Central East Region: Gould Discourse: An Annual Lecture Sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association St. Lawrence Chapter

1978 Odyssey of Josephine Gould

Odessey of Josephine Gould

Presented to Iroquois Chapter of UUMA/LREDA

Download a PDF of this Odessey

Looking backward I can see my whole life as a journey toward Ithaca, though certainly it pore no such dimensions to my mind in earlier years. Now I see some of its aspects in the poem of Cavafy:

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a summer dawn to enter
— with what gratitude, what joy —
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,

to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way.

Perhaps only because it has happened, it seems a natural outcome of my beginnings that I chose to devote so much of my life to religious education.

One of my earliest recollections is of standing on the platform of a little village church singing a Christmas song while my parents took their turn at the Saturday cleaning chores. My father's parents were founders of this little Congregational Church and it was an important part of the family life. Since my mother taught the youngest children in the Sunday School, I considered myself in the special position of teacher's helper.

Events and thoughts of the past can scarcely be recaptured in retrospect as one would take a photograph from the drawer where it has lain and from it see exactly how things were. Instead the mind paints a picture colored and highlighted with the passage of the years so that what Comes to light is how things seem now to have been. These are some of the pictures that I see.

Sunday School was sitting in little chairs singing songs about Jesus, dropping pennies in 1 bank, and listening to stories from the Bible. When it was over we sang, "Goodby, good-by, be always kind and true." The stories did not move me very much. Somehow they seem- ed as unreal and as small as the 2x4 picture cards we were given to take home, with a colored illustration of the Bible story we had heard and a memory verse to learn.

The stories I liked best somewhat later were the Greek and Norse myths told once a week to a group of my school mates by a wonderful storyteller. The beings in those stories were life-size and living. I trembled when Thor threw his hammer, and I feared the cunning of Loki, the Evil One; Demeter, searching for her lost daughter won my sympathy. But these stories were "not for church," had nothing to do with religion.

At home I was taught to be obedient, truthful, kind, respectful, and quiet. I learned to recite the list of books in the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and some of the Psalms. My usual bedtime prayer I have forgotten, but I remember that whenever we were spending the night on the train I was to pray that God would help the engineer keep our journey safe. I felt vaguely that this was not a very effective way of achieving the desired result, but 1 did as I was told.

It was a time and a community in whieh questions were not raised. What the Bible and the church taught was so. Certainly children were not to ask questions or voice opinions. And so whatever wanderings, doubts or worries I had were put out of sight until I hardly knew I had them. But events sometimes brought them to the surface with undeniable urgency. My father died when I was quite young and I knew a deep hurt that I didn't understand. I also knew that my mother was very sad and I dared not talk with her about him. A few years later came the death of the grandfather who had been like a father to me; again I knew a loneliness that I could not manage by myself except to cover it up with the familiar pursuits of everyday. When one day I came upon my cat giving birth to kittens I was frightened at her strange behavior and ran into the house for an explanation. Mother gave me the bare facts in whispers with the warning that I was not to talk with any of my friends about what I had seen. We made sure that the cat had a good place to keep her babies safe and plenty of food in order to nurse them. But the wanderings on the beginnings of life and the endings were hushed up.

My mother used to say that I had my father's happy disposition. There were so many reasons why I should be happy. I was loved and admired by my family and friends; I wanted to please them so I usually lived up to their expectations of me. I did well in school and I regret that sometimes I was disdainful of those who were not so smart or so well-behaved as I thought myself to be. Tch, Tch!

I inherited a love for the outdoors and the beauty and wonder of nature. My mother taught me the names of the birds and flowers that were like companions to me. Together she and I often sat on the lakeshore watching the sunset, not turning home until we had looked for the familiar stars to appear in the sky. Sometimes I went to sleep hearing a whippoorwill calling outside my window. Songs and poetry and books were a large part of my life, too. Were all these part of being religious? I think now that they were.

When we moved to our Washington home I became part of a big city church. I learned its language as a matter of course and I wore the mantle of doctrine that was placed over me. I heard the great music of the church performed by skilled musicians and I listened to the sermons of renowned preachers. I grew to be a leader in youth activities. I had unspoken reservations about things I was supposed to believe in, but still I did not ask questions. I was fond of the companionship I found and inspired by some of my teachers, one especially through whose example I became a volunteer in a neighborhood settlement house. If this was part of religion I was for it.

