Meditations, prayers, graces

“Our ideal church — what is it then? Primarily it is this: … the natural emotions of love, awe, and gratitude common to all people, emotions that rise with the contemplation of the great mysteries of nature and being.” — Rev. Celia Parker Wooley, Unitarian minister

Here you’ll find a small collection of prayers and graces for use at home, including:

words for lighting a flaming chalice;
graces to give thanks for meals;
affirmations of Unitarian Universalist identity;
prayers;
examples of seasonal meditations from different regions;
songs to sing.

These can help stimulate “the natural emotions of love, awe, and gratitude.” While this collection is primarily aimed at Unitarian Universalist families with children, many of the resources are aimed at families with adults only.

To the best of my knowledge, all the material on this page is either in the public domain, or available for non-commercial use (e.g., the Unitarian Universalist principles, which the copyright holder grants permission to copy for non-commercial purposes). I hope this small collection helps you to bring your Unitarian Universalism into your home.

— Rev. Dan Harper

 

WORDS FOR LIGHTING A CHALICE AT HOME

Some families set aside time to be together towards the end of each week, perhaps on Friday evening, or perhaps on Sunday evening before dinner. These are good times to pause and catch your breath as a family, while you light a candle or a flaming chalice. You could use the readings below as you light the flame.

 

C-1. Light of the Ages

The light of the ages has brought wisdom and truth to all peoples, in all times of human history. We light this flame to remind us to seek wisdom in our own time.

Dan Harper.

 

C-2. Life Is Born Again

We light this chalice to remember that life is born again every day.

Encendemos este cáliz como recuerdo de que la vida nace de nuevo cada día.

La Sociedad Unitaria Universalista de España (Unitarian Universalist Society of Spain).

 

C-3. O Hidden Life

O hidden life that vibrates in each atom,
O hidden light that shines in each creature,
O hidden love that embraces everything in unity,
May all who feel one with you
Know that for this very reason we are one with all
the others.

O vida oculta que brilha em cada átomo
O luz oculta que brilha em cada criatura,
O amor oculto que tudo abrange na unidade,
Possa todo aquele que se sente um contigo
Saber que por isso mesmo é um com todos os
outros.

Adapted from Annie Besant by Paulo Ereno, courtesy Brazilian Unitarian Universalists

 

C-4. Spirit of This Chalice

Just as the sun bathes us in its light, its warmth and its love,
So may the spirit of this chalice bless us with truth, life, and love.

Derek McCullough, Australian and New Zealand Unitarian Association.

 

C-5. Our Liberal Religion.

We light this flame to represent our liberal religion:
A religion that stands for freedom and tolerance;
A religion that believes in the use of reason;
A religion that offers hope that we can make the world better.

Dan Harper.

 

SAYING GRACE

These are words you can use to offer thanks before starting your meal.

 

G-1. Blessed Are You

Blessed are you, Holy One, Creator of the Universe,
who brings forth bread from the earth.

Based on an ancient Jewish prayer.

 

G-2. Silly grace

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Thanks for the grub,
Yay, God!

From Liberal Religious Youth, the Unitarian Universalist youth movement, in the 1950s and 1960s

 

G-3.

God is great, God is good,
Let us thank (her) (him) (them) for our food.

From the Mitchell family, a Unitarian Universalist family from Massachusetts (children get to choose whether to say “her,” “him,” or “them”)

 

G-4. Sharing grace

Hold hands around the table.
Ask everyone at the table to say one thing he or she is thankful for that day.

 

G-5. Silent grace

Hold hands around the table.
Say: “Let us have a moment of silence to give thanks for the food we eat.”
15 – 20 seconds of silence is about right (depending on the ages of children who are present).

 

AFFIRMATIONS OF UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST IDENTITY

The principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association are included here for the reference of adults and teenagers (in my experience, younger children do not find them meaningful or comprehensible, and merely recite them without really knowing their meaning). I’ve also included some other affirmations of faith used by Unitarian Universalists.

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A-1. We Are

We are Unitarian Universalists:
(make two U’s with hands)
With minds that think,
(touch head with both hands)
Hearts that love,
(put both hands on heart)
And hands that are ready to serve!
(hold out hands, palms up)

Based on words by Ginger Luke.

 

A-2. Faith in the Spirit of Life

May faith in the spirit of life
And hope in the community of earth
And love of the sacred in ourselves and others
Be ours this day and in all the days to come.

Unknown.

 

A-3. I Will Strive

I will strive toward high ethical and moral standards in my personal life and in my life in the wider community.
I will work for the understanding and promotion of a religion of love, assuming a spirit of cooperation and tolerance towards other religious groups.
I will commit myself to keep formulating my own religious beliefs according to my individual needs, the needs of the world around me, my conscience, and my degree of maturity.

