Welcome to the "Virtual Monastery" site of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. This section of the website is designed to help you develop or deepen your spiritual practice and devotion to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.
You may be interested in The 12 Marks of the New Monasticism or The Monastic Schedule that parallel the classic hours of devotional prayer and worship found in a monastery. Or, you may wish to explore and supplement those readings by going to additional links for Resources and Liturgies for the Christian Year, Prayers, Sermons, and to connect with other groups. Including getting readings and reflections from postings made to the UUCF-Bible online community which is an extenstion of this website. There we post scripture passages and have discussions about there meanings in our lives.
Whatever your need, we hope that this virtual monastery site can provide you with the tools you need to deepen your relationship as a liberal Christian who chooses to follow Jesus freely.
Each month members of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship will submit a weekly reflection for your consideration. Our hope is that you will sit with the text, read it, savor it, and be nourished by it. Here's is a simple way of approaching the weekly reflection:
- Read the scripture - at least once, sometimes twice or three times.
- Reflect on the scripture. Sit with your feelings about it, turn it around in your mind to see what it might mean beneath your first impression.
- Respond to the scripture. In a group, this would be discussion. In private, it might be a journal response, a prayer, or in verbal dialogue. Be creative in your response to scripture through drawing, calligraphy, sculpture, music, poetry, essay; whatever medium you enjoy.
- Rest - take time to sit and breathe, let go, relax, and meditate. If you found new insight in the Scripture, just sit with that insight for a few moments, before giving a prayer of thanks and moving out into your day.
Virtual Monastery Weekly Meditation
The Holy Spirit Comes At Pentecost
May 19, 2013
The Rev. Elz Curtiss
Focusing Scriptures: Acts 1:1-47, 5:1-12, 6:1-6
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
22“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’
36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The Fellowship of the Believers
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Chapter 5 - Ananias and Sapphira
1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
Chapter 6 - The Choosing of the Seven
1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
Is there any chapter of the Christian scriptures as visually dense, rich, vibrant, as the second book of Acts? So greatly does it lend itself to artistry of the ornate schools – Baroque, Orientalism, Expressionism – that I suspect Luke’s original account has become ineradicably burdened with accretions from apologists for the early institutional church. Indeed, the passage now appears on the liturgical calendar as “The Birthday of the Church.”
Though I challenge that assertion, it is impossible to admire the inspiration -- the accomplishments, layer upon layer -- of the word artists who built up this famous story from simple roots. Its discreet images are well-known: the frightened figures huddled in yet another upper room. The dove flying over them, the light shafting down on them, the tongues of fire leaping from each mouth with faith and inspiration. These mark the arrival of the third element of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. For the first time, God’s gift of grace marks a congregation. No more do they follow Jesus, powerless, mute except for cynicism and pleas. Given the gift of baptizing, a single ritual by which to claim, at once, their faith, the community, and their openness, they begin to feed each other as Jesus once fed them, to go forth as he once came among them when they were strangers.
That’s the simple story. But as finally told, its shape expands and contracts like the bellows of an accordion. Its historical moment jumps forward into the future and backward to various centuries of Jewish scripture and history. Far more than a painter, this one beckons the filmmaker. Its first frame is famously claustrophobic, too many people in a too-small room. But as the camera enters in, the energy expands. These are diverse people, wearing every face of Judaism, speaking every language of the Roman Empire. A flow of close-ups, perhaps with the unfiltered microphone of Robert Altman, displays the then-known world. The wide-angle camera pans the room, the soundtrack fills with wind, as the people themselves emit wind, speaking passionately, tongues which sound strange but confirm shared passion. The crowd in the street gets caught in the energy, listens to the disturbance. Tries to figure it out. If you define church as God’s covenant of grace, freely bestowed on us, this is where it begins.
But the story doesn’t end here. Suddenly a single phrase cuts in with the belittling words, “They must be filled with new wine.” A single face fills the screen, a different single speaker – Simon Peter—with a defensive assertion – too early in the day for us to have consumed that much wine. The content settles sharply on a single, known passage of scripture.
But of all the Hebrew Scriptures, Simon Peter has chosen the words that most demand a wide-angle lens, an unfiltered microphone. This is not just any prophecy, but the radical universalism of Joel, who promised that God intends to bestow the gifts of prophecy and wisdom on all races, all ages, all genders, all social classes. Simpn Peter unites past and future be asserting that this is what God is now doing. Look at us, proclaims Simon Peter, study our faces, and here you see fulfillment of what used to be called an unattainable dream.
