Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Thanksgiving Message: Gratitude List!

This is from my column in the November church newsletter, the Unigram.   You can read the whole issue at this link.

Gratitude List!

 

Medical studies reveal that cultivating a practice of generosity is good for your health. And one thing that generates generosity is the practice of saying thanks.

Our days can be long and full, and our challenges can be distracting, so it’s good to remember: it takes practice to be grateful. As I prepare to celebrate my eighth Thanksgiving season with UUSS, here is part of my gratitude list. I give thanks:

  • … for those who disagree with me with authenticity and love. It’s a gift to know that people trust me enough to challenge a recent sermon, or say they don’t see eye to eye with me on a point of theology or social witness. It means we not only are living out our diversity, but trusting one another. It means love!
  • … for the big, beautiful sanctuary building and the good things that happen inside: theater, music, book sales, large crowds on Sunday, coffee, soup, all-ages events like Thanksgiving dinner and the Holiday Party, fun fundraising activities, committee work, warm hospitality to newcomers, and care for others.
  • … for my dedicated staff colleagues, our committed lay leaders, and the many volunteers who make this congregation so vital and exciting.
  • … for the clear sky early in the morning, inviting me to read a poem or prayer and sit in reflection before I rush off. I would LIKE to be grateful also for a rainy morning—a whole bunch of them, soon!
  • … for the generous members, friends, and families who make and pay a monthly pledge to UUSS. Your gifts make so much possible in and beyond UUSS.
  • … for a home and a fun job, the relative safety which I am privileged to enjoy, the strength and vitality of the region and country in which I live, and the meals that sustain me every day.

Sometimes I forget to appreciate these ordinary blessings when they happen. That’s why I made this list. Thank you for reading!

Yours in service,

 



Chalice Lighting Words, Ordination Ceremony, March 29, 2014

Words for Chalice Lighting by Roger Jones

Ceremony of Ordination of Amy Moses Lagos to the UU Ministry

Saturday, March 29, 2014, in San Francisco

Good afternoon. When Amy Moses-Lagos was growing up in Springfield, Illinois, she attended the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist, now the Abraham Lincoln Congregation.

I know this, because when she was six, I was one of her Sunday School teachers there, when I was younger then, than she is now. Of course, this means that of everyone in this room who has had a formative influence on Amy as a Unitarian Universalist, I had the earliest influence, and therefore I guess the most profound…unless you count her mother, brother and sister, who are also here

Back then, in that congregation, at the start of every Sunday service, a child would lead the congregation in words for lighting the chalice.

Those words, and ours today, are combined from two sources: the late Rev. Elizabeth Selle Jones, now departed, the minister emerita of our church in Livermore, and from a Passover Haggadah, whose words are in the gray hymnal.

 

This flame affirms the light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment.  [Selle Jones]

Please repeat each line after me:

 May the light we now kindle -PAUSE

Inspire us to use our powers -PAUSE

To heal and not to harm, -PAUSE

To help and not to hinder, -PAUSE

To bless and not to curse, -PAUSE

To serve you, Spirit of Freedom!

 

So may it be.



The Spirituality of Expectation–What Are You Waiting For? UUSS Sermon for December 8, 2013

 NOTE:  Many folks did not hear this sermon because the California International Marathon made it very hard to get to church.  It closes Fair Oaks Boulevard from Folsom, CA, to the Capitol.  Traffic near the church slows down as race fans try to find parking to walk over to Fair Oaks and as the police make drivers detour at both of our nearby intersections.  The first hymn was my conciliatory nod to the Marathon, but it remains an annual frustration!

 UU Society of Sacramento

Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013

Shared Offering benefits St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children

Hymns:  #348 “Guide My Feet (While I Run this Race),” #100 “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” #352, “Find a Stillness,” #91, “Mother of All.”

Sermon

“Do you know what message I am going to preach to you today?”  This is what the great Islamic Mullah said as he looked out on the people gathered for Friday prayers.  Nasruddin, the Mullah, appears in many Sufi stories as a wise trickster and sort of a goofball.  He asked the crowd this question, and they shook their heads—no.  He said: “Well, why would I waste my time speaking to people who don’t know my message? Go home!”  They did, but they invited the great Nasrudin to come back the following Friday.