From First Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Mass.

 

Principles from the Bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

 

PRAYERS FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FAMILIES

Many people find words especially helpful in expressing their religious identity, and in guiding their religious journey. These poems and short readings can serve as prayers for all ages.

In a personal note, as a Unitarian Universalist young person, I learned both “Look to This Day” and “Renew Yourself” in early adolescence, and these were short sayings or prayers that I consciously recited through my college years and beyond. You never know what young people will hold on to as they get older.

 

P-1. I Am Only One

I am only one.
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything.
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something
that I can do.

Rev. Edward E. Hale, Unitarian minister.

 

P-2. I Shall Not Live in Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson.

 

P-3. Lead Us to Life

Lead us from death to life, from lies to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.
Peace. Peace. Peace.

Adapted from the Upanishads.

 

P-4. God Is Love

God of love,
your name is goodness and holiness.
May your love be present in all the nations of earth,
just as I feel your love in my heart.
Grant us the food we need today,
grant all people the food they need today.
Forgive me when I fail, and
help me forgive those who fail me.
May I not be tempted by evil or wrong-doing —
may your love watch over me, and over us all.

A traditional Jewish prayer, adapted by early Christian communities, and further adapted by Dan Harper.

 

P-5. I Will Be

I will be truthful.
I will suffer no injustice.
I will be free from fear.
I will not use force.
I will be of good-will to all people.

Mahatma Gandhi.

 

PRAYERS FOR MORNING

P-6. Salute to the New Day

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truth
And reality of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is already a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived,
Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Ancient Sanskrit source, from The Beacon Song and Service Book, an old Unitarian hymnal for young people.

 

P-7. Renew Yourself

Renew yourself completely each day.
Do it again, and again,
and forever again.

Confucius, The Great Learning.

 

PRAYERS FOR EVENING

P-8. A bedtime prayer

(for younger children with the help of their parents/guardians)

“Tonight I am thankful for…”
(say some of the good things that happened to you today)

“And I am sorry for…”
(talk about the things you feel sorry for doing or saying)

“Tomorrow I hope for…”
(things you hope for and how you think you can make them happen)

 

P-9. May the Truth That Sets Us Free

May the truth that sets us free,
And the hope that never dies,
And the love that casts out fear
Be with us now
Until the dayspring breaks,
And the shadows flee away.

Adapted from the Christian and Hebrew scriptures.

 

MEDITATIONS

Meditations are longer readings, including poems, excerpts from prose works, and passages from the scriptures of the world’s religions, that help us focus on what it highest and best in life. Poems often works especially well as meditations. Two short poems are reproduced here, then links to a number of copyrighted poems.

 

M-1. The Stream of Life

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world, and dances in rhythmic measure.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass, and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Rabindranath Tagore.

 

M-2. The Black Finger

I have just seen a beautiful thing
Slim and still,
Against a gold, gold sky,
A straight cypress,
Sensitive
Exquisite,
A black finger
Pointing upwards.
Why, beautiful, still finger are you black?
And why are you pointing upwards?

Angelina W. Grimke.

 

M-3. More Poems as Meditations

In addition to the meditations below, there are many excellent poems which can serve as meditations on a variety of important topics. The following copyrighted poems could serve as meditations, and many of them address powerful topics such as justice, the purpose of God (if any), and the meaning of life. These poems are most suitable for older teens and adults.

“God” by Langston Hughes, which says it might be better to be human than to be God.
“I’m Not a Religious Person But” by Chen Chen, a meditation on pop culture and religion.
“In California: Morning, Evening, Late January” by Denise Levertov, an ecojustice poem.
“Mancunian Taxi Driver Foresees His Death” by
Michael Symmons Roberts, a poem about climate change (recommended by a high school-aged youth).
“my dream about being white” by Lucille Clifton, a brief but powerful meditation on race. Many of Clifton’s poems make excellent meditations; more of her poems.
“Sanctuary” by Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poem about immigration.
“Thank You” by Ross Gay, a poem of gratitude (but not easy gratitude).

 

SILENT MEDITATION

It’s a good idea for children to learn how to do silent meditation. While a regular practice of silent meditation is not for everyone, knowing how to meditate in silence is a skill every Unitarian Universalist child (and adult) should learn.

Meditation is a great way to become more calm and centered, to become more who you are. It’s not the only way to accomplish these things, but it’s one of the simplest.

If you are an adult who wants to teach the young people in your life to do silent meditation, one of the best strategies is to take the time to have your own silent meditation practice. By doing it yourself, you set a good example, and you can better help others as they learn how to sit in stillness and quiet. Adults and youth who want to learn a simple meditation technique can read The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson.

SM-1. Simple Silent Meditation

For use in the home, especially with younger children.

