Posts Tagged Healing
This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 4/22/18 and looks at the perennially changing nature of life and spirit.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”Pema Chodron
I’ve been reflecting a lot this year about being immersed in a season of change in our lives. It seems perpetual. I hear our congregation talking about all the transitions going on for our community as well. Some of the stories are energizing and sustaining; some of the stories speak of slowing down; some have suffered losses in their family or continue to wrestle with health concerns that don’t seem to go away; while others are celebrating new beginnings with college, or school, or work. Each of these are happening all the time. On any given day, look around and you’ll see a little bit of sorrow and joy in each of our faces. (Although sometimes it’s hard to notice if the person doesn’t want you to see the vulnerability.)
We often talk about the Springtime of our life being childhood, and the Winter being our elder years. In some basic ways, the metaphor has merit on its own, but I’m not sure it goes deep enough. Reincarnation aside, Winter inevitably turns to Spring – and I have yet to meet anyone who’s successfully turned back the clock to childhood. It’s more helpful if we consider the seasons in each time of our life. However old we are, there are always beginnings and endings. There are always times of excitement and exhaustion. We can be renewed by Spring, or we can be reflective in the Winter. This can happen through the course of the day, but over the arc of our lives it’s most visible in hindsight. We see it most clearly when we turn a new leaf in our story. They come together and they fall apart.
What does it look and feel like as we turn to our next leaf in our own lives and the life of this congregation? Ask yourself right now –What season are we in, at this moment, in your own life? What season is our congregation in? What changes within us as we take on the long view of a million or more such turns in the life of a soul or a community of souls?
Change happens. And will continue to, for a very long time. Someone comes along and hears a thing, or a phrase, or a way of living, or a tradition. She thinks it’s meaningful, and helpful, but has a new use for it. She takes it and runs with it; hopefully bringing the idea a new life and a new direction. She makes it meaningful and relevant to her generation or to a new time. All of that’s critical in the life of a community or a person. Times change and so do needs and outlooks. But an idea or a ritual or a tradition came from somewhere and had a meaning and a value all its own. It grew out from a place of shared values of another people or another time. It can be a snapshot of a generation or a family. Where it goes and grows toward is just as important as where it came from – what soil it was rooted in. An idea or practice can grow ignorant of its foundation, but will be more rich and certainly stronger for the knowing.
What season we’re in will often influence how we react to the intrepid new leader or idea. Maybe more importantly, how we feel about the season we’re in will influence our response as well. Are you in a dry time of your life? Will new pathways offer renewal and a turning to Spring? Or are you feeling bitter and willing to allow the coldness to wither new openings? Or are you in a time of reflection in your life where it’s not yet time for new beginnings?
And in the life of this congregation, I’m especially wondering about our new staff team in the coming year. When I got here five years ago (This weekend is the 5thanniversary of when you voted to call me to the ministry here with you,) all the other staff were here from periods ranging from 1 year to 16 years. Now the only staffer with more seniority is our bookkeeper who comes in twice a month. We have had a tremendous amount of transition, and we continue to. Some things we can control, and some things we can not. “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”Pema Chodron
Shortly we will hiring an acting religious education coordinator to cover our program while our DRE is on medical leave, though should she return after this long medical leave, the permanent position will no longer be full time. And after 21 years of service, our music director will be enjoying retirement. (Thank you Richard again for all that you have given us.) Whoever comes –next, will not be Richard. In the coming months, we will need to allow ourselves to leave room for grief, for relief, for misery and for joy. These are the days we are given.
And we choose to spend these days in community. What emerges from community can be the spiritual discipline to manage the pain, and to celebrate the good. In community, we grow, we fail, and we achieve. In community we learn, interact, exchange and connect. As Rev. Nguyen’s reading earlier reminds us, “We are part of community when we show upshiny and not so shiny. When we bring our sour and our sweet. When we shed the shiny and show up hungry.”
As a religiouscommunity, our central purpose, our strength on our good days, is in the realm of values. These days, we seem to be that rare place that explores values, ethics, and theology in a communal- and self-reflective way. And this is wherein our community saves lives and renews dreams. And yes, change will happen here, even here – maybe especially here.