“Do you know the message I am going to tell you today?” he asked.  Yes, yes!  We do!  they smiled.  “Go home!” he shouted. “Why would I take the time to repeat what you already know?”

This troubled the congregation.  They really wanted to hear from this wise Mullah!  So they made a plan.  The next jumah, the Friday prayers, they had him back.  He asked, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?”  And half of them shook their heads no, and the other half nodded and said yes!              “Finally,” Nasrudin said.  “Now, those of you who know what I am going to say, turn to those who don’t know what I am going to say, and tell them.”  And he left.

This is a story about one kind of expectation—an assumption of the way things are.  It’s when you are counting on something—and in this story, you don’t get it.  Something else happens from what you expect.

On Monday I was at a Catholic retreat center in with a group of UU clergy colleagues.  In the dining hall we found these little plastic containers of coffee creamer.  On the cover it reads:  “Non-Dairy Creamer.”  Under that it says, “Contains Milk.”

This wording led to speculation on our part.  Can you get milk without a dairy?  We laughed it off, and someone found a carton of 2% milk and a box of soymilk.  We were amused by this experience of having our expectations upended.  We didn’t get what we were counting on.

That’s one kind of expectation.  The other kind of expectation is the experience of waiting.  The Reverend Dr. Christina Hutchins is a professor at Pacific School of Religion.  A year ago she gave a sermon on Advent, the season of waiting for Christmas.  She said that the experience of waiting is a complete and authentic spiritual experience on its own.  It is not merely the delay of an event, not the denied gratification of an authentic experience. Expectation is a complete experience on its own.  Like all spiritual experiences, it’s worth paying attention to it.  This is the spirituality of expectation—finding wisdom in the waiting, seeking to gain from the journey along the way.

Right now we are waiting for Solstice and Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Kwanzaa and so on.   Growing up in a mainstream Protestant household, Christmas was what I waited for.  But in truth, I just wanted to get it over with!  This Thursday morning I will be one of the speakers at the UUSS Alliance’s holiday lunch program.   Alliance chairperson Vivian Counts invited four of us to tell of a holiday memory from our lives.  I’m glad there are three others talking, because I can’t think of any inspiring Christmas memory from the years before I was a minister.

As a child I dreaded the loneliness I felt when school was out for those two weeks.  Television was the distracting technology of those days, and the TV often was on, but it did not satisfy.  I craved the many shiny packages under the tree, but after tearing into them on Christmas Day, the emptiness inside me felt even sharper.  The alcohol abuse and animosity among my relatives made me feel as if I was walking on eggshells.  For me, Christmas was to be gotten through.  My family  went to church many Sunday mornings, but somehow it never occurred to the family to go to church on Christmas Eve, nor to attend  any community concerts or special programs in our town.  Had we done such activities together, it might have given us a little spiritual nourishment.   Perhaps by this Thursday’s Alliance meeting I’ll remember some suitable holiday memories to tell.  If not, I could ask the gathering, “Do you know what I am going to say to you today?”  Then they can tell one another.

Among the human family, with the broad variety of conditions and situations in which we find ourselves, we human beings have all sorts of waiting to do.  We have many ways to experience waiting, ways to think about our waiting, and make use of the time.

People in prison are people who are waiting—waiting for their sentence to end, waiting for a friendly visit or a letter, waiting for the next meal.  For some, the wait is a long time.  Yet in that time of waiting, some prisoners are lucky to find a way to grow.   Some have access in prison to theater arts and poetry, or to study for a GED or a college degree or to learn, simply, to read and write.  It’s my impression that prisons are some of the places where people are most likely to begin an intensive spiritual search or to deepen one.  Great spiritual classics have been written in jail– by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Apostle Paul for example.

I’ve read and heard many ex-inmates testifying that a spiritual practice is what saved them.  In prison many people experience conversion to Islam, or accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, join a 12-Step group, or begin Buddhist meditation.  The online congregation known as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship supports a prison ministry by mail, and some UU congregations have their own ministries to nearby prisons.  In a book about Buddhism behind bars, one convicted felon writes that mindfulness meditation has been a tool for him in prison, and a blessing.  His waiting for the end of his sentence is the occasion of his practice in mindful awareness.  Sometimes, he says, they throw him in solitary confinement, a common management practice in prisons today.  Solitary sounds frightening and lonely to me.  Yet this man says that he tries to think of it as an opportunity for a deeper practice of mindfulness.  This blows my mind!  Those in confinement have no choice—only the choice between awareness of the moments at hand and suffering in agony about the long wait for confinement’s end.

Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in prison under the white Apartheid government of South Africa.  What a long, uncertain wait!  His passing last week at age 95 makes me want to learn about that experience, as well as other details of his life in the freedom struggle in South Africa.  I want to know what sustained him.    He could never be sure if he would live his entire life in prison, be released, or be executed.  Did Mandela know his people had not forgotten him?  Did he know that activists around the world were demanding his release?  He practiced the spirituality of waiting.

A friend has told me a story about Mandela’s time in confinement.  After some years, he was transferred to the Robben Island prison, infamous for its harshness.  He found himself doing hard labor, with other political prisoners. Their task:  breaking rocks in a quarry, pointless.  Robben Island also held other inmates, those convicted of murder, armed robbery, sexual assault.   Many were members of criminal gangs with reputations for terrorizing other inmates.  They tried to push the political prisoners around, take their food, or disrupt any political conversations.  By this harassment, they were trying to provoke the activists to reacting.

Members of these gangs labored in the quarry, but in separate groups from the political activists.  One day they began singing a song, taking a popular tune and changing the words to mock the political prisoners.  They were again trying to provoke them into a reaction.  And they got one.

The political prisoners decided to fight back–by singing.  In response they chose a rousing, familiar song.  Typically it was not a political song, but in this context, they charged it with political accusations.  The two groups competed by singing, back and forth.  For several days, these opponents confronted one another–in song.  Nelson Mandela later claimed that his men had much better voices, with wonderful harmony.  He and his group would often get lost in their music-making.  They would forget all about the gang members, who had taunted and threatened them.  Soon the gang members became quiet.  They only listened, as the political prisoners made music.  The singing brought peace.

When the prison guards figured out what was happening, they demanded that the music cease.  They didn’t even allow whistling.   In the stillness that followed, it was clear to Mandela that fears had melted away.  By pushing back, creatively, the political prisoners converted hostile opponents into people with a shared plight, a shared condition of confinement and waiting.  By choosing creative action, Mandela’s colleagues sang away their passive despair and their fear.  They brought meaning into their time of waiting by choosing to be creative.

When I think about the waiting of people in such painful situations, it’s embarrassing to say I want to get the month of December over with!  It puts into clear perspective my feelings of dread of the loss of daylight, my irritation with holiday commercialism, my frustration with traffic, like the slow traffic on this Marathon Sunday here in our neighborhood.  I say to myself:  So what!  How lucky I am only to have to wait for traffic to move!          The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh writes that waiting in traffic at a red stop light is a chance to practice being mindful.  Red light, notice the moment.  Notice our experience of sitting in the car or waiting at the cross walk.   Red light, notice the moment.  Blessed be the red light, great companion of our waiting!

What are you waiting for?  Most of us are waiting for something… a job, a pension or Social Security, a baby to be born or an adoption agency to call with good news.  We wait for an upcoming trip, happiness, our next birthday, this semester’s grade report.  We wait for a diagnosis or lab results from a clinic, for moving day, for Christmas Eve.  Most of us are waiting for something, most of the time.   Meanwhile, we have days and moments in which to live and move and have our being, we have a journey called what’s going on right now.

Personally I am waiting for January 26, the day of the congregational vote here at UUSS, on my candidacy to be the called senior minister.  I’m now in month number six of my seven-month job interview with you.  It’s a long wait.  Part of me would like it to be over.  But you and I have seven months of life to live and ministry to do before then, while we wait.

So I am doing my best to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moments of ministry that pass before that big day.  After all, if I were walking on a sidewalk under a tall building and moving men were maneuvering a grand piano out of a window and it slipped out of their control, and it fell on me, my waiting would end right then.  This example, this wise warning, is handed down to us in the sacred scripture of the Warner Brothers cartoons, with which I grew up.

Given the uncertainty of anything we are waiting for, why not choose to pay attention?  Give some attention to the complete, authentic experience of waiting?  Explore the journey of our experience of each day.

