By Lia Rivamonte, Beloved Community Communications Team
On Wednesday, November 9, two members of the Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST), Angela Wilcox and Laura Park, facilitated the second part of a series on using the Double Helix Model for Adult Faith Formation and Antiracism Multiculturalism.
“Time is of the essence” and “time is money,” are two phrases deeply etched in our way of thinking about time. The first is actually a legal phrase referring to the time in which one party must complete its contractual obligations to the other party; the second is said to have come from an essay written by Ben Franklin entitled, “Advice to a Young Tradesman.” Why we persist in lifting up these very limited notions above all other interpretations of time says something about how entrenched we are in practices that continually fail to serve most people, under most circumstances.
We were about 20 congregants gathered in the Parish Hall, some who attended the first of the series on the previous Wellspring Wednesday. We were curious and eager to learn the best way forward on the journey towards spiritual deepening and becoming antiracist—Unity’s Double Helix—a model that offers the dimension needed to hold all the complexities of this lifelong process. Borrowed from the scientific prototype, the double helix is “a pair of parallel helices* intertwined about a common axis,” DNA being the prime example.
Laura led us in the song, “Come, Come, Whoever You Are,” fitting for the evening’s objective to explore how our spiritual practices serve as tools to cultivate spirituality and antiracism. As individuals—whoever you are—we all have access to these tools, and as Unity congregants we are long familiar with the idea that a daily spiritual practice can nurture our deepest selves, helping us to become more aware of who we are and what we value. Tonight we were to enact them in real time using Chalice Lighting, Circle Practice, and Meditation.
For the Chalice Lighting, Rev. Kathleen Rolenz read aloud the poem, “Praise Song,” by Barbara Crooker, a lovely and timely ode to Fall closing with the line, “Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.” We were asked to share with the group what we were grateful for at that moment, or what we could give praise to in the spirit of the poem.
Chalice Lighting has become the opening ritual at every Unity small group gathering. While some gatherings begin with lighting a chalice and a standard prayer or quote, a carefully selected reading and the sharing of responses to it can enhance the purpose of and/or increase a feeling of closeness within a group. This takes time, and asks that each person be fully present, allowing for the possibility of transformation. It is antithetical to the sense of urgency that so often dictates how meetings are run regardless of the circumstances and the emotional climate in the room.
It follows that in order to break the hold that dominant culture has over us we must re-think how we work together and how we operate with respect to time. This is a complex issue, however, as dynamics in any group can be challenging to negotiate—one minute for one person can easily morph into 15 for another, and the need to “get something done” is real. How do we take care of an individual’s needs as well as that of the group? Goals and process must be understood and agreed to in advance for fairness and equity to prevail.
“Perfection is the commitment to habitual self-doubt.” Angela shared this quote by embodiment coach, Prentis Hall. The idea of perfection was the inspiration for our Circle Practice and it is too often prioritized in our endeavors. Grouped into circles, we passed a token to invite participation by each member of the group wishing to share thoughts on the question, What am I glad I didn’t get right the first time? Apart from consideration of the question, when asked how this practice felt one member of the group replied, “Regenerative.”
Drew Danielson then led a 10-minute guided Meditation to ground us further in the present and in the work. Practiced in solitude, meditation can increase our sense of wellbeing, bring a sense of calm, and restore balance. Practicing silent contemplation in a group setting offers a different type of “communion” and feeling of wholeness.
Part of the point of this gathering was to give people an opportunity to go deep quickly, the second level of Unity’s Double Helix, with an added dimension—to “engage in antiracist multiculturalism together.” Whether among strangers, colleagues, friends, family or all of the above, there is a unique dynamic that we can expect will be different every single time. In order to embody ways that allow us to truly see one another, recognizing our commonalities and our differences, we have to strengthen the muscles that expand our capacity.