Instilling values is an art. It’s integral to the process of growing up. I have the suspicion that growing up is not so much about learning more stuff and knowing how to do more things and better. I expect it’s less about expertise. Growing up is coming to grips with the reality of the brevity of life. An appreciation for how precious and delicate we all are; that life ultimately is more about the questions of value than the details. The “whys” that lead to who we become overshadow the “hows” and “how tos” of daily living. If values are the central act of religious community, and I believe they are, then this is the greatest gift we can offer – both to the wider community and to ourselves.
Pema Chodron’s quote points us to the “longer view.” (Tell Buddhist Parable of the lost horse.) The failings and disappointments that sometimes feel like catastrophes may in fact be the doorways to new opportunities. The new, the fresh, the next great thing sometimes can’t come about without something else ending. The longer view reminds us that “not all that is bad,” is actually bad, in the long run.
I find that it comes down to what stories we tell about our lives – what stories come out in the moment, and which ones paint a decade or a generation. When we’ve experienced less, we may be more prone to fixating on how difficult, or downright awful, an encounter might seem. But in the longer view, most of these stories seem to open up more doorways than we can possibly imagine. It doesn’t take away the horribleness of the sudden turn in or lives though. (The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy)
Last Sunday I told a little more about my own time growing up, laughing at the absurdity of all the well laid plans we make. I want to quickly focus in on one of those moments with today’s lens. When I was in my early twenties, I was working in Information Technology. I had a solid job supervising a 24/7 computer Helpdesk; with what was then my longest term relationship, little debt and more vacation time than I could possibly use. That was a story I told for several years. But most of it was really a trap for me. I had taken that job as an opportunity to get professional experience right out of college and save up enough money to actually go into non-profit work. The truth is that I was never going to leave that job unless it became a horrible place to work. One new Vice-President later, and suddenly so many qualified, capable and expert colleagues left; many of us emotional wrecks in his wake. I could find no place of compassion or care for this particular VP. I could not find a way to “story” that experience in the affirmative. In the blink of a few months, I was miserable and needed a way out, and couldn’t see the silver lining at the end of the road. Looking back with that longer view, without that Dilbert-esque VP, I simply would not be where I am today. Back then, I honestly couldn’t imagine this new world at all.
The acute clarity of the short-term vision brings the pain and difficulty vividly to the forefront. We can choose to revision all that has come before us and see it in the bigger picture – and still – we don’t need to be old to realize this truth about life, just like we don’t have to be toddlers to still throw a wailing tantrum. (As I said last week, we are all the ages we have ever been.) Doorways forever open and close, but the ones we walk through were necessary to get to where we’re going. We can always choose differently, excepting the realm of death, but the new destination will never be the same. I personally think it’s very bad theology to say everything happens for a reason; but I do think it’s true that we can find meaning and purpose in all the things that happen. It’s how the story of our life emerges. That ability to tell a story, may be the very thing that defines our humanity.
Our elders among us can help remind us of this truth; they can help steer us back on the path of moderation, compassion and forgiveness – ever reminding us that our family and our religious community matter more for how well it strives to support us than it seeks to always agree with us. Our longest-term members (regardless of age) have seen a congregation of shared values living out the past thirty to fifty years. We pass on our values in light of the changing seasons, and activities, and habits, and styles. There is an essence to the life and spirit of this congregation that can be felt and can be lived, but words would rarely suffice. It is our task, regardless of age, to witness this transition; to strive to crack it open for the next generation to partake and to be enlivened by this sacramental work; for the transmission of communal spirit is a sacred endeavor.In the awareness of the precariousness of life and the appreciation for endings that enliven our beginnings we come to know the time of our lives.We honor the best of ourselves by blessing the sanctity of the lives we share in community. In doing so we become a blessing ourselves to the world around us.
Sometimes the season we’re in in our lives isn’t going to shift neatly to the next, or turn back to an earlier time. Sometimes when we live out ourselves fully, and honestly, we can help another person make a profound choice toward wholeness – wherever they are in their path – whichever season.
