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Testimony of Rilla Clark, May 2, 2021

Good Morning Everyone,

As a new member of First, I have been asked to answer the question that Team Generosity has posed to all of us: “what do I receive from First that nurtures my life and impacts our interconnected world?”

Although I only recently joined First, two things have always attracted me to UU. Firstly, the principle “we do not hold to one particular creed or dogma, because we believe that what matters is not who or what you believe in, but how you live your life.” And secondly, the undivided Oneness or Oneity of deity.

I was raised Anglican and was quite devout in my teenage years. I also spent most weekends on my grandparents’ farm, lying between rows of corn with my cousins, gazing up at the clouds passing, being in wonder and feeling a very real sense of interconnection with all beings. I had a deep sense of belonging, which left me as it does all of us sometime during childhood. That was when I first encountered the feeling of being separate from. It is this condition of separation and the longing to be one-with that has guided my spiritual journey.

In first year university, I took a brilliant World Religions course. I was intrigued by the universal truths that are reflected in the core teachings of every religion, and I rejected dogma for mysticism and a direct relationship with God. I returned to Nature as a source of Oneness and interbeing and meditation activated my feelings of connection. I decided to pursue practices of Buddhism and paganism.

My life purpose was clear at a young age; I am a seeker, engaged in the third principle of UU, a free and responsible search for truth and meaning for myself and I enjoy creating processes whereby others can do this deep work within themselves. I have practiced Vipassana Buddhism for 40 years and tried always to live by the 5 precepts, which are very similar to the 7 UU principles. Travelling extensively in Asia, trekking and climbing in the pristine mountain ranges and sitting in ashrams in India as well as the US and Canada, I was a member of pop-up communities you might say- sitting in retreat with a different group of people every time.

It was only when I spent time in the tiny kingdom of Bhutan for the first time in 1996 that I got an inside look at what it meant to live your spiritual principles in community, to be acknowledged, supported and challenged on how you are living the precepts. Curious, I returned several times, the most recent in which I taught English in a middle and high school for 2 months. The kids began each day at home with meditation and prayer in the family circle, and Buddhist principles were embedded in the school curriculum. A different child led prayers in the outdoor assembly every morning, in the gardens which each class planted and tended, and read a story they wrote about their own practices of love, kindness and justice. I was blown away.

So I started to think about the value of being a member of a consistent spiritual community. 6 months before the pandemic hit, I attended some services at First, met some warm and welcoming people at coffee, and re-met some of the people I had worked with on the Syrian family project. Then came Covid and my daily mantra became I choose to keep my faith stronger than my fear.

Shawn recently defined faith as our deepest trust or confidence in something and a source of love. In March of 2020 I knew I would need help to ride the waves of fear and uncertainty and be at peace no matter what life brings. While my daily meditation practice strengthens the neural pathways to neither grasp nor turn away from what life brings, this congregation has given me more courage and strength to do so now.

Shawn and Lynn’s sermons are beautiful tapestries of poetry, wisdom from all traditions, thoughtful illustrations of the UU principles, stories grounded in real life, questions for consideration rather than answers to be swallowed whole, music and humour. They inspire and nurture me as I reflect on them in the break-out groups with other members of the community, and throughout my week. They are a form of mindfulness which cause me to pause, breathe, and consider my thoughts and to make better choices.

I have always worked to cultivate a peaceful heart and be in service to others. But I realize I now need community to provide tangible experiences of that. When I listen to the joys and sorrows that this congregation brings to service- focused on the deeds or sufferings of many different groups of people, and to the committees reporting on their activism and engagement in various causes, I am encouraged, supported and challenged to look for diverse opportunities to become an instrument of peace, love and justice in this broken world. Not to give up nor to curl up, which is the easy path, but to stand in the heat, knowing how many others here in this congregation are doing the same.

Thank you for your generosity of spirit, your warm welcome and your individual and joint commitment to spiritual growth, compassion, and social action.