   Kristin is a member of First Parish in Concord and is a Holistic Integrative Counselor/Healer.

Finding Happiness

Scientists are revealing what mystics have known for centuries, there is a profound connection between the mind and the body. People who are happy have lower blood pressure, more energy, and tend to live longer.  Join me on Sunday, June 3, 10:30am for a joy-filled service with music, meditation, and simple practices that can increase your sense of well-being.  UU Congregational Society of Westborough, MA

What Matters Most?

Memorial Day weekend is about more than a good barbeque!  It is a time to open our hearts and minds to our interconnectedness.  The world’s religions and great moral teachers offer the same life lesson: KINDNESS is what matters most.  Join the Rev. Amy Freedman for a service upholding this universal teaching, Sunday, May 27, 10:00AMFirst Universalist Society 262 Chestnut Street, Franklin, MA

Centering Prayer

O Creator, who creates life and to which all life returns,

you are as close as our beating heart and the cycle of breath.

Where there are unresolved troubles in our minds

may we find clarity of purpose.

Where there are heavy burdens in our hearts

may we discover a healing path.

Where ever there is pain,

whether in our lives, in our circle of loved ones, or in our world,

May we become divine messengers

through our prayers, our actions and our words,

Peace to all.

Life to all.

Love to all.


Universalist Valentine

“Live as though the essential power and force of the universe is love, goodness, truth, and beauty. Then you shall discover the faith for which you so ardently long”.–Robert Miller, Universalist minister 

To believe “God is Love” means the sacred is found in relationship, in connection. This is a process that continues through out our daily living. True happiness lies not in individual attainment, but when we discover a power that is deeper and wider than self. When we are conscious of the intimate relationship of all beings, to act with justice and mercy in the world leads to personal fulfillment. Together we can build a better world. The Divine is not the goal of life but the very path on which we travel.

Beyond the Old Church Model

Liberal religion is not an institution; it is a movement in history, a set of values and a way of life.”  Dana McLean Greeley proclaimed those words as the opening statement to “The Free Church in a Changing World” in 1963.  The report, written by several Commissions of the recently formed Unitarian Universalist Association, reflects on the role of tradition, the free spirit, and leadership during a time of rapid change.

Today the digital revolution is changing how people connect, collaborate, learn, protest, and make decisions about our lives.  While bringing people together in new ways, the population of the United States is more socially isolated than ever before in human history.[i]  Jobs, education, family structures, and systems which once seemed solid are in the midst of flux.

Unitarian Universalist communities are remarkably suited to engage with the issues of our times.  The liberal religious values of acceptance, justice, equity, compassion, and use of the democratic process require our constant care and practice in the Sanctuary, on the streets, and through new media.  This is a critical time for us to be bold in creating new initiatives beyond the old church model.

In order for our religious movement to thrive in the digital age, we need to embrace the tools of our time and the collaborations they allow.  Social media, online video, and other web technologies are allowing new forms of community, education, and activism to emerge.  With instant access to friends, information, and media of every kind, the digital is increasingly appealing, engaging, and relevant.  Instead of waiting for newcomers to find and visit us, we have the ability, and now a calling, to meet them where they are, and that is online.  Increasingly, online connections are the first step toward real-life gatherings and community-building.

Expanding our ministry more fully into online spaces is a massive undertaking.  Many ministers and religious educators do not have expertise in these new technologies.  Fortunately, the communication tools that call us forward into the future also enable us to collaborate in new and exciting ways.  We do not need to do this alone.  Given the scope of the challenge, we probably cannot do this alone.

What is the greatest challenge for Unitarian Universalist leaders?  It is not the ministry landscape opening up before us—we are perfectly suited for it.  Rather, it is our long established patterns of working and ministering in isolation, of not living out the promise of our association.  In order for our religious movement to thrive in the next decade and beyond, Unitarian Universalists must be more generous in sharing resources with one another, collaborating in new ways, and creating ministries beyond our front doors.  Only then can we be true to our shared vision of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

[i] Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades. Author: Miller McPherson, Lynn SmithLovin, Matthew E. Brashears, American Sociological Review © 2006

This Sunday Eve Tells All

Sunday, November 6, 10:30 a.m.

Finally, Eve will offer her side of the story!  What happened in the Garden of Eden? Are there any lessons to be learned? If she had it to live over, would she bite the apple?