At the start of this sermon I asked two questions. “What does it look and feel like as we turn to our next leaf in our own lives and the life of this congregation? And what changes within us as we take on the long view of a million or more such turns in the life of a soul or a community of souls?” I cannot answer the first for any of us. But I can ask all of us to be open to accepting a new look and a new feel to the next page of our communal story, for the leaf must now turn. For the second question, I hope that for each of us we learn from the perpetual transition in our communal story. May it remind us that in our own lives each new challenge or adversity is for but a time – and it might just be something that opens a new path that is wondrous all in its own. With each new step, something may pass away as the Autumn leaves; something may finally birth anew as our current Springtime demands; and sometimes the change is nothing more and nothing less than our souls bending toward the motion of that perpetual light which transcends and imbues all life.
This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, on 4/24/16. This Passover sermon looks at the part of the story where the Israelites are traveling through the Desert, after being brought out of slavery. What is the role of trust and faith in times of adversity?
It’s good to be back and able to walk around a bit again after a much longer recovery, than my doctor expected, from dual foot surgery. Many thanks to all of you who offered to help, who checked in on me, and who kept me in your thoughts and prayers, and for those who sent lovely cards to my home. What was supposed to be a 3-5 day recovery looks like it’s going to take 3-5 weeks. One specialist jokingly referred to one of my toes as the 1 billion dollar toe for all the lab work that was done to diagnose it. The funny part, is that all the tests were wrong. But thankfully now, I’m on the way to a slow recovery. Please bare with me as I sit through this sermon. Although I can walk, standing for 20 minutes is still difficult.
This is only the second time in my life where I’ve had to be off my feet. This Memorial Day will be the 7 year anniversary of the time I was hit by a car as a pedestrian. In some ways, this time around is worse than even being hit by a car. But I’m grateful for communities of support and trust, as I’m grateful for modern medicine. I know right now that there are many of us who are going through various stages of recovery and surgery; and even more of us who have lived through that in the past. For myself, and maybe this is true for you too, I find these times of adversity and healing to be life-defining – at least as a sort of lens in which we see the world for a time – and maybe that lens never really goes away.
After my first major injury 7 years ago, I kept some of the perspective I gained from it with me. You become more aware of how inaccessible many places in our world are. You become more patient for people who are unable to move quickly. Maybe you learn to move with a little more intention, or maybe attention. I think this time around, I’m learning a bit more about how shared our world and our responsibilities are. Life is often a team sport. Sometimes we like to pretend it’s a solo competition, and that we are competing all on our own singular merits, but I think we’re kidding ourselves when pretend that’s true. In that spirit, a special thanks to Ken Buley-Neumar and Starr Austin for making the past two Sunday’s go so smoothly in my absence.
We’re going into our third night of Passover today, and with all the past few weeks in mind, I can’t help but think about what it must have been like for the People of Israel to wander in the desert for 40 years. After slavery, after struggle, after plagues and famines, and lamb’s blood on mantles, the Jewish people are freed from bondage only to lose heart when they finally come upon the land God promises them. They lose faith that God will deliver, and they cease to believe they can oust the current residents of the land of Canaan. So God curses them to wander the desert for 40 years until the last of the generation that had the crisis of faith die out.
It’s a rough story, and what seems to be an extreme punishment against a people who have been down and out in the worst ways possible – enslaved. It’s natural to want to be critical of God for this curse. But I also think it’s very real. It’s true to life and to most of our stories at one point or another in our days on this earth. We’ve all been there. We each go through impossible travails – some that would make Soap Opera’s blanch for their audacity, but they happen nonetheless to most of us at some point, or even many points, in our lives. For half my recovery, my husband had to be in New Orleans for a Cancer conference for work, only to return home with a 103.5 fever. I’m barely able to walk to care for him, and I wanted to find the proverbial lamb’s blood and ward our doorways from the angel of death – Please No More! But these times in our lives happen – we struggle – we typically get through them as best as anyone ever can. And like the story of Exodus goes, we forget that we were delivered from something horrible, and we can lose faith that we’ll be delivered from the next and possibly the next.