Light a candle (or a flaming chalice), perhaps using some of the words for lighting a chalice (see above), and then just sit in silence for two or more minutes watching the candle flame. (If you light a small candle like a birthday candle, you can watch it until it burns all the way down). Often even young fidgety children who resist the idea of silent meditation will like this practice.

SM-2. Nature meditation

(You could introduce this practice by talking a little about how Henry David Thoreau lived in his cabin at Walden Pond, and how sometimes on a pleasant morning he would sit on his doorstep for hours at a time, lost in the beauty of the natural world — or, as he put it, “rapt in a revery.” His idea of losing yourself in silent appreciation of the natural world makes an authentically Unitarian Universalist meditation practice. It is worth noting that Thoreau’s cabin was also a station on the Undreground Railroad, so his nature meditation was deeply connected to social justice work.)

Collect some natural objects, such as pretty stones, dried leaves of grasses, flowers, pine cones, etc. Ask the child/ren to take one of these natural objects, one that appeals to them, and hold it in their hands; look at every detail; you don’t have to think of anything else.

Then sit in silence for 1-2 minutes while they look. Eventually, you can work up to longer times.

You can end the meditation by saying: “Let the beauty we love, be what we do.”

When weather permits, this kind of meditation works even better outdoors. When you’re outdoors, children can look around for their own natural object. Alternatively, you can have them listen to all the sounds of the outdoors, and at the end of your time of silence you can share all the sounds you heard (wind in the trees, birds, cars, perhaps animals, etc.). Or you can lie at the foot of a big tree and gaze up into its branches for a time of silence, as yet another form of outdoor meditation.

 

SONGS TO SING

Singing is a wonderful spiritual practice to do with children. The simplest way to do this is to sing songs that you know well.

But if you’d like to learn some new songs, here are two sources. First of all, the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, is a good source for songs. And another good source for songs is the popular songbook Rise Up Singing. The Rise Up Singing songbook has guitar chords (if you play guitar); best of all, there are YouTube videos for many of the songs in Rise Up Singing. However, Rise Up Singing has more traditionally Christian words for some of these songs, so I like to look at the words in Singing the Living Tradition.

Here are a few songs contained in both Singing the Living Tradition (SLT) and Rise Up Singing (RUS) that are fun to sing with kids.

SLT no., Song Title, (RUS no.)

#16, ‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple (47)
#21, For the Beauty of the Earth (153)
#38, Morning Has Broken (154)
#108, My Life Flows on in Endless Song (43)
#169, We Shall Overcome (63)
#205, Amazing Grace (92)
#305, De Colores (152)

 

SEASONAL MEDITATIONS

For families who want to connect more with the rhythm of the seasons, such as families with neo-pagan leanings, and/or families committed to eco-justice, seasonal meditations can help you focus on what’s going on around you. But the wheel of the year is different depending on where you live. Look for poems written by poets who live in your area — that way, if you live in the Bay Area of California, your winter readings will be about the rainy season, not about snowfall and frozen ground. Better yet, you could write your own seasonal meditations. Below are some examples of seasonal meditations that I wrote: the first group is for central New England, and the second group is for the Peninsula in the Bay Area, California.

Four Seasons in New England

Athol, Massachusetts

January: Winter

The crystalline light of late January
filters down to us through cold air,
reflects off snow and ice, barely
warms our face. In the depths of winter,
it’s hard to remember spring will come
one day. But in the mean time,
that cold clear light shows us
a landscape stripped to essentials.
We feel that we can see things
as they really are, not hidden
behind myth and superstition and
fairy tales. It is winter reality.

March: Spring

Now you can feel it: the days are longer,
the sun higher in the sky at mid-day.
Something begins to emerge from winter:
rising sap drips from broken branches and
buckets appear on sugar maples; snow melts.
The yellow blossoms of witch hazel;
green skunk cabbage in silent marshes;
you can see little bits of it.
You can hear it: small birds singing
once again in the morning, and at night
the owls call out, searching for mates.
Let’s not tempt fate by saying,
winter’s as good as over. It’s not.
But now you can feel hopeful.
Something new is coming.

June: Summer

At nine in the evening, you can still
sit outdoors and read a book; the sun
just below the horizon then, but still
it sheds enough light to see clearly.
The light fades a little more; stillness
emerges from the trees and bushes;
not silence, but a stillness filled
with faint sounds of neighbors talking,
the girl jumping on the trampoline
across the way, the quiet chittering
of a few chimney swifts flying high above,
headed home, a faint rustle of leaves
as the evening breezes start up. Still
the sky has that faint tinge of blue
low in the west; a star now appears, or
no, a plane, thousands of feet above,
no sound of it down here, just
landing lights pointing who knows where;
now a star, and another; you can barely see
a bat begin her nightly hunt. The book
lies forgotten this midsummer’s evening
in that stillness where dreams begin.