Other institutions beside the church opened windows for me: the museums of the Smithsonian taught me history and anthropology and biology; the art galleries helped me to new understandings and perhaps in a way answered some of my unspoken questions; the Library of Congress opened the whole vast world of books and throughout my high school and college years I spent many hours in that magnificent rotunda reading room, sometimes on school work, sometimes in other explorations. My high school teachers offered me patterns of excellence and long vistas of human progress which I found stimulating, but my greatest joy was in dramatics, a love that I followed all through college and after. This experience gave me imagination, empathy and an apparent, if not always real, ease before audiences, which have been useful all my life since. This was also an interest I shared with a particular young man whom I later came to know very well.

As a child I used to wonder, "When am I going to stop learning and start living?" It was a long time before I realized that there is no end to learning. I have felt sad that there was a time when I thought I was not yet living. It seems that I was always being told I was learning how to live a good life and I was anxious to begin.

New responsibilities came at home and beyond with each year until at last I was to leave home for college. It would be me, largely responsible to and for myself. It was a heady experience and I was happy in it. I still had those questions I had not consciously faced: Who am I? What is the meaning of life and death? What kind of world is this? To what can I commit myself? It was not long before I discovered that I had done very little real thinking, and it was time I began.

"Miss Tremain," said the philosophy professor one morning, "What is religion?" It was my worst moment! I mumbled something inadequate about beliefs handed down by parents, and Dr. Blanshard kindly turned to someone else for an answer. Brand Blanshard (twin brother of Paul who is well-known to UU's) taught me how to think as I sat in his class during freshman year in awe and admiration of his wisdom and his constantly bubbling wit.

All around me at Swarthmore people were asking questions, discussing ideas and values, prob- ing and searching, often uncertain about answers. My friends were of many different backgrounds and we had come together in this free-thinking world of Quaker tradition where we were enjoined to seek and follow the Inner Light. The aim of a liberal education, Dr. Blanchard told us, should be to produce reasonable minds. This, I think is what my years at Swarthmore did for me. I was coming of age.

As long as I could remember I had wanted to be a teacher. Now accordingly I chose English and education as my major fields of study. A valued extracurricular opportunity for learning came when I was chosen for a social work interne program in New York City. This was an intense experience: learning the rudiments of social work practice and philosophy, testing one's courage, trying out values, widening sympathies, being exposed to the whole gamut of society from the Bowery and the sidewalk markets of Henry Street to weekends of relaxation in the Long Island homes of wealthy benefactors.

I left college with a degree, a lot of treasured new ideas and knowledge, and best of all the companionship of my new freedom of that young man with whom I had played in "The Birds" Christmas Carol" so long ago. He, too, at Cornell had come of age, even more courageously and, I might have said, radically than I. We were in love with each other and with life.

I was a teacher in a private school; Larry was getting his doctorate and waiting for a job. At last came our wedding day, and our new life together began in Syracuse. To find a church was part of putting down our roots. We visited and returned to the Unitarian Church, taking in deep breaths of the fresh air of liberalism there. We soon came to admire Dr. Argow for his breadth of scholarship, his wisdom, his poetic response to life, his wide-ranging ideas and concerns, all of which challenged our own thinking and gave us freedom to let out our deep down thoughts and find acceptance for them. We had never heard such sermons! There was one on "When Is a Person a Unitarian?" Dr. Argow traced the liberal spirit from Hammurabi and Akhenaten through the centuries to the Reformation and the 18th century dissenters, pointing out the contending forces of the priestly and the prophetic in religion. "Unitarians," he said, "are not bothered about creeds and doctrines. They are united not in beliefs but in action. Being a Unitarian is to cherish a progressive attitude of the mind and a reverent disposition of the heart."

This was a religion we had already subscribed to inwardly; now we signed our names to the membership book of May Memorial Church. To our parents this was a denial of the most important things they thought they had taught us. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This Biblical injunction had worked on them; why not with their children? We preferred Kahlil Gibran's thought that the wise teacher (or parent) "does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind" or as Unitarian James Russell Lowell put it earlier;

"New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth."

We saw a new vision, a new way to follow in the family we were now establishing.

We assumed responsibilities in various aspects of the life of the church, primarily as advisors of the youth group for a number of years. After the birth of our son we took part in the parent education program. Thus we became members of the R.E. Committee near the beginning of Elizabeth Manwell's tenure as director of the church school. Living next door to the Manwells' as we did made it hard for us to escape from R.E. even if we had wanted to!

Elizabeth had a magical skill of involving people in what she was doing and in helping them to realize their potential. She soon persuaded me, without too much arm twisting, to be responsible for a travelling library for parents sponsored by the Education Committee of the General Alliance, and to write for distribution by this Committee a series of leaflets for the parents of young children. My course seemed to be more and more toward adventures in religious education.