When we were cursed with wandering in the desert for 40 years, it was a curse that made real what we thought would happen because of our lack of faith. You’ll hear me often make a distinction between faith and belief. Belief is a creed or an opinion that we follow. They can proven or disproven. Faith is an orientation toward life – mixed with hope and possibility and choice. Do we enter into the Passover story, painting blood on our mantles to give a sign to the Angel of Death to pass over our homes – the very visible sign of our faith in the power of the angel, and the trust in the promise of Moses? Or do we come to the promised land and have our way barred for our lack of trust in being provided for? We certainly do both at different times in our lives, but holding onto faith is as much a choice we make as holding onto despair in the face of travail. We have to do one. Why so often do we choose the harsher road? Often, when we choose the harsher road, we do so too alone. We give up trust in being provided for, and we cut ties with the communities that would sustain us.
Adversity can lead to hardship and despair, or it can lead to a new creation. We’re closing our month wondering what it mean to be a people of creation. Where we may not have the choice to wish away adversity, we do have the choice to make something new from it. As I reflect on the meaning of Passover at a time when I’m tentatively starting to walk again, I’m reminded of the words of the beloved popular theologian, Prince, may he rest in peace, when he said, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” The words are even more poignant with his passing, and so many of his lyrics seem to pop out of the albums and speak to many of us who are mourning his tragic death at the young age of 57. But that phrase is a theological as it is cultural. We are gathered here… To get through. We do this together; we rely on one another; we ease each other’s struggle. We do that best, when we start from a place of trust – and rally against the urge to distrust or assume the worst – in each other or what’s before us. Trust. One of the oldest stories in scripture shows the power of trust, and what’s at stake when we abandon it. We delay the promised land; we forestall a new creation; without trust we wander in the desert till a new generation can find faith in one another, faith in God, faith in life once more – faith enough to live fully again. The story of exodus tells us that God curses the people for their lack of faith after being delivered so far; but I think we curse ourselves again and again for the same reason.
In our story earlier we learned more about the time after the people of Israel had escaped slavery, but before they had yet found a new place to settle down. This is the time before that curse is laid upon then. They’re on their way to the Promised Land, and recently escaped from Pharaoh. Moses directs, “Don’t save anything; only take enough for today and use it all up; you will be provided for again in the morning. Trust the one who has made this covenant with you.” Daily living in the curriculum for God’s message of trust. All will be provided for, so don’t squander it and don’t horde it. Use what will be revealed before you. It will be enough, regardless of how rough the road ahead is – it will be enough.
Accepting that what we need will ultimately be provided as we need it, is an act of faith. One that scripture tells us is true. Do we believe that? Or if we do believe it, do we still feel that way all the time? We may still have to do the work of gathering, and preparing and cooking, but Scripture tells us the food will come. I want to say that that doesn’t always feel true for everyone. Hunger and poverty are all too common in the world. But yet, this story stays real across the millennia and speaks to community after community that have found deliverance from slavery and subjugation. And maybe as importantly – it offers a proscription. Don’t save anything, only take enough for today.” It’s an edict from God laid down to prove a point, and to teach a people to trust in God. That’s the primary reason for the edict. But it’s also an ethical teaching. It’s as if God is saying, “as you prepare to build a new creation, of a new people in a new land, do so without hoarding.” Greed, at its core, is a sin that’s based in distrust. Greed teaches us to never be satisfied but it also teaches us that we won’t be whole without more. Greed teaches us that enough for today is not really enough. We forget to trust when we are consumed by greed. Community is not built well upon a foundation of greed, or a foundation of distrust. There’s a way in which curse or no curse, the new creation in a new land for the Jewish people, would not be possible until they learned to move in a spirit of trust. And that deep truth remains real and present for us today.
But before we close our sermon this morning, there’s an important distinction to be made about trusting that all will be provided for – assuming we do our fair share in the gathering, and preparing, and so forth. There was a point in the story where the people railed against Moses and wanted to return to the slave pits of Egypt. The food – the mana that fell from heaven – didn’t taste like the food they were accosted to in slavery and they missed their Egyptian food. Some wanted to return to slavery rather than learn a new way in a new land. We can be so adverse to change that we will hope to be returned to bondage rather than struggle through the new. 2500 years later and that message still holds truth and power – right?