For those whose church rests on the apostolic succession, Peter’s sermon marks the birth of their church. He testifies here on the story by which that church understands its mission: the suffering, death, and resurrection of the One who walked among humankind bestowing miracles of healing and messages of neighborly goodness. And who, indeed, has not longed for, called for, given thanks for, the elation of an unsought boon?
But Simon Peter gives a thought now to those outside, the many who have not known Jesus personally, or who might still be unsure about his elevated status as Son of God. Staying with the narrowness of citing precedent, Peter harkens to worldly Jewish history: this dead one fulfills not only prophecy, about which we might quarrel, but also fulfills the promise of a new king from David’s line and prophecy. This now-ended life followed paths laid out in David’s psalms. You might not be able to wrap your mind around the miracles, but who could deny the reality of our great king?
By the end of this passage, Simon Peter has used tight camera, single speaker, and linear message, to restore the room’s original claustrophobia. The vastness of Joel’s universalism has shrunk to a single genetic line. Yet what is easier for each of us to understand than the child’s question, “Where did I come from?” We see what you’re saying,” people answer; “How shall we respond?” Staying tight, staying gentle, -- speaking intimately of intimate things -- Peter lays out a single, simple, physically bonding ritual: baptize in the name of the One who loved us.
And then, the divine director yanks everything back open. The crowd themselves spill out, in the image that remains, even today, the forward motion of the church: Go forth and baptize all nations. For many, even today, this is the simple and adequate function of the church. Missionaries still go forth. Nations are still converted. Two millennia later, evangelical Christians, both liberal and conservative in their theology, call for religious rights abroad and immigration in Western nations, based on Peter’s directive that baptism shall honor no boundaries.
Back in this filmable scripture, the crowd’s energy leaps the very bounds of physics and chemical realities. Things which have been their own, their tangible earthly possessions, they sell around the town. Monies flow in like liquid, food suffuses among believers. No longer rich or poor, they share an atmosphere that has received life and been transformed. For those who define church as a community, a fellowship, Acts 2:44-47 is your foundation stone.
And here ends the second chapter of Acts, the official story of Pentecost, but this has not told the birthday story of church as I understand it. Where are the professional leaders, called by conscience and passion, rewarded with standing and jobs that never end? Where are the grumbling factions to which these leaders attend? And where, at last, does one find church discipline, the works of the faithful when we live among ourselves as the less than perfect humans we are to this day?
The Christian story of Pentecost, with all its beauty and power, has not removed the imperfections of human nature. Not until Acts 5 do I start to see the birth of my own church. One Christian sells his land, as do they all, but he attempts to withhold some of the proceeds for his own purposes. Simon Peter somehow senses this transgression, names it before the community, and the man dies immediately of shame. If only the sin of greed were so fatal today! Shortly thereafter, his widow attempts to continue the deception and meets the same fate. Perhaps six hundred years ago the Inquisition saw this passage as justification for papal abuses; to me these days it says that the rich must pay their taxes.
Even though it confirms human flaw, the foundation of my church theology, even Acts 5 has not been the birthday of church as I know and love it. That story has laid out Simon Peter’s authority in a way I do not acknowledge, do not seek, do not honor. Day after tomorrow – on Pentecost – the congregation where I worship will vote to call a candidate for our ministry. We do not expect miracles from her, nor grant her any absolute power. If she strikes any of us dead, we’ll be calling law enforcement. We ascribe her no infinite insight, but want to know how she behaves when she makes a mistake.
And where shall I read of lay leadership, dedicated women and men distributing and supporting the insights of gathered reflections? This woman alone cannot make us a church, nor will her absence remove our sacred nature. She needs us all to assist her, assist each other, that everyone may be served. These are the truths I read in the events of Acts 6:1-6. The disciples accept the validity of complaints from the people, complaints about the way they have carried out their job. They admit they can do no better, that only the help of others will overcome their human frailty.
Along with those terrified Jews and Greeks, I live in a disintegrating empire. Fast-cut editing between large and small screens has knocked my brains into confusion and sawn through my old social guideposts. Unfulfilled prophecies and false messiahs obscure the once-gentle narrative of daily living. In a world of shrinking graces, only the work we do ourselves seems like something we can expand. Give me Acts 6 any day: clean, stable lines of covenant and structures for straightforward rectifications. Folks who know, and do, their jobs, and give me simple duties, so that I can share with others.