Sooner or later, what we are waiting for does not arrive, or we do not arrive at that point.  The piano falls.  The traffic light turns red and does not change back to green.  In matters of life both great and small, we will end… before we reach the end.  To do authentic waiting is a challenge–and a paradox.  It means we need to invite patience, be gentle, and practice curiosity.  Yet given that we cannot count on reaching every goal, every end, it seems we should not wait on some things.

We should not wait to live with courage.   Should not wait to speak the truth and speak with kindness.  Not wait to live as our conscience and heart are asking us to live.  We should not wait to be grateful.  Not wait to be generous.  Not wait to take care of our health and our spirits.

We can stretch ourselves, open our hearts, and practice a bit more courage as we wait.  By the way we live in the time of waiting, we can prepare ourselves better for whatever we might be waiting for.

We are waiting for Solstice, when the night is longest, and the days begin to have more light once again.  Meanwhile we have a new day to welcome, every day.   We have sundown by 5 PM and sunrise by 7 AM, and a day full of whatever it brings, with the touch and flavor of waiting as an authentic part of the experience.

The experience of expectation is an authentic and complete spiritual experience by itself.  Waiting for the green light, for the holiday, for the solstice night, is not the delay of the prize or its absence; it holds a prize all its own.  With awareness, we can move toward wholeness in the moment.  On every day of our journey, we can pause to notice what is already here, and give thanks.  And give thanks.  So may it be.



Time of Darkness and Light– UUSS Sermon from Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Music:  Hymns:  #226 “People, Look East,” #118 “This Little Light of mine,” #1008 “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  Solo:  “The Dark” by Mary Grigolia, sung a capella by Rev. Lucy.

Litany of Darkness and Light    (see at end)

Sermon

I sat looking out the kitchen window well before 7 in the morning, just last week.  I felt the chilly air seeping in, and a mug of warm tea in my cold hands.  I was ready to watch the morning light emerge, was waiting for the sunlight to change the look of everything.  But I felt sadness.  The tea had caffeine—how long would it take to change my mood, if it could?  This mood was not of deep grief, and not a heavy burden of depression on my shoulders, yet it was a decidedly not-fun feeling of sadness.   I said my morning prayer anyway.

I gave thanks for the gift of life and the new day, for a night’s rest in a warm, safe place.  I lifted up the names of parishioners who need good wishes or prayers, brought their faces to mind, plus those of colleagues, friends, and relatives.  I stated my intentions for living the day with gratitude, generosity, curiosity and kindness.  The light was now making the street visible, and showing the colors of the cars parked on it.

Then it occurred to me:  that pre-dawn darkness was just the right place for my sadness.  The shadows could receive it.  The shadows could let the sadness move, in its own gentle way.  Had it been 7 AM in June or July, the sun would have claimed the whole scene by now.  It would be urging me into the many tasks of the day:  Get going, look alive!  But the morning darkness of December seems to say, “Take it easy and slowly–I am taking it easy and slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

Soon it was bright and clear, and my day was on its way.  And it went fast.  The night came in the middle of the day—5 o’clock.  Wait!  I’m not finished with my day yet!

For years I have resisted and resented the early evening.  I’ve dreaded the shrinking hours of daylight, starting in early November, when we set our clocks back an hour.

But as this December Solstice approaches, I try to appreciate what can happen in the dark.  I would like to mention a few of the gifts of the time of darkness, but first I want to say:  it’s not a gift for everyone, no matter what a preacher or a poet might say.

Like many people, a friend of mine has a clinical, biological reaction in the winter darkness, called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It does not help that she lives at a latitude even farther north than we do, and it’s cold there, for a long time.  You know what they would call the chilly weather we’ve had this past week?  Springtime (without the mud).

She sits under a special kind of lamp every day, to give her body and spirit some extra rays of light.  In retirement she has the time to travel, so she spends a few weeks in the winter visiting friends in warm, sunny places.  When she can save up enough money and find a cheap deal, she takes a trip to a warm country.  Not speaking Vietnamese, she made her way around villages in Vietnam by pointing and smiling.  In the sunshine of Egypt a few years ago, she heard people speak with hope right after the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.  She enjoyed the January summer of Argentina, taking in the spray of Iguazu falls, the marvel of a glacier, and some penguins in their stiff cuteness.  Rather than cursing the dark and cold, she follows the sun.  Of course, this is not an option for most people, and she gives thanks for the privilege to do so.