Sometimes we can’t see that all is provided for, because we don’t like how it’s being provided, or we don’t want what’s been given. One of my mentors, the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, of our large church in NYC, now deceased, used to say, “Want what you have.” It was a simple message that I’ve never forgotten, and it speaks to this human failing of ours. When we can’t accept the things that are before us that are nonetheless sustaining us, we have forgotten to want what have. The dance between trust and greed spins on this teaching. When we’re on the road to the Promised Land, and we’re striving to build a new creation in our lives and in our community, it’s as important to move away from what is harmful as it is to learn to embrace what is before us, with faith, with trust and to do so together.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Source of Love,
Gather us this hour as a people of hope,
in the face of adversity,
as a community of justice,
where we see inequity,
as a faith for healing,
in a world struggling between hardship and beauty.
Knowing the world is not yet what it could be,
teach us to not trip over the small wants and grievances,
when so many need us to be so much more than our smallest selves;
we need to be more than that.
Mother of Grace,
open our hearts where we are closed;
widen our vision where we have become short-sighted;
and open our mouths where silence has dominated our spirit.
For too often we have learned to be complicit where there is pain.
In the struggle of the long arc of the universe bending toward justice,
may we regain strength in the soul-saving work,
of living faithfully into our humanity,
and in love.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
We pause this morning to take a breath before the great change that is before us,
for the changes that are stunning, that are obvious,
that bring us excitement, and joy,
and those that stagger us, that carry with them fear, and trembling.
We pause before those changes that come to us unbidden, and unknown.
In every moment the world grows into new directions
that are both clear and hazy.
We recognize that our vision helps us only so far,
that our expectations have but limited relevance,
and that our dreams only frame what is possible.
Gather this community together this hour,
May every candle lit, hold witness to our hopes and silences;
hold witness to the love that is before us,
and the stories that have brought us this far.
Our community is beginning its next step along the path of ministry.
May the walking be for gladness, and possibility;
May our ministry together be for healing and transformation;
And may we have the strength to continue down this road together,
with Your Spirit of Peace.
Spirit of Solidarity, Compassion and Understanding, God of all these names, rooted in Love, Enter our lives.
Our city is wrestling with democracy, protest, witness and every day living. As always, we will not all agree about the path forward. Help us to remember the matters that trouble our core, To focus and reflect on the injustices of the world, To heal and make amends – the definition of Beloved Community. May we not fall in the traps of seeing the world as Them, or Us; May we support each others’ call to action, even should our actions be in contradiction. So long as love enters reason, we will find a way.
Help our individuals, and our leaders, and our media to speak the truth in times of conflict, crisis and anxiety. Help our communities to find ways to allow the public dialogue to continue in peace. Help our public servants to feel they can contribute rather than be ostracized, Our radicals to lift a hand to cross the hurdles of habit and inertia, And our traditionalists to remind us of the practicalities of the world before us.
Spirit of Life, we know that where there is pain we are called to extend compassion. For those who see the immediacy of need, help us to find long term solutions; For those who understand how our society functions, help us to handle the immediacy before us. May our desire for change, or our wish for stability, not create a divide in our search for meaning, substance, and care. For in the messy work of living, community can never happen with any one of us alone. May the joys of connection, the hopes birthed from relation, and the dreams of a world united help to steer us toward the common good.
We pause to feel gratitude for the abundance in our own lives, especially when it is hard to find. May we come to know a fullness in life that emboldens us to live generously with one another. To pause, and break bread with friend and stranger alike. Knowing that rarely are we alone the baker, and the farmer, and the deliverer of the food before us; Yet still we eat and live this day.
It is in our relations that we are able to appreciate the awe of this living breathing world. It is in our reliance upon one another that our civilization is possible. May religion continue to inspire us to appreciate the everyday, and the great horizons before us.It is in this inspiration that we come to know what it is to be human, to be alive.