With what anticipation I "entered a new port seen for the first time!" It was an evening spent in a small meeting with Sophia Fahs. She told about her ideas of religious education and how she came to write the two books on Beginnings. I began a lasting friendship that night while I gathered a store of knowledge and understanding from Sophie. I became the teacher of 3rd graders studying "Beginnings of Earth and Sky." I remember some rewarding and some embarrassing experiences of that year: the children painting wonderful illustrations of the stories, and an usher coming into my room from the church to say we were making too much noise. I was comforted to learn that Sophie had problems with discipline, too.

Elizabeth guided me into further adventures in R.E., first as head of the church school 3-5's group. By this time three Gould children had joined the voyage and with each of them I had engaged in play-group leadership along with Elizabeth so that I was ready for this new responsibility at the church. Here I developed and refined ideas which later were written down in the teacher's guide, "Martin and Judy for Parents and Teachersl" and, still later from wider experience, in "Growing with Nursery and Kindergarten Children." At a time when infant nurseries in the church were most seriously in question, Elizabeth and I promoted a "Home Nursery" offering personal contacts, books, and meetings for parents of the youngest children. Finally I wrote for the Department of Education a series of letters to parents about what religion can be in the life of the very young and their parents .

How rich beyond our dreams this first decade of marriage and parenthood had been—fill-ed with joys and trials, but with more successes than failures, more spa.kling seas than rough ones. Our partnership was a sharing of enthusiasms and Larry made it possible for me to divide my time and energy and thought between home and church.

Quite suddenly it seemed, another adventure lured me. Elizabeth, indomitable through many ailments, was very ill and unable to move about. There was no possibility of her continuing in the church school. Would I take it on?

I had not thought of any career beyond the satisfying one I already had. This seemed like a very large undertaking, especially to succeed someone like Elizabeth with her stature in the denomination and in the church and academic communities. She had established one of the finest and most progressive schools in the de.nomination. How could I hope to carry it on?

Both Elizabeth and Glenn Canfield, who was the minister then, assured me of their support and confidence. I would be able to plan my time to suit the needs of my family and I would be doing something we were all involved in anyway. Larry was sympathetic to the idea but it was to be entirely my decision. He had already been asked to serve another year as chairman of the R.E. Committee to provide continuity to the program. Working closely with Elizabeth for ten years, I had gained a valuable if informal education. (Had she been training me for this all along?) Even so I was sure I didn't know enough, and while I was intrigued by the offer, I was scared.

What a simple procedure it was for getting a new church school director! After some thought I took a deep breath, said "Yes," the Trustees approved, and I set sail. I had to take the leap of faith in what qualifications I already had and in my ability to grow.

I began with some assumptions and purposes. I am quite a different person from Elizabeth and I did not expect to do things in just her way. Some things which she did I would not do at all, such as psychological counselling, for which I am not trained. My highest hope was that through the program of the school I could help people of whatever age to grow as religious persons.

I wanted the administration to be carefully organized, procedures clear, rules few and reasonable—all in order to free us for the main business of the school. What we do must enhance the quality of a child's present living, I thought, no wondering about "When do I start to live?" There must be time and space for children to have experiences of living together here. Each child must feel he has friends, is needed, can make his own special contribution. There must be order and beauty and challenge in the environment, inviting children to work and play and grow. Every person must be treated with kindness, respect, tact, love. The teachers must be guides and companions of children along the way of discovery.

I would try to involve many people in order to give them an investment in the school. I would communicate as freely and widely as possible so that all could share in the life of the school.

Communicating with the chairman of the R.E. Committee was easy! We talked over all kinds of things daily and while we didn't always agree I was always the wiser for Larry's suggestions and viewpoints. He was ever ready to help, not only with R.E. but doing the dishes and taking care of the children when I had an evening meeting, or taking vacation time to be with them when I went away to a conference. Eventually, of course, he joined the teaching staff. The children helped, too, both at home and at church, taking teaching responsibilities later when they were ready for this.

A splendid opportunity for learning came at the end of my first year when I was invited to attend a week-long meeting at Chautauqua led by Sophia Fahs for a group mainly of professional directors. These excellent sessions and the shop talk between times gave me new courage and a notebook full of ideas, beside friendships with Edith Hunter, fellow directors, and best of all closer ties with Sophie. It was during this week that the Unitarian Education Directors Association was formed, later to become LREDA.

