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We have a sculpture in our entryway of Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddha of healing. In one hand, he holds a container of medicine, and his other hand is held up in the reassuring gesture of “Do not fear.” I believe that releasing from fear is good medicine for this time. A grandfather of the village that was our home for 14 years, carved this Buddha from the soft stone found in the mountains around us. When I return, it reminds me not to fear. I wonder when you feel fear and when you use the words “That is scary” or “I am afraid...

Have you noticed, as I have during the past decade, an upsurge in the usage of words that express fear? I believe that we need to be careful about the way we use those words. We need to be careful about the way that fear can find its way into larger and larger parts of our lives. Fear strengthens the object of our fear. We can give our power away with fear. Fear can paralyze us. Fear separates us from each other and from the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote:

“Fear is mastered through love. Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love. Is not fear one of the major causes of war? We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals this sequence; first fear, then hate, then war, and finally deeper hatred. We are afraid of the superiority of other people, of failure, and of the scorn of disapproval of those whose opinions we most value.

Envy, jealousy, a lack of self confidence, a feeling of insecurity, and a haunting sense of inferiority are all rooted in fear. Is there a cure for these annoying fears that pervert our personal lives? Yes, a deep and abiding commitment to the way of love. ‘Perfect love casteth out fear.’ Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.”

After the first Gulf War, Mary Lou and I traveled to Syria. Although we mostly and surprisingly experienced a welcome, we were also shoved off a sidewalk, and in our hotel in Damascus, we felt an unfriendly vibe from the people at the front desk. I love to travel but sometimes, if I let the seed of a fear take root in my mind, that fear can increase---and is the source of suffering.

Up in our room, I could see that we had bought way too many strawberries for ourselves. I decided to take them downstairs to the men at the front desk. When I arrived, they looked at me askance—like what do you want? And I held out the bowl of fragrant ripe strawberries and bravely smiled. They looked very surprised, and then when they realized this was a gift, they broke into smiles. Our stay in the city transformed.

I have experienced such moments in Prescott. When I feel an unpleasant vibe that could turn into my thinking that it is “scary” to live here, I try to melt my own fear into something else. I smile. Perhaps that was my mother’s greatest gift to me: her belief that smiles were the best gift we could give. You might even give a smile that you don’t mean at first. But if the smile catches hold and is returned, the possibility of fear dissipates. Mindfulness teaches us to smile at ourselves in the same way. When we make a mistake, we can develop a habit of turning to ourselves as one would a treasured friend and smiling and even saying, “I love you.

I believe that this is good work within us, among us, and around us. I challenge you to listen to how you use words connected with fear. Sometimes we can use that word, not meaning it at first, but grow into it. Don’t let the seed be planted. Do not fear! Instead, work on courageously transforming that fear into love.

It is good to be home! I hope that all of you are well and that if you have trees, they were not damaged by the snow. I return to you relaxed and full of ideas from the mindfulness training I did during my month of sabbatical time. As mindfulness has expanded in my own life, I wonder how mindfulness might support us as individuals and as a congregation.


Before the last presidential election, four years ago this September, I participated in a Black Lives Matter march from Prescott College to the sidewalk around the County Courthouse Square. As we neared the square, we became aware of the many people carrying automatic rifles. Some of the people gathering spit on us and told us to go home. The organizers asked Pastor Efraín Zafala and me to walk at the front of the line because they didn’t think that the protestors were shooting clergy. A video of that march went viral on social media. Later, I had a long talk with Chief Black, the police chief of Prescott City. During the time leading up to the election, we could almost hear that “tick, tick, tick” that you hear on a roller coaster when it is climbing towards the highest point that will be followed by the frightening descent. The fear was palpable.


Now we are heading into another election year. Living in Yavapai County, we will be seeing more and more flags waving on trucks adorned with disturbing signs. Sometimes seeing an offensive sign at the wrong moment has the power to ruin my day. When I see something negative, I feel like the adage about cockroaches must apply: if you see one, there are forty hiding. One sign can make me feel discouraged and outnumbered and my energy level lowers as my fear rises. What do we do? Some neighbors talk of moving to another country. After spending twenty-four years in another country, Mary Lou and I intend to stay. I believe that mindfulness can prepare us for encounters up the road.


Do you have an anchor? Is there something, an image or a practice, that you turn to when times are difficult? One anchor is our breath. While you are reading this, I encourage you to take a breath in and feel that process of breathing in and out. This connection with breath, this anchor is where I go when times are difficult. Establishing this anchor with daily practice gives us the grounding that we need to live in this world. If you have your own practice, keep it up! If you want a practice, I encourage you to look up the websites of Jack Kornfeld and Tara Brach. They offer many meditations for free. This practice gives us a way to keep grounded when the world goes crazy around us. And, by staying grounded, we can live out our values. Have you noticed how your values can fly out the window when you “react” to the world?


If you would like to participate in a mindfulness group, there are teachers among us. And there is so much that is online. This is a way to be who we want to be when times are tough. I look forward to talking with you about my experiences of the past month. Please let me know if you’d like to talk. I’d love to sit with you in my office or take a walk together around our Courthouse Square.

Last year at this time in mid-January, Mary Lou and I were preparing to travel. We had an important anniversary to celebrate, and we hadn’t traveled together since before the pandemic. That was a wonderful time for us and this year we have a creative project that has been brewing for years that we want to complete. Instead of concentrating on the goal of that project, we are going to try the advice of the coach at ASU and focus on being present to the Earth and the joy of each day. On the top of our list is to be present to the sunrise and sunset of each day. One evening in January, we drove to Costco to pick up a prescription in the midst of a brilliant deep pink sunset and on the way back, we saw pale colors streaking through the sky. Did we see the aurora borealis? The whole experience of the sunset and what happened after it filled us with wonder. And, we knew that we could have easily missed it. When one of us takes our dog Louie out for his last hurrah before bedtime, we often notice a moon, stars or the sound of an owl. There is such beauty happening around us in each moment. During my month away, I plan to be more present to that beauty. To support that effort, we are both enrolled in an online course with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach that is full of mindfulness exercises.

Each morning, we will set an intention as we light our makeshift chalice of a candle in a bowl. On adventures outside, we will look for objects to put in the bowl like interesting stones or pieces of wood and leaves. What will we find? Once, years ago, we found a robin’s egg. I plan to return to that chalice during the day when I take breaks from my work. I also want to be open to the strands that connect me with family and friends and be present to them.

Will we finish our project or will something completely new emerge? I look forward to giving you the results of this experiment when we return. Will you join me in a month of intentionally being present? I wonder what stories we will have to tell.

May you be well, and may you know that you are loved.

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