Friday, December 30, 2016


     For most of my life, I've been less than enthusiastic about celebrating Christmas, especially the part about Santa Claus, and the highly-commercialized, gift-giving thing. No doubt, that's partially due to the fact that my birth name is Rudolf, which has lead to lots of teasing every December about pulling a sleigh full of presents. And then there's the fact that I was born in Holland, where gifts were given on St. Nicholas Day (December 6), never on Christmas, which was strictly a religious holiday.

     I was five years old when we had our first Christmas in America, too young to comprehend the difference between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus. But by the following December, I was definitely old enough to understand that my parents were struggling financially, and that there wasn't enough money for toys, like the other kids in the neighborhood received. Somehow, in the process, I skipped right over the whole Santa Claus myth, and got an early start on having a jaundiced view of Christmas presents.
     But the one thing I always loved about Christmas was singing carols. Our family faithfully attended the First Protestant United Church of Christ (Evangelical and Reformed) in New Braunfels, where I quickly became part of the Children's Choir. Much as I loved singing, most of those Protestant hymns felt pretty boring and hard to sing. But, somehow, the Christmas songs always seemed to turn the whole congregation into a choir that really made the rafters ring. Plus, going caroling around town was so much fun, even without the hot chocolate and cookies that we received in the process.

    I always took spirituality seriously, and by the time I graduated from high school, I'd already rejected many of the Biblical stories we'd been taught in Confirmation Class, including the Virgin Birth, the Nativity narrative and the Resurrection, which no longer made sense to my critical, questioning mind. Consequently, it became difficult to sing Christmas carols with any conviction, and I got pretty cynical about them, too.
    It was more than thirty years later, after I began working with the Celebration Circle and started taking the liberty of altering lyrics to traditional hymns to make them more theologically inclusive, that I was able to reconnect with the power of singing Christmas carols. Even so, I was never really able to recapture that joyful feeling of around singing them - until this year.

    As a result of taking a class in New Testament history at Trinity University this fall, I have a renewed appreciation for the deep, abiding sense of mystery surrounding the Bible, and fewer judgments about it. That made it easier for me to include a few more Christmas songs than I normally would have in our Underground Sounds Solstice concert in the Cave Without a Name last week. And I couldn't help but notice how enthusiastically the audience sang along, and how much joy came with it.
     Then, a few days ago, I was invited to spend an afternoon playing guitar and singing with a band that the City of San Antonio had hired to perform Christmas carols on a riverboat on the Riverwalk. It was so much fun watching thousands of faces light up with pleasure, all up and down the river, as those familiar strains rang out across the water, catching random strangers off guard, making them smile and sing along in "merry measure." My heart was soaring!
    All of which is to say that I'm really looking forward to singing more of those favorite carols with my family around the dinner table this weekend, at my father's Protestant church on Christmas Eve and in the Celebration Circle this Sunday. In a world of all too many woes and worries, why NOT sing, "Joy to the World?"
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy New Year,
PS: Please consider making a donation to our Year-End Giving Campaign, to help erase our budget deficit and end the Circle's fiscal year in the black. The wide variety of speakers, musicians, gatherings and programming we enjoy in Celebration Circle are funded solely by donations of all sizes from individual donors like you. You can make your donation now by clicking HERE. 
Thank you for your support!

Friday, December 16, 2016


This Holiday Season we have a lot to celebrate in the Circle, because for the first time since 2005, both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Sunday mornings, and the Winter Solstice is on Wednesday. So, here's our schedule for the Holidays:
This Sunday, December 18   
Festival of Lights
Join Rudi and Zet for this unique, light-filled celebration honoring the Winter Solstice, as well as the winter holidays of several faith traditions, with words, music, meditation and creative ritual, along with a special poem and altar created by Don Mathis. We'll also enjoy the music of vocalist Kimberlyn Montford, and the Circle Band, along with a delightful, seasonal song from the Circle Singers.
Wednesday, December 21, 7:30pm
Winter Solstice
To celebrate the first day of winter, Rudi Harst will lead a special blend of guided meditation, music and sacred silence focused on the balance of darkness and light. This promises to be a particularly powerful Meditation Circle, and all are invited, experienced and beginning meditators alike.
Quaker Meetinghouse, 7052 N. Vandiver at Eisenhauer, 78209.
December 25
What Child is This?
Come celebrate Christmas Day with an upbeat interfaith service like you could only find in the Celebration Circle. The word on the street is that Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be making a special appearance to give his side of the story, which is rumored to involve spiritual principles. Plus music from vocalist, Sarah Gabriel, accompanied by the Circle Band. Afterwards, we'll be serving Pan Dulce (Mexican pastries), hot cider and coffee - and hosting our first-ever Recycled Gift Circle. To participate, simply bring a wrapped, new or gently-used item from home that you are ready to gift to someone else (along with the story behind it that you can tell the receiver, if possible). Joy to the world, indeed!