Learning went on apace. Elizabeth's guidance continued whenever I needed to seek it. I considered Sophie the source of all wisdom in this new ministry, read her writings, heard her speak many times, became her student as she worked with me in the writing of "Martin and Judy for Parents and Teachers," and sat in Curriculum Committee meetings with her as editor. From Frances Wood I learned about all aspects of R.E. in conferences and as a member of her Church Schools Committee. I was privileged to have my writing edited and my life enriched by Dorothy Spoerl, Edith Hunter, and Lucile Lindberg. This list of notable teachers goes on to include Ernest Kuebler, Angus MacLean, Gene Navias and many others among the Unitarian Universalist company over the last thirty years. How rich I became serving during the great flowering time of liberal religious education!

Together Larry and I read and learned from a constant procession of educators, scientists, philosophers—Earl Kelley, Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport, Jerome Bruner, John Dewey, Martin Buber, Clark Moustakas, Jacob Browowski and others.

I learned from the children! Bright, happy, rebellious, lovable, puzzling, eager, serious, they kept me on my toes; they took me down a peg sometimes when I was too cocksure. They responded to my interest and love. So many faces and voices I remember and those memories are my mother of pearl and coral.

Teachers were, of course, the great resource of the school, each in his or her own degree conscientious, creative, flexible, sympathetic, enthusiastic. I am grateful to them all for what they gave of themselves to the children and I raise a cheer for all the enriching stuff they lugged in on Sunday mornings from incubating eggs and a full grown rooster to elm saplings and a Foucault pendulum. These teachers shared with children the values by which they lived. And thus the children grew, not by being taught precepts, but with repeated experiences of respect for human dignity, gentleness, openness to experience, responsibility, thoughtfulness.

My own narrowly restricted religious education surely fired my impetus to enjoy the freedom of liberal religious education and to give to my work as director all the ideas and skills and energy I could offer. Part of what I wanted to do was to open up for children some of the rich treasures of the world in art, music, literature, the cultures of other peoples as means of enriching their lives and widening their vision. That I was able to do this in some fair measure was with the help of many resource people in the church and with some things that an adequate budget could afford us. I wanted also to help children feel that their religion was not just something to take out of a box at church and put back again, but an attitude of mind and heart which would affect their every day living, and that the church was a place for strengthening that attitude in the company of friends. Sometimes I saw evidences of this kind of learning taking place in the children's lives. I wrote in my worship notebook some words adapted from Kenneth Patton:

"In the church children may learn to count the number of their days and weigh their meaning, to gather into their minds the wisdom of their ancestors, to know why one thing is called right, another wrong, to treasure beauty, mercy, ,and justice in the deep places of their beings."

The school grew in numbers and in accompanying challenges. We used every square foot of space, added two rooms, tried a waiting list for a year, and finally moved four classes to the Museum of Art a block away. What a joyful relief it was some years later when we moved from the old buildings into a new one! With the difficulties of housing came other problems, and in the face of these Laistrygonians I sometimes quailed. It was a time, too, of rapid social change. Families moved more often from place to place; fewer children grew up in this church school. There were more weekend family trips, with resulting irregular attendance and decreasing interest; more one-parent homes, more mothers going back to school and taking jobs outside the home. Television brought a new world to children offering so-called right answers and pat solutions with little time to ponder or respond. We had to adapt to these changes and yet we often did not know how best to help children to live in this fast-changing world. What would they need to sustain them in uncertainties? How could we help parents in their many concerns?

A challenging part of my work was in encouraging, leading, opening new vistas of parenthood to them.

The school continued to provide leadership in religious education. Elizabeth and Reginald Manwell both wrote revisions of their earlier books and tried them out in classes here. Other teachers were adapting and enriching Beacon Series books or devising courses according to their special gifts. One of the latter became recognized by curriculum editors as worthy of sharing and was presented in part as "What Is Real?" in the Beacon Science Series.

As invitations came to me to serve in a wider field, I accepted knowing that as I gave I would also receive in even larger measure. I am grateful for all that I gained by assocations with Unitarian Universalists in many places, in leading conference groups, in writing, in LREDA activities, in working on the Curriculum Committee. I was sharing fully in the splendid freedom to search and to become and in the responsibility that entails for all of one's living.

One of the fears I had in the beginning was that I could not lead children's worship. As it turned out that is what I most enjoyed and came to feel reasonably successful in doing. I wanted the children to find these meetings worthwhile, close to their own feelings and needs. Sophie was one of my early teachers; Jeannette Perkins Brown was another. I kept in mind the lines from Browning which she quoted:

"Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whateter you may believe...and to know
Rather consists in opening out a way whence the imprisoned splendor may escape
Than in effecting entry for a light supposed to be without."