Holy Spirit, rushing among us, reaching out from us, residing among us, open our ears to hear every voice and language. So shape our mouths that each of us finds the words the convey our deepest, cleanest essence to all others. Give us the simple forms of touch that promote safe, healthy community. Unleash from each of us the filling joy of generosity.
Compassionate presence, in so many forms you have come among us and been too soon taken away. Give us the freedom to grieve, and the faith that someday each of us will be held, consoled, sustained, as we used to feel in the arms of our loving Mother, in the shadow of our brothers, ours sisters, our friends.
Strong Foundation, Sequoia of life’s jumbled details, Father amidst the circus crowd’s blurring faces, wait for us with patience as we build ourselves into a community that secures life for others as You have secured life for us. Reach among us with guidance as we struggle in our relationships, especially relationship with our personal best, true Self.
Holy Spirit, inrushing wind of wisdom, show us each our path into the world, the gifts we have to share, the un-won wealth your Son called us to resist as we walk in life’s markets. Bring our hearts back to the community of all your children, where old folks dream dreams, and young folks speak hard truths. Where no shape lives outside sacred union, and no choice puts us beyond Your love through all Eternity.
These things we ask, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
May 2, 2013
The Rev. Elz Curtiss
Focusing Scriptures: Acts 1:6-14
6Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[c] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
We’ve agreed that she should go ahead to church. It’s the highlight of her week. No matter what her illness does to her, the welcome is warm and personal. The choir notices only that she’s there, she’s singing.
She knows I will be safe. Where better than the Emergency Department for a person with a concussion?
I pack my cell phone. My journals, my organizers. The book I’m about to start reading. These are a writer’s rosary beads. The bag doesn’t feel heavy unless I throw in the laptop.
It’s an uneventful drive. Few other folks at the lonely intersections of urban Vermont. Just a few blocks to negotiate.
The waiting room is crowded, but concussions go right in. I have to ask the nurse to walk more slowly. My head follows the rest of me, bobbing and dragging like a balloon.
The doctor appears quickly, asks a few questions. The last one is: “Have you ever had a CT scan?” “No.”
Judging from the voices a few cubicles down, my injury is nowhere near what it could be. The nurses are fretting over a patient who could not talk a minute ago and now cannot make sense. Unlike mine, her pupils are uneven, her neck is stiff.
Part of me feels grateful that this is not me. Part of me worries for her and her family. Part of me – I’m not proud of this part of me – fears that her greater needs will postpone attention to mine.
I update my organizer and fall back exhausted.
CT staff appears. They wheel me way too fast. The test brings back memories of lazy hours on rubber rafts in swimming pools. Is this me, or is it this technology?
Done! The technicians reassure me that the donut spins and the table rocks a wee bit as well. Whew.
They wheel me back and I lie there. Still.
Frenzy on the adjacent bed. Curtains snap between us. Nurses rush to the sink on my wall, wash their hands, hurry back. The woman has nausea, numbness on the left from neck to fingernails. Five heart pills didn’t help.
Vermont is a small state. She and the doctor begin by remembering that they worked on this same issue a short month earlier.
An EKG machine appears beside her bed.
Extra staff has been called in. At the central area, people are reminding themselves and each other that the patient in room so-and-so is DNR/DNI. Hard to get used to having a patient that sick and doing nothing.
Polls say we Vermonters are the least religious state among the fifty. This ER may be our main cathedral, for we have been the first state to sign up for single payer insurance. We have the healthiest diets, active lifestyles. I have my journals and books; there are many artists. Liturgical religion, not so much, but for lived religion, we think we’re the best.
I look at my watch, picture my beloved at church.
I picture her return to the empty house. She knows I am here, but what will she eat, without me to cook for her? The back-up is out of town. Panic. I reach for the cell phone and call a reliable neighbor. She’ll fix a frozen pizza and clean up some dishes.
I lie back. Serious injuries are flooding in around me. No one comes: I am not dying.
Safe I may be, but so alone.
I remember how the disciples turned at last from that glorious hillside, knowing that when they got back to their upper room, the One they loved would at last be healed and welcomed. Loved again at last as He had loved so many for too few years. But settling in far away. Somewhere they had no way of traveling, reaching, on their own.
Slowly, awkwardly, my mouth seeks words of prayer. Half-forgotten phrases creep haltingly toward the ceiling. Bob and lurch, like balloons at the end of a party.