Posts Tagged Spirit
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.
Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Source of Trust
As Winter finally gives way to Spring,
may we pause before another turning of the wheel.
Some of us are wrestling with hardship after hardship,
illness, loss of work, loved ones gone from our lives.
Teach us ways to trust in the possibility and the newness of hope;
may the lessons of the living world show us a path toward a new day,
with the ice and the frost – in our past – not forgotten –
but not in control of our path.
Some of us have allowed the Spring to make us gardeners of our spirit,
planting seeds beneath the surface,
like little moments of grace for passersby,
who have done nothing themselves to earn such a small gift of beauty, of life.
May we all be stewards of such hope,
and aware of the gifts that spring up unbidden, and uncontrolled,
where-ever odd and sudden place they may so come.
Mother of Trust, remind us in the fallow times,
that we have come this far, and deep down,
we know everything we need to know,
to move through the times of unease.
Change happens suddenly, and often,
event though breath to breath may feel like eternity.
When the crush of pressure and stress feels too much to bear alone,
teach us to lean on others in our life,
for to each of us comes such time.
And when we have the strength to spare,
may we give, what was once given to us, freely and fully,
Spirit of Peace, God of Many Names, Mother of Love,
Move through out hearts,
lighten our tight grips and clenched teeth,
ease the uninformed fears,
that infect our media,
weaken our resolve,
and limit our imagination.
Help us to find new ways,
to perennial problems.
Remind us of our human connectedness;
that compassion is virtue,
that maintaining a civil diversity of opinion is a discipline,
and hope is a spiritual practice that keeps us grounded when we despair.
As the temperatures continue to drop,
and many of us begin going to school or work when it’s barely light,
help us to find moments of reflection,
being aware of ourselves,
the life all around us,
and the weight of our hearts and breath.
Where we are weary, may we find rest;
where we are burdened, may we remember those around us who can lighten that load;
where we are joyous, before the quiet of the hour or the lengthening nights,
may our silent light be a strength for all.
Teach us to shine that light more often than hide it.
For the world needs such a gift, whenever we may give it.
Spirit of Presence, God of Many Names, and One Abundant and Transforming Love,
Welcome us back to our center.
Help us to find the quiet of the moment,
amidst all the bustle and conflict in our lives.
May we find your wellsprings in our time of plenty,
and our hours of dryness,
knowing that solace is always a breath away.
Some of us our grieving this week,
lost fathers, lost daughters, ongoing struggle with illness,
difficult news, the search for good work, the stress of tests and college applications.
Ground us when we are stressed,
lift us up when we are tired,
teach us to turn down the volume of over-thinking when we find ourselves trapped in all the possibilities.
Others of us are celebrating successes in school, on the field, in the Scouts; welcoming grand babies, coming home healthy from the hospital, making a new friend when we felt alone.
Mother of Life, center us in joy,
teach us to remember that life calls to life,
and we are ever so called.
Gather our spirits this hour,
In peace, in thanks,
with care in our hearts,
and hope on our lips.
It is in being together
that we know compassion,
and find strength.
Gather our spirit, Open our Hearts,
Make room this hour for a new story,
Of possibility, of hope, of vision.
May the lighting of our chalice
Be for gladness where we are empty,
And joy where we were once dry.
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.