You will not want to miss this dramatic retelling that speaks directly to women and men today.  All are welcome!

First Parish in Kingston, MA

Playing Doctor

Say “Ahhhh!” my nearly three-year-old daughter says peering down the imaginary throat of her teddy bear. “Pretty good! Now, let me get the telescope!” Of course she means stethoscope, as she listens to the stuffed animal’s heart. Playing doctor is one of her favorite games these days as she examines the eyes, ears, nose, hands, and feet and especially if it’s a real person, asking us to take a deep breath. Lately, the veins in our arms and legs have fascinated her. “That’s blood!” she declares.

Peter and I depart tomorrow for a Healthy Congregations facilitator training in St. Paul, Minnesota. This seminar designed for leaders to nurture religious communities no doubt will offer useful tools for our ministry and consulting work with congregations.

My prayer for our religious communities is that we bring the same enthusiasm to them as playing doctor. Let’s engage in routine check-ups instead of waiting for a problem to become severe or chronic. Let’s foster a holy curiosity about what makes our institutions function and be ready to try out new ideas. Above all, let’s remind one another to take a deep breath and create joyful ways to be together!

Quiet Your Mind. Be Here Now.

Sunday, October 23, 2011, 10:30 a.m.

With humor and insights from Zen Buddhism, this service is an invitation to slow down and experience life more fully. Join the Rev. Amy Freedman for music, meditation, and words of wisdom that will help awaken your senses to the present moment. Take a deep breath. Be here now.

First Parish in Kingston, MA

Make a Fresh Start!

In the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews are meant to reflect on the past year in order to make the New Year even better. This is not just an intellectual exercise. During the Days of Awe you are expected to “fix” all the times you missed the mark.

Obviously, you do not have to be Jewish to take part in this process of reconciliation. Is there someone a life partner, a friend, a parent, a child, a sibling, a neighbor, a colleague, or someone in your community, who you hurt? It could have been an accident. It certainly was a mistake. We feel ashamed of some things we did last year. Maybe it was a big misunderstanding or only something small but that you still remember and carry around with you. Take time this week to say you are sorry. Not only will your relationship with that person improve, your spirit will lighten. It is a way to make a fresh start!

May this holiday remind us to face our mistakes and take action in making amends. May others forgive us when we say we are sorry and may we forgive others when they tell us that they are sorry. As it is written in the Hebrew Scriptures, “Then shall your light burst through like the dawn and your healing spring up quickly.” (Isaiah 58:8)

First Day of Preschool

As we approached her classroom, my daughter clutched my pants and covered her face in her hands. All summer, we had been looking forward to preschool. Now that the first day had arrived, I wanted to sweep up my two-year old and take her back home.

After juggling full-time ministry and parenting, it was a joy for me to devote my time to motherhood over this past year. We spent a lot of time together pretending, drawing, playing at local parks, and visiting the library. Wherever we go, she is eager to make friends. So, I know that she is ready for school. It is also time for me to reawaken to my professional life.

My husband Peter and I are both former preschool teachers. We searched with care for a place for our daughter. I visited one daycare where the Director said all the right things but the environment was sterile and both the teachers and kids looked bored. The whole family spent one morning at a neighborhood program where everything (including the teachers) looked shabby and tired.

We fell in love with her new school! On a tour our daughter was ready to join the children that day. The classrooms are filled with color and inviting activities. The teachers offer a responsive curriculum shaped by the children’s abilities and interests. As a cooperative, parents also take an active role in the school, helping in the classroom once a month.

Once we crossed the threshold into the Orange Sea Star class, she smiled and pulled us in to “Come, see my school!” We left her happily drawing with colored pencils. I am the one who keeps wiping away tears…

Ministering in Newport was a blessing I’ll carry

Welcome to Channing Church
Photo courtesy Matthew Cohen Photography

There are certain moments that I will never forget. One of those moments was the day I turned thirty. I happened to be on vacation at the time. In fact, I had left Martha’s Vineyard where I was serving the Unitarian Universalist Society to join my parents vacationing in San Miguel d’Allende, Mexico. Knowing that the Ministerial Search Committee of Channing Memorial Church would soon be making a decision, I called the Chairperson to let her know of my plans. My heart leapt when she called back to ask for a phone number where I could be reached in San Miguel just in case. Perhaps those folks felt the same sense of connection and possibility as I had during my pre-candidating weekend in Newport when the Search Committee and I exchanged our views of church and ministry. Although I was hopeful, I tried to push it from my mind.

