Posts Tagged Life
This homily was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/24/17 as part of our annual Rosh Hashanah service. It reflects on the nature of life, of risk, loss and the power of meditation.
Return again, return to the land of your soul, return to what you are, return to who you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again. These words from our hymn, are music and lyrics written by Schlomo Carlebach, or as Reb Shlomo to his followers. He was a Jewish rabbi, religious teacher, composer, and singer who was known as “The Singing Rabbi” during his lifetime. He died in 1994. It’s a hymn that feels like it’s been around for centuries, but it’s a thoroughly 20th century creation.
This past month, as we’ve been reflecting on what it would mean to be a people of welcome: How do we welcome the stranger; how do we welcome back our own selves when we’ve been our own worst critic. I’ve found myself speaking again and again about the amorphous nature of time – how it stretches and shrinks – affecting our memory, rewriting pains and sorrows, or keeping joys distant. Today, we’ll look deeper into welcoming the moment before us – that returns again and again – in joy and in pain.
Happy Rosh Hashanah all. Shana Tova! A good and sweet year to us all. In the Jewish calendar, we begin a new year; returning once again to a time of reflection, a time of atonement, a time of seeking out those we have wronged, and seeking to make amends, face to face. It’s a ritual that we return to year after year. This coming Friday night, we’ll hold our annual Kol Nidre service on the eve of Yom Kippur. It’s a somber service of reflection, discernment, and atonement. Join us at 7:30pm to meditate on the closing end of these sacred days.
Sacred ritual has a power to it that transcends human generations. I marvel at the rituals we have been enacting millennia after millennia. That which the human community does in concert, again and again, takes on a sense of eternity. It seeks to encounter the moment between the moments that the poet T.S. Eliot famously penned. The world will continue its spin, our days and lives will grow long and short, from coffee spoon to coffee spoon, but these moments of ritual, punctuate the routine. The rote becomes pierced, and one moment stands outs, amongst all the rest. When I hear the shofar be blown each year, it quickens my spirit. Time seems to shorten and stretch, to pause before eternity, knowing it will pass in a breath or two. We can return to this still point, again and again, but we can’t linger. It’s ever before us, but never any less urgent.
The poet’s (T.S. Eliot) beauty describing these still points in the turning world, reflect the opposite side of the pain of loss, or risk. Earlier in the service, we heard Harriet’s reflection on surviving a month in a coma, now twenty years later. I found her message of attending to the breaths that come unbidden in times of urgency – so moving. When the moments of risk or pain, literally take our breath away, they are calling us back to attend to what’s before us – while we still can. It’s not time to think, or to worry, or to fret, but to act with intention – as best we can. How many breaths go by, unnoticed? When they are noticed, our world changes.
Our shared intentions, that lead to a common impact, matter. When we come together this next Friday to honor the end of the Days of Awe, we enter again into a common human stream, a common human story; that is ageless. Maybe it’s a bit of magical thinking, but I think it’s a kind of magical thinking that’s quite true, in the mythic sense of truth. These rituals, in changing form, have repeated and been adapted for at least 3400 years – maybe 170 generations have atoned, have fasted, each in their own way – but along a common thread. There’s a power in living into that universal story. Culture and identity give us strength. Common purpose, and common ground, create a foundation civilization thrives in. It also builds a foundation that the human heart can return to for solace, when we lose our breaths, again and again. Having a place; adding to a shared story, makes acting in unison purpose all the more stirring and all the more possible.
When we were planning this service, Harriet and I spoke about the power of meditation in these troubling times – before the times of struggle come. In years past, I committed to a group meditation practice led by a Korean Buddhist Zen Nun. These days, with my schedule all over the map, I maintain my own personal practice of meditation. If you’re interested in joining our Fellowship’s groups, there’s a Tuesday morning and Friday morning group that meets weekly here. (Any members of those group willing to raise your hands…). When I endured my own near brush with death – a fraction of what Harriet endured in her earlier sharing – being hit by a car – the doctor told me that I was quite lucky. My body decided, on its own, to remain relaxed, as I was hit and thrown ten or fifteen feet. If I had tensed up, she said, the injury would have been far worse. We often talk about meditation’s benefits in the spiritual sense, and sometimes around it’s healing of daily stresses. But it also teaches our body, our muscle memory so to speak, to internalize the lesson of this too shall pass.
I have no super human powers. I’m still terrified of looking over the railings in malls that have a second floor, I still won’t fearlessly swim far out into the ocean, and no amount of money will ever get me near power tools. And even as I was writing this sermon, my husband was having a rare day working from home, as his office is moving to a new location. As I was writing about this very idea of those moments of shock and awe, that take our breath away, he was over and over, walking into my writing space quietly and then (completely unaware) loudly asking a question of me. Each time – I’d gasp and startle. So no, no superhuman powers.
When I was hit by a fast moving car, I didn’t will myself to relax; I just intuitively returned to that place that meditation opened me to. It welcomed me home, without struggle, or fight – through no fault or effort of my own. And that intuitive return, again and again, found in meditation, may have literally saved my life. If meditation doesn’t speak to you, give it another shot, again and again. It has a lasting impact, that’s not quite quantifiable, yet still eternal.
Return again, return to the land of your soul, return to what you are, return to who you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again. In the spirit of these days of awe this service is more contemplative, more musical, and maybe a bit less word-driven that usual. We’ll close with one more song, this time a somewhat familiar one – hopefully by now – that’ll we sing in simple repitition as a chant for a bit longer than we usually do. As we come to the close of our service, it’s our hope that this chant can be another way for you to enter into the spirit of meditation. Return to the still point, again and again.