November: Autumn

Towards the end of autumn, as days grow short
the sun never gets very high above the horizon.
Already the first snow has come, and all the trees
are bare, except for a few stubborn oaks.
If you haven’t finished raking up the leaves
by now, it’s too late. Give up for the year!
Late autumn is made for idleness: it’s made
for sitting in the long, dark evenings;
for thinking of nothing and everything; for
memories. Do what’s necessary, but nothing
more. Sit in idleness. Stare at long shadows.
That is how the long nights of late autumn
are meant to be used.

 

Seasons in the Bay Area

Late summer: Wildfire season

We were awakened in the middle of the night by the smell of smoke. We got up in the dark. Our building was not on fire. Where was the smell was coming from? Maybe the neighbors left a fire burning in their fireplace overnight, and the slight breeze blew it into our house? The next morning we heard that thousands of acres were burning 70 miles north of us; the smoke we smelled was from those fires.

Tonight the light was rosy with a yellow tinge. I went up to where you can look out at San Francisco Airport, and watched a couple of jetliners land. A bank of fog stretched from the Golden Gate across the Bay towards Oakland; an avalanche of fog curled over the top of San Bruno Mountain; the fog was several hundred feet above me, pushed upwards as it moved through Crystal Springs Gap. A pair of White-tailed Kites hovered overhead, silhouetted against the bright low clouds; they worked their way down the hill, coming to a hover every minute or so, until they disappeared behind some trees. The rosy glow from the sunset really was lovely, even knowing that lovely redness came from wildfire smoke.

 

November: The rains begin

It’s so green,
I said, as
we drove past
San Bruno
Mountain. Yes,
said my friend,
enjoy it
while you can.

The rain came
and went. Light
rain, heavy
rain, no rain.
The water
rushes down
creeks to the
Bay. Then stops.

Then months with
no rain, none
at all. Sun.
More sun. And
San Bruno
Mountain will
turn golden-
brown and dry.

It’s so green,
I said to
myself. I
admired it
for an in-
stant, then fo-
cused back on
the freeway.

 

Winter: Season of golden haze

We walked down to the edge of the water. The hills across the bay are now a soft green. The setting sun glinted off windows of houses far up in the Oakland hills. And a beautiful golden haze hung over the waters of the bay.

It’s the golden haze again. This is how it’s been for the past week: cold, still air has settled down over the area, trapping pollutants in the wide bowl formed by the mountains surrounding the bay. The people who monitor air pollution say the air quality is “unhealthy” because they have been detecting high levels of fine particles. That’s what has caused the golden haze.

“It’s beautiful,” we said to each other. We kept walking, watching the shorebirds, and the play of light on the water.

 

Spring: Apricot season

Carol turned the car into a roadside fruit stand. Some of the apricot trees hung over the parking area, and the owner of the stand charged just fifty cents a pound for fruit we picked from the parking lot.

We took home ten or fifteen pounds of apricots, and the kitchen was taken over by jam-making. On the counter near the stove were pectin, canning jars, jar lids, and bags of sugar. On the stove sat a big pot for cooking fruit and another big pot for sterilizing jars. On the counter on the other side of the sink was the big bag of fruit waiting to be processed. Before long, all that fruit had been cooked into jam. But apricot season wasn’t over yet, and Carol got more cheap apricots at the farmer’s market, and made more jam. Jars full of deep orange apricot jam sat cooling on the kitchen counter, and every once in a while one would make a little “tink” sound as the lid sealed into place.

Apricot season will soon come to an end. Soon there will be no more bowls full of apricot pits in the kitchen, waiting to be put on the compost pile; there will be no more jars cooling on the counter, and no more “tink” sounds at unexpectedly moments; no more orange drips of jam in odd places. The kitchen will return to normal. Three dozen jars of jam will sit quietly in the kitchen closet waiting to be given away and eaten. And we’ll wait for apricot season to return again next year.

 

Summer: Fog season

I came vaguely awake early this morning as a city bus turned the corner at the traffic light below our bedroom. The summertime fog had returned at last. The light was dim and diffuse, and I knew that the fog was hanging a few hundred feet over the city, blocking the sun. The cold water was welling up from the depths of the Pacific on the other side of the Coastal Range, once again making a huge fog bank in the early morning. The growing warmth inland heats the air over the Central Valley, and draws the fog through the passes. On the coast side of the hills to the west, the fog lies at ground level, but is pushed up by the Coastal Range to form low clouds. The city is cool and gray and dim and delightful. By mid-day, the sun will burn the fog away, revealing once again the relentless summertime sunshine. But tomorrow morning will again be dim and cool.