My folks and I were preparing to go out for dinner to celebrate my birthday when the phone rang. I had never before and have not since received a better birthday present! I accepted the invitation to be the Ministerial Candidate of Channing Memorial Church. After warm embraces from my parents, we left the house for the cobbled stone streets of San Miguel. The setting sun cast a glow that made the colors of the brightly painted houses and flowering plants even more brilliant. As my spirit soared, bells of a nearby church rang out! My parents and I laughed with joy in the beauty of the moment and the bright promise the future held.

In the Unitarian Universalist movement, the ministerial search process is an intense experience for both the minister and congregation. Both parties need to consider their history, style, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and dreams. Both parties prepare what is known as a packet, a binder filled with information more elaborate than a job description or a resume. After all, a church is not a business, a school, a club, or a service organization. Foremost, a church is a community of people with shared values, needs, and aspirations. Likewise, a minister does not just punch a time-clock and perform certain tasks ministry is a vocation or way of life that calls the minister to offer her thoughts, caring, ideas, and faith in service to the community.

I am fortunate to have found a good match at Channing Memorial Church. The congregation’s vision of “Ministry Together” a strong partnership between lay leaders and a professional minister suited my collaborative style. It has been a gift for me to work with such talented, intelligent, and committed people. Together we have faced significant challenges, shared precious moments, and accomplished a great deal. I am proud that our church is now not only on the tourist map but known for making a difference in people’s lives.

Now, I am saying farewell to Channing Memorial Church and Newport, Rhode Island. Sunday, June 20th at 10:00am will be my farewell sermon. There are a variety of factors leading to my decision to depart. I will be taking time to consider new directions in my professional life such as ways to incorporate theatre and ministry, and pursuing further education. I also look forward to spending more time with my daughter Liza without the challenge of balancing full-time ministry and motherhood. Our family will be moving to Cambridge, MA.

Since announcing my resignation, Newport Daily News readers have approached me on the street to thank me for my columns. Many people have shared how my words have lifted your spirits or given you new insights. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my perspective with a wider audience. Just as my life has been shaped by the Channing community, living in Newport has been a blessing that I will carry with me always.

As a parting gift, I leave you with my prayer: O Creator, who creates life and to which all life returns, you are as close as our beating heart and the cycle of breath. Where there are unresolved troubles in our minds, may we find clarity of purpose. Where there are heavy burdens in our hearts, may we discover a healing path. Where ever there is pain, whether in our lives, in our circle of loved ones, or in our world, may we become divine messengers through our prayers, our actions and our words. Peace to all. Love to all. Blessed Be.

Nature is a beautiful tool in restoring balance

In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the ultimate transcendent experience.  He writes that walking through the woods allows him to return to reason and faith.  The beauty of the natural environment restores his sense of well-being.  The burdens of other people’s opinions, personal challenges, and grief fall away.  With his feet flat on the earth, bathed in fresh air and his vision uplifted, “all mean egotism vanishes”.  Becoming a transparent eyeball is how Emerson describes the mystical sensation of being at One with the Universe.

Remember a time when you had a sense of this greater Unity with the world around you.  In some of the most challenging periods of my life, I have walked the beach to remember that the world does not revolve around me.  No matter how heavy my responsibilities or sorrows may seem, in Emerson’s words “the currents of Universal Being circulate through me.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts that most people have a very superficial seeing of the world around us.  Often our minds are so full of future plans or reviewing the past that we are blind to our surroundings.  He writes, “The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child”. 

The first time I took my daughter Liza on the Cliff Walk she was about eight-months old.  While unloading her stroller I imagined that she would enjoy seeing the ocean waves and feeling the sea breeze.  In fact, Liza did enjoy the Cliff Walk.  However, what she enjoyed was not the clear blue water or the sailboats on the horizon.  She leaned forward smiling and connecting with all the people and dogs that crossed our path.  Even more surprising, her little hand reached out from the stroller to feel the hedge as we went by.  For me, hedges are nothing more than a nuisance, reminding me of the hedge that needs trimming at home.  I followed her example and brushed my open hand against the hedge as we past.  The tiny thick leaves were cool and soft; sensuous as velvet. 