How do we disrupt white supremacy culture and the patriarchal systems that perpetuate it? Counter them with our own. Sister Henrita of The Christine Center always concludes meditation sessions with the words, “We are doing this because the world needs it.” Sister is elderly and can come across as a little gruff. Her words sound defiant, but now I see what she is getting at. We develop rituals and practices that reflect our values of inclusion and cultural adaptation and engage in them often so that they embed into our daily lives, shaping how we interact with one another. We are journeying towards the Beloved Community and just as Sister tells us, the world needs us to do this.
Note: *(helices—plural of helix, the wire wound uniformly in a single layer around a cylinder or cone)—Google
Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Communications Team
On November 2, Unity Church began a series of four Wellspring Wednesday gatherings called “Four Practices on the Double Helix.” Each session has deepened our exploration and practice of the Double Helix of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism. The fourth and last session is November 30.
During this first of the series, Angela Wilcox and Laura Park provided an introduction to the Double Helix model and its creation. Angela described how Unity’s ministers and Beloved Community Staff team had, for many years, aimed to develop a way of offering guidance to congregants on deepening both their spiritual practices and their antiracist multiculturalism work. As a congregation long committed to building the Beloved Community, and as a community hurting and angry about the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, many of us have wished to participate in these types of activities, but have struggled to know how to start. We have asked ourselves questions like, “what is distinctive about antiracism efforts in a religious context, compared to such efforts elsewhere in our communities?” and, “why does my participation in a church community and my spiritual development feel so tied to antiracist multicultural work?”
To engage with these challenging questions, Unity staff thought about describing faith formation and antiracist multiculturalism in multiple ways: for example, as a path, or as a map. Ultimately, however, the double helix metaphor surfaced as the most apt way to describe how faith formation and antiracist multiculturalism can exist in our lives: the double helix has no end point, no destination. It is a model that represents well how each half depends upon and interacts with the other. It is a model that is built upon practice.
Angela and Laura led us in an exercise that demonstrated all of these elements of the double helix. Each person was given a piece of paper on which either a spiritual practice or antiracist practice was written. Examples of spiritual practices included chanting, prayer, breathwork, worship and time in nature. Antiracist practice examples included asking questions without assuming, sharing stories across difference, noticing and naming cultural differences, noticing and naming discomfort without shame, and asking, in any discussion, what impact race is having.
Next, people given a spiritual practice connected with another person who had an antiracist practice on their paper, and the two individuals discussed how those two practices could relate to one another. Participants switched partners several times, giving each person the opportunity to consider and discuss multiple types of practices.
In subsequent gatherings in this series, we will continue to explore the double helix model and how it can support our faith formation and antiracist multicultural work.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2023
For more and more of us taking next steps into antiracist practices and expanding intercultural capacities, the increasing complexity of this work is everywhere present about us — within, among, and beyond. There is no overlooking, evading, or simplifying this complexity as it is nothing other than the disquieting complexity of ourselves. And for those committed to this deep work, who expect to complexify this work, we invite you to register for this fall training event with Team Dynamics. We will find ways to be present to change, creatively engage conflict, and create brave space where complexity serves as fertile ground for learning and shaping change together.
As one who wrote, spoke, and wrestled incessantly with the complexity of racism in the soul of America, James Baldwin insisted, “Complexity is our only safety and love is the only key to our maturity.” A love that refuses simplistic definitions and illusions of safety promoted by our dominant culture. A love more perceptive to our battling instincts, assumptions, and beliefs that vie for position and power, even weaponizing antiracist tools like “characteristics of white supremacy culture” (Tema Okun, White Dominant Culture) to accuse, shame, blame and perpetuate disconnection. But what are the antidotes and spiritual practices that can revive complexity in a time of false simplicities? How can we complicate the narrative and keep it from collapsing into that us/them binary? How do we wade into the messiness to achieve conflicts and truer conversations worthy of our humanity? If trust precedes facts, how can we claim a deeper covenant with one another that opens an alternate way to truths, tensions, conflicts, mutual care, and possibilities into the future?
We hope you will join us as we further our collaboration with Team Dynamics in deepening intercultural capacity across our ministry areas. We will build on practices and touch the complexities at the heart of our antiracist multicultural work.
Beloved Community Resources
Next Right Actions
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.