January 1
Something Old, Something New
Start the New Year on a v-e-r-y powerful, positive note! Rudi and Zet will conduct our annual Burning Bowl Ritual, in which you're invited to release old limitations and past events in consciousness, accompanied by the lively, pulsing sounds of the Circle Band, featuring vocalist, Sarah Gabriel. We'll also share an extended meditation focused on setting sacred intentions for the New Year, during which you'll write a Letter of Intention to yourSelf which will be mailed back to you at the end of the year. We've done this on the first Sunday of January for the past 18 years, and many people have reported amazing results from this process!
And, last, but certainly not least, please consider making a donation of any size to our Year-End campaign, to help the Circle erase our budget deficit and end our fiscal year in the black. The wide variety of speakers, musicians, gatherings and programming we enjoy in Celebration Circle are funded solely by donations of all sizes from individual donors like you. You can make your donation now by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

Saturday, December 10, 2016


     It's that time of the year, and once again a part of me sneers, "bah humbug!" each time I hear the syrupy seasonal soundtrack blasting from another store, or witness the waste of carbon-based electricity powering all those multi-colored light displays that have been sprouting up everywhere since the day after Halloween. Not to mention the over-hyped merchandise being peddled from every screen and storefront in sight. Happy Holi-Daze, indeed!
   Yet another part of me is filled with joy at the thought of the approaching Holy Days. I'm eager to sing those lively carols once more, even though some of the lyrics clash with my personal theology. It'll be fun visiting with family and friends at the various parties and potlucks we'll attend, as we celebrate the fact that we've lived through another year and make cheerful toasts to the future.
     This year, I'm particularly looking forward to hearing (and sharing) the re-telling of the Nativity story, that improbable-but-compelling tale of the Christ Child, who was born in mysterious circumstances two thousand years ago and died only thirty-three years later, but somehow is still being re-born again and again in our post-modern culture. I'll be listening with fresh ears, having just completed a fall semester course on the historical and sociological context of the New Testament at Trinity University. The more time I've spent searching beyond the shadows created by the "churching" of my strict Protestant childhood and delving into the mysteries surrounding Jesus' life and teachings, the more I appreciate how much I don't understand about Christ, much less Christianity - or Christmas.
     The late Indian Jesuit priest and author, Anthony de Mello famously said, "Life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be contemplated" - to which I've taken the liberty of adding "... and, the story of Christmas is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be contemplated."
     So, in the coming weeks I'll do my best to remember that these various parts of me don't have to be at war.  It's okay to be cynical about the commercialized trappings of the Holiday Season, while also feeling joyful about the possibility of integrating the mysterious lessons of Christmas more fully than ever before. To come to peace with my Christian upbringing, while welcoming what other spiritual teachers and wisdom traditions have to tell us about being more fully human at this time of the year, too. Why not?
     In any event, I wish you a blessed Holiday Season, too. 

With blessings,

THANK YOU for holding the Circle in your heart by visualizing a generous flow of financial abundance. Thank you for supporting us as we continue our work of fostering a creative, inclusive approach to spirituality. We are deeply grateful.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


#1. This is going to be a very special Sunday, because Rudi will be leading a musical meditation in conjunction with our guest speaker, Dennis E. Noll. In addition to serving as President and CEO of the San Antonio Area Foundation, the largest philanthropic foundation in South Texas, Dennis is an engaging storyteller and inspirational speaker who will be sharing his insights into the process of soulful listening. 
#2. It's also the first Sunday for the Circle ArtsMart, when Circle artists and vendors will be selling their art and craftworks before and after Circle, from 10:00-11:00am and 12:00-1:00pm. This is a great place to buy your Holiday gifts and support local artists, too!
#3. You may need to take a different route to the Circle than usual, because many downtown streets will be barricaded for the SA Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. The ONLY sure-fire ways to get to SAY Sí will be via the South Alamo Street exit off Interstate 35, or the Probandt Street exit off Hwy 90.  You can check the race course map for details by visiting Rock 'n Roll Marathon.
#4.  This will be the last Sunday to bring toys for the Inner City Development Center Christmas Toy Sale. Your donation of non-violent toys allows qualified, low-income parents to buy toys with dignity, paying a 90% discount, with all funds going to support the ICDC Food Pantry program. So your donation(s) will do double duty!
#5.  The Circle Band will be serving up an extra big dose of hot tunes, featuring Sarah Gabriel on vocals and Adam Tutor on sax. Big Fun guaranteed!
So there you have it: lots of inspirational energy, an art sale, the rock-n-roll marathon, and an extra large dose of uplifting music - all being served up with a smile this Sunday. Rain or shine, it's definitely going to be a fine morning around the Circle!

With joy,

THANK YOU for holding the Circle in your heart by visualizing a generous flow of financial abundance. Thank you for supporting us as we continue our work of fostering a creative, inclusive approach to spirituality. We are deeply grateful.