It’s important to note that seasons of darkness and cold can be very hard on the spirit, hard on the emotional health of many people around us.  It may not only bring up grief or painful memories of past experiences, it may bring depression that weighs on our minds and even on our physical bodies.  This can happen to people young or old, in any occupation or stage of life.  When other ways of dealing with the shadow side of this dark time don’t seem to help us, it may be worth seeing if anti-depressant medicines, psychotherapy, or a 12-Step recovery group can make a difference for us.  Whether as individuals or as families, we can look for professional resources and community support as we pursue emotional healing, personal growth, and the ability to accept the gift of life with joy.

Personal growth can happen in the dark times and places.  Seeds will sprout in the cool dark of the earth, and begin their journey toward the light.  As a tree stretches toward the sun, it also grows downward, inward, into the dark earth.  We can be like the trees.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “In winter we lead a more inward life.”

Another friend of mine lives not so far north, so the weather’s not as cold and the nights not as long.  Yet the winter darkness does mean a change of her pattern of living, toward a more inward life.   She spends more time under the covers, reading a book propped on the pillow next to her.   In the living room she brings out candles and a string of holiday lights.  They remind her of our inner light, of an eternal spark.  Believing that winter is the best time for exercise, she puts on layers and goes out for a brisk walk.  The leaves crunch underfoot, the air chills the skin of the face, the nose runs.

In winter, she says, we need exercise to stimulate our endorphins.  Of course, we can be tempted to medicate our mood by drinking more alcohol and eating more, especially sweets and other carbohydrates.  But the boost we might feel by consuming alcohol and sweets can have a down side.  It can make us feel worse—edgy–after the boost wears off.   This December I am taking some of her advice.  Of course, I may never stop my holiday consumption of cookies, cake, fudge and anything else any of you might wish to make for me.  But I’m eating more almonds and pecans and not forgetting my veggies.  And I am having less alcohol, and drinking less often.   I’m not crazy about green tea, but I’ve been drinking so much of it lately that soon I may turn the color of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

One Unitarian Universalist family I know has created their own Solstice tradition.  With candles and cloths they make an altar of their table.  They bake a light brown, round ginger cake—dense and only an inch thick.  They serve it on a large round plate with a rim glazed with dark blue like the sky, and specked with stars.  They pass the cake around, each one cutting a piece for the next person, who indicates by nods and silent gestures how large of a piece to cut.

As the cake is served, what is revealed underneath it in the center of the plate is a round red sun.  The sun returns!  For Solstice dinner, they eat only foods with round shapes, evoking the sun.  They read prayers to the divine light and sing chants to the source of returning warmth.  The parents hide little suns around the house and the kids go searching for them.  By finding a likeness of sun, they are bringing the sun back, helping it return.  This family does not rely on the dominant culture to tell them what they need to do or to buy for making spirits bright—they create their own traditions.  Any of us can be creative.  We can join with nature and with other people to create our own light, and share the light, now in the dark of winter.

For many people, winter is a time for making soup and other warm foods, and eating more of the fresh foods that our season brings out.  In California we have so many winter crops.  Those in cold climates now can benefit from quick transport of fresh foods, but in the old days they kept food in the root cellar, and dried meat and beans from the summer crop.

Back home in Indiana, my mother’s fridge held many frozen foods for our winter meals, and this was fine.  But around the corner from our house, my uncle and aunt had shelves of clear glass jars with green beans, tomatoes, corn and other produce they had canned in the summer.   My uncle Roger had been a cook on a ship in the Navy during the Second World War.  As a boy I helped him in the kitchen, including his major undertaking of putting up all that food, with Mason jars boiling in big pots of water and other steps for cleanliness and safety.  That was a summer activity, but the memory of it warms me in the winter.

Now I can see that we were storing sunshine in shiny glass jars.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.”

The darkness can help us to see the truth… that we are not in control of everything.  We can be so busy in our lives, have so many expectations.  So many technologies at our fingertips and conveniences in our daily experience can lull us into thinking that there is an online menu tab for peace of mind or an iPad application for wisdom, courage, and grace.