I sought and found further guidance in the writings of Clarence Skinner, Henry Wieman, Ross Snyder, Vincent Silliman and others. My style changed as my insights deepened, but some principles remained basic: the thought of worship as an art; the value of affirming together the wholeness and holiness of life with simple rituals and symbols, beautiful things to see and hear, sometimes to taste and smell, with singing, listening, thinking together and sharing our thoughts. There were times of wondering, of giving thanks, of sorrowing, of looking on the dark side of life, of aspiring. Often there were guests to contribute to our celebrating—an Onondaga Indian woman, a student from Nepal, a black social worker, a bassoonist, an author of children's books, artists who were parents of some of us. And there were the distinguished visitors from Boston—Helen Fogg and Tillie Moore and others of the UUSC, Ernest Kuebler, Frances Wood, among all those who helped us to feel a part of a movement larger than our own church.

I wanted to open the way for new appreciations and awareness among the children and I hoped that from at least some occasions of worship would come the impetus to one or another kind of action or of becoming. I wanted to be honest with the children, looking squarely at some important questions, sharing my best thinking with them while I encouraged their own. I sometimes fell into the trap of asking a question to get the answer that would lead into my theme. One February 2 I asked, "What is so special about today that you will probably remember it for a long time?" "Ground Hog Day," was the prompt reply. In my excitment about the first moonshot which had just occurred I had forgotten things closer to where the children were. They were unfailing critics. I could always tell how well I was doing: if there was quiet thoughtfulness with eyes meeting mine, then we were together; but if the woven splint chair seats creaked, I knew I had better finish up quickly. It was rewarding to receive unsolicited comments from individuals at later times, even years later, remembering and valuing what had happened in the worship meetings. I found that the creating and leading of these meetings was often a worship experience for myself.

The years of dreaming and working and planning for our new building ended at last in magnificent reality. On the day before our first Sunday there some of us went into the church to direct movers. We looked into the Worship Hall and there high on the wall was the figure of a Unitarian angel? We took it as a sign from heaven! But angels or no, we could believe that morning in the sun shining through the beams of our cupola making wing-shaped patterns to welcome us. This was a glorious beginning for a new adventure. In a week our joy turned its dark side toward us. After she made a fervent plea for keeping the name of Samuel May alive in the name of the church, Elizabeth Manwell collapsed and dled. I had lost a great teacher and friend. Our life in the church went on with new awareness among us of all that she had given us.

Once a wise friend from whom I was seeking advice said, "Jo, you know your standards are awfully high. I'm glad I don't have to live up to them all the time." That was something I hadn't thought of before. Had I been expecting too much of people? Not seeing clearly their point of view? I couldn't give up my dream, but perhaps I could be more understanding of others' pace and vision. I continued on the voyage knowing there were many discoveries yet to be made. I found in Lillian Smith's book "The Journey" words to reassure me in the quest:

"To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives;
To find the delicate equilibrium between dream and reality;
To lay down one's power for others in need;
To question, knowing that never can the full answer be found;
To accept uncertainties quietly, even our incomplete knowledge of God;
This is what the journey is about."

When in 1967 I received, along with many colleagues, the long-hoped-for certificate of accreditation as a Director of Religious Education it seemed that our struggle in LREDA for professional status had at last succeeded. I knew that I was coming to the end of my career, but I wanted to work one year more to enjoy my new position. The year began, however, with an unhappy situation which had been simmering for a while, and a rather inept handling of disagreements. It was a difficult time for me, forcing the early announcement of my resignation to be effective in June. With the firm support of my family and friends I continued to give of my best efforts during the year. On my last Sunday after the Family Service everyone proceeded to the green slope outside the church where the children planted a tree, and, following a long tradition, I presented to each child a flowering plant, symbol of life and growth.

The beautiful celebration prepared in my honor by my friends of all ages and from all the years of my career made me feel tremendously uplifted and rewarded and loved. I know that our thought of each other continues as some of our lives touch now and again or often and as their gifts to the Scholarship Fund help to further the ministry that I served so gladly.

In the years since I have been able to serve other churches, the District, and the denomination in various ways, to become more appreciative of the Universalist heritage, to contribute to the preparation of candidates for our ministry to children. I have had the honor of taking part in the ceremony of installation for one of them and next month I will for another.

The three Gould children who joined the voyage long ago are sailing their own seas now. I am privileged to be still a part of their journeyings along with two sons-in-law and four grandsons, all of whom have taught me many things. I have learned of late to live and sail serenely alone without my partner beside me—but with-his voice still saying to me, "you can do anything your heart desires." The voyage has been long and it is not over. When I reach the island I shall be old and rich with all I have gained on the way."