#24 Small Group Ministry Session on “Liminal Spaces” Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian, Brooklyn. Based on a Sermon by preached at First UU on 11/6/11 found here.
Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting Please read aloud — By May Sarton #428 in Singing the Living Tradition
Come out of the dark earth Here where the minerals Glow in their stone cells Deeper than see or birth.
Come into the pure air Above all heaviness Of storm and cloud to this Light-possessed atmosphere.
Come into, out of, under The earth, the wave, the air. Love, touch us everywhere With primeval candor.
Statement of Purpose: To nurture our spirits and deepen our friendships.
Brief Check-In: Share your name and something you have left behind to be here.
Reading: The entirety of this prayer can be found here showing all four voices used.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love, Broaden our imagination to see you in the faces of all those we meet along the way. May your teachers come in all shapes and sizes, all genders and all sexes, and may we have the courage to hear their lessons so that our lives may be moved.
We live in a world whose bodies are sometimes broken, or broken down, or weighted under burdens that none could hope to carry alone. We live in a world where we have all the capacity we ever needed to make another life that much easier.
And yet we don’t always use our power to help… we don’t always allow others in… we don’t always accept help when it is offered… we don’t always know when we can no longer do it alone.
Spirit of Life – open our hearts to the community of souls that surround us; Allow our words to be softened before the miracle of being; Strengthen our voice so that it may be a service to others; And stir in us compassion when it is gone, temperance when we are in our might, and hope when it is hard to find.
We especially hold dear this morning all the lives who have suffered harm for the bodies they were born into; for the genders whose expressions didn’t stand up to the gaze of society; and the lives that were lost due to violence born of fear, of hatred or of self-doubt. We pray for our youth who are wrestling with the choice of whether to live or to die. May our love, our compassion, and our commitment to seeing a world more free, and more free-spirited, help them to find the hope they need to continue living.
How has gender influenced your life? Do you find yourself approaching the world from a different angle than those who are differently gendered? How does your gender lift you up or make you glad? The sermon “Liminal Spaces” asks us to enter into those difficult places outside our comfort zone so that we might be able to help others who are experiencing pain or loss due to their gender expression. Can you identify where your comfort zone begins and ends? Where can you stretch more?
Closing: “Life Again” By John Banister Tabb #626 from Singing the Living Tradition
Out of the dusk a shadow, Then, a spark. Out of the cloud a silence, Then, a lark.
Out of the heart a rapture, Then, a pain. Out of the dead, cold ashes, Life again.
Originally spoken on for a memorial service on the 9th anniversary at the First UU in Brooklyn.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love, be with us now.
Help us to enter this new year with a spirit of renewal. Open our hearts to the possibility of abundance. Open our hands to do the work of what the year brings to us, with meaning and integrity; with care and love. Prepare our lips to speak with truth and care.
All of these blessings will be needed to prepare the road ahead for justice and healing. We pause once more, as some do every day, to remember the lives lost 9 years ago on a Tuesday morning. We mourn the friends we can no longer greet. We hold in our hearts the families that are missing a parent, or sister, or son. We acknowledge that a new generation has seen its innocence of worldly anguish pass away.
Knowing that each of us must wrestle with memory and loss in our own ways; we pray for the strength of heart to face these difficulties with integrity. That we know, deep down, that a warm community sits all around us ready to stretch our a hand so that the way ahead is a little bit less cumbersome, less solitary, less strange.
May our memory and our grief not alter our prayerful convictions for a world of hope and love. May the harm done that fateful day not deter our spirits one inch from a path of building that world we dream about. May we not learn to become creatures of reaction, recreating harm in the world around us for the harm done in this City.
This morning we keep close in our hearts the families and friends we once knew. We rejoice in those stories where a parent, or brother or daughter arrived home late at night to a welcoming grateful family. We also rejoice for the congregations like ours, spread throughout this country, who have learned to break bread and share in worship across religious aisles; who appreciate the shared messages of love and healing that are taught by Christians, by Jews and Muslims; by religions the world throughout. It is in this spirit, that the world may see peace.