Communion with the divine is possible in nature.  Liza reminds me that it is not necessary to travel long distance to exotic locations for this transcendent experience.  Certainly, I have felt awe on the colorful cliffs of Aquinnah and surrounded by the great redwood trees of Muir Woods.  But as Emerson writes, “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to one another; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.”  Liza recalls me to this sense of wonder and awe when she notices the play of light on a wall, the feel of grass through her fingers, the exhilaration of a rainy day.

In a poem entitled, “Each and All”, Emerson writes of a man who is so enraptured by the beauty of nature that he desires to possess it for his very own.  In hearing a sparrow sing, he captures the bird in a cage.  He collects seashells from the shore.  He picks flowers along a woodland path.   However, in taking these living things from their natural settings, he discovers that each loses their beauty.  The sparrow sings but without the river and the open air, the song is not as sweet.  The seashells are ugly and dry without the bright sunshine, sand, and tumbling waves.  The beauty of the violets is somehow less without the dappled sunlight through the trees.

The poem concludes, “Beauty through my senses stole;/ I yielded myself to the perfect whole”.  As Emerson declares in Nature, “nothing is quite beautiful alone; nothing but is beautiful in the whole. A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace.” 

If there is something in human nature that causes us attachment and clinging, it is even more essential that we take the time to open our minds and hearts to our wider connection.  Let us make it our practice to spend time in Nature not to capture it or collect it as our own but to remember that the whole “world is a mirror of the soul.”  Then perhaps we can do as Emerson suggests and “Write it on [our] heart[s] that every day is the best day in the year.”

Those dealing with miscarriage should know they’re not alone

My daughter Liza turned one year old in December.  Her birthday party had all the classic traditions like streamers, balloons, doting relatives, and a smiling girl with her face covered in chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.  My husband, Peter and I enjoyed the party even more than Liza did as it was a celebration of the new family member who we had wanted for so long.

At our wedding at Channing Memorial Church in 2004, we exchanged vows in front of the congregation that we had written ourselves.  As our officiant had us repeat after him, Peter added a word that demonstrated his enthusiasm.  Instead of saying, “I look forward to starting a family with you”, Peter blurted out “I SO look forward to starting a family with you!”

As much as we both longed to be parents, it turned out not to be as easy as we had imagined.  After spending years trying not to become pregnant, I discovered that conceiving was not as simple as no longer using birth control and took much longer than we anticipated.  Once I was pregnant, I fully expected to carry the baby full-term.  However, after a very public announcement, I suffered a miscarriage.

I recognize that it may be shocking for a minister to be so candid about this subject.  However, the reason for my disclosure is that after the miscarriage, I discovered how many people experience similar heartache.  The journey to becoming a parent is often not as smooth as it is commonly portrayed.  Despite all the beaming couples on television, quite simply, a positive pregnancy test result does not necessarily mean you will have a baby.  Twenty percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.  For many couples who are having children later in life, the odds are even higher.

Nothing had prepared me for the bereavement associated with a miscarriage.  Even though the Doctor assured us that this was an isolated event most likely due to some sort of chromosomal error, it was hard to shake the feeling that I was somehow to blame.  I was gripped by fear and doubt about our ability to conceive a child.

As I grieved, numerous women and men came forward to share their stories with me.  Even though I knew many of these families intimately, I had no idea that so many of them went through the trials of delayed conception, miscarriage, and infertility.  One couple thought they would never have a child after recurring miscarriages.  However, they have a beautiful daughter who is an active member of our church.  Someone gave me a book explaining natural ways to enhance fertility.  Others described how adoptions made their families complete.

There is a weight of silence around the subject of conception that must be lifted.  It is important for anyone who would like to be a parent to understand that miscarriage and complications are a common occurrence.  There is no need to feel shame or anxiety in isolation.  Chances are many people you know have experienced similar struggles.

Even those who choose to have no children, or are far removed from that stage of life, can relate for we never know exactly how life will unfold.  It is difficult living in a place of cautious optimism.  Each one of us is expecting whether it is a new job, a search for a romantic partner, learning a new skill, trying a new routine, overcoming addiction, healing from a loss, opening ourselves to new people or places or ways of being.  Let us break the silence about the reality of failure and miscarriage.  In so doing, we can support one another in healing and open our hearts to the miracles of living.