Spirit of Stillness, God of Many Names, Source of Love,
Help us to find the lessons among our village filled with snow and ice.
The greens are hidden, the tree branches are burdened hanging low,
and for a time – the roads – are not passable.
But this is true for but a time;
the snows will melt,
the earth will green,
and color after color will spring into newness soon.
Life was always there, beneath the earth, waiting to be seen.
May we come to find it once more with new eyes,
after a long cold season.
Mother of Hope, we know that rightly, some of us find joy in the play time,
sleds, and snowmen, and winter hikes.
May their joy inspire us; reminding us to play and not always toil.
Others among us are worn down by the season,
from illness or sadness, missing the long days of sun and warmth.
May we honor this difficulty, while grounded in the truth that although hidden, life surrounds us all the time.
At the close of Black History month, may the winter months draw us to the truth,
that in all things, the world bends toward justice.
Though we may find ourselves returning to the month of Winter in the march toward wider freedom, again and again,
Spring always follows the ice.
Life will triumph over the weight covering it,
one story at a time.
May we remember that the challenges before us today,
are not entirely the same as those we struggled with generations past.
Much work must be done,
and we are the hands to do it,
but the work of the generations before,
brought us forward along the rough road.
May we keep going forward.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Source of Hope,
We pause this hour, in witness to the many feelings we hold in light of the Thanksgiving Holiday.
Some are grateful for family and friends close at hand,
for the warmth of home, and a table set full with food.
May we remember these joys in the hard times that come to all of us.
Some are struggling with illness, in body or in spirit,
tired from the weary journey,
season after season;
may we find strength from those around us,
and not lose hope,
so that our hours may still be filled with the preciousness of life.
Some are mourning the loss of a beloved family member, or a friend.
Help us to grieve, for grieve we must.
Help us to honor their life, and to carry on their memory,
so that their presence may live on through our actions and our love,
ever stirring the world for their touch upon it.
We also recognize the pain that has struck our nation this year,
whose Spirit has moved over our land once more,
a sense of injustice for black male youth,
before the power of institutions, and courts,
and the rage of privilege against those with little power.
We pray for the people of Ferguson,
who have lost another child on their streets,
whose police force will need to discern a way forward in a now impossible crisis,
for the national guard who must face rioters,
and for the protestors who must manage their pain and sorrow and civic duty,
while being falsely blamed for the rioting of others,
others who are full of rage in the face of a long history of violence against our black neighbors.
Teach us not to, ever and always, blame the victim first.
Help us to find ways not to repeat this story over and over,
as we have throughout the decades.
May we stay uncomfortable, stay heartbroken, stay in a place of loss,
long enough to commit to helping to affect change and healing.
May we not allow the story of Ferguson to be forgotten by the next sound byte.
May we remember long enough to allow love, and wisdom,
to find a home in our courts and on our streets.
We know that real solutions are not easy;
they require effort,
they require reflection,
and they require change over complacency and disinterest.
Just because the path may be difficult,
is no reason to continue to do nothing.
Black lives matter.
We gather at the ending of Summer,
Held together by a season of celebrations and sorrows,
To feel the joy of the everyday,
And to honor the pain of what might have been.
May we learn to live boldly,
And open ourselves to the song of life.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
We pause before the start of a new year together,
conscious of the high hopes for the way forward,
expectations that will be met,
and those that surely will fall short.
May our hearts bend toward kindness in the face of new things,
may our words bear witness to our values,
and our hands remain open to welcoming what comes ahead.
May we not forget the years that brought us to this new ministry.
The people around us that have built up a community of caring;
and those that are now missing from our midst – for many reasons,
and so too the newcomer that only knows the fellowship from fresh eyes.
May we honor the generations that came before us,
appreciate the work that keeps our roof staying over our heads,
and our floor solid under our feet.
And may we also keep room for our mission – close to our heart,
Continue to teach us to create peace and justice,
To nurture compassion, and sustain beauty in this precious world.
Source of Hope, breathe your life into our lives.
Some of us celebrate a Summer of wonder and rest,
of seeing grandparents or grandchildren who live far away,
or enjoying beaches that are finally restored.
Others are tired from work that never seems to end,
or morning the loss of a dear friend, or the love of their life.
May we ever remember that in each of us are moments of joy and sorrow,
and teach us to care for the other, as best we can, in this light.
Opener of the Ways, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,
We enter into the stillness of this hour,
Coming from many different places,
Holding with us all the stories that make up our lives.
Each sharing a glimpse of our heart in our passing,
A hope for a deeper connection,
An offered hand in our times of need,
A welcoming ear to lessen our burden,
A place to catch our breath when we are weary,
And a religious home to challenge us when we are complacent.
Mother of All, guide us on our journey,
In this life, help us to have the strength for the long road,
With love in our hearts,
Temperance in our words,
And the will to craft a world of justice and equity.
We know that we can not do all this alone,
That we are more whole when we are in community;
That a place of reflection and care reminds us of our humanity.
We welcome this day several new members to our community.
May they find with us the home they need,
And may we find in them,
The companions we need,
to continue along the road,
With grace and compassion.
This blog post on Huffington looks at a recent TED Talk exploring the development of human life in the womb and it’s theological ramifications. It can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-g-jude-geiger/a-biological-depiction-of_b_2483140.html