The world does not revolve around any of us, including me; nor does earth rotate at my command.   Its creation is a miracle and a blessing. The operation of the heavens is a wonder.  And it all goes on without my permission or involvement. It will go on without me.  The darkness comes and goes—my cursing it or my blessing it affects only the condition of my own spirit.  The season’s advice to me:  you need not be in control, and in fact you are not in control.  Let the darkness hold the future.  Let go!

We can be intentional about living in the darker season. This is why candles appeal to us:  the darker it gets around them, the more they show their beauty.   Looking at a candle flame, or a string of lights on the tree or around the window, we can think about the meaning of light, and the bringers of light—like our nearby star, the human mind and heart, the source of love and light eternal, the creative spark, the divine fire of courage and compassion.

Solstice rituals use fire and food and song—to bless the darkness with beauty, while praising the cycles of the seasons of the earth.   People hang lights at Christmas to praise the source of life, celebrate the story of the star of Bethlehem, and remember that sun and warmth will return.

On Christmas Eve at UUSS, our sanctuary fills with members and their friends, and with guests we see only once a year.  In the weeks leading up to it, folks ask me the time:  seven o’clock, same as always.  They ask me if we will light candles and sing “Silent Night,” at the end.  Of course!  We will make a circle around the walls of the sanctuary, and exchange the light with one another, and then enjoy the darkness, filled with song and silence, and with faces illuminated by the flames.

Folks never ask:  will we sing the carols and hear a homily, will we have some instrumental music, prayer and silence and an offering?  All those things are like the setup to the “Silent Night” candle light finale!  Yet without those elements, the finale would be weak.

Without the darkness, our candles would be weak.  Likewise, without the embrace of the darkness, we might not have the reminder to plan ahead, create meaning in the season, and reach out for fellowship and support.  The darkness holds an invitation to let go of all that we cannot control, and accept with serenity all that we can’t change.

At my kitchen window, in my early morning watch for the light, the dark of winter seems to say:  “Take it easy, and go slowly–I am taking it easy, and going slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

The dark of winter is a time to consider the sources of light we can count on, and give thanks for them.  It’s the season for tasting the warmth of nourishing food, made by human hands from the gifts of the earth for our sustenance and our joy. It’s a season for creativity, planning ahead, self-care and care for others.  It’s a time for digging deep and for reaching out toward others with compassion, openness, and kindness.

It’s a time for patience and letting go of control, for releasing the past and opening to the mystery of the future.  May we all be so blessed.

In the days to come, may you welcome the gifts of light and warmth you can bring into the darkness.  May the days and nights ahead bless us with light, learning, warmth, patience and peace.               Blessed be.


 

Litany of Darkness and Light

 

Part A (Before silent meditation/prayer)

 

Voice 1:  We wait in the darkness expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.

Voice 2:  In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected.

All Voices:  May we feel comfort in the darkness.

 

It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe– blankets of stars, the solitary glowing of distant planets.

In the darkness of the night sky we feel beyond time – in the presence of the past, and with the promise of the future.

May we feel hope in the darkness.

 

In the solitude of the darkness we may remember those who need our love and support in special ways–

 the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are demoralized or discouraged, those whose fear has turned to cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.

Sometimes in the darkness we remember those who are near to our hearts – colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors, friends, congregation members.   We pray for their safety and happiness.  We offer our support.

May we know healing in the darkness.


 

 

Part B (After musical interlude following sermon)

 

In the quiet darkness of the night, we may hear that still, small voice within.

In the blessed darkness we may be transformed, changed by what we face in the dark.

May we feel the challenge of the darkness.

 

In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.

In the darkness of sleep dreams rise up, calling us to possibilities, calling us to know our connection to the world.

May we feel joy in the darkness.               

Sometimes in the solitude of darkness our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves.   We find the road that lies ahead of us.

Sometimes in the darkness we wonder about the important things, the deep things, and inexpressible things.  We watch for glimmers of hope and glimpses of grace.

May we feel renewed in the darkness.  May we be guided by the light of our hearts.  Reflecting the divine love that shines at the heart of life,  let us reach out to this troubled world with compassion.

New Century Hymnal, adapted



Wow, am I tired! But a good tired. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our holiday at UUSS began with a brief circle worship in the Fahs Classroom, a first for us since I’ve been here and perhaps for a very long time.  We had 14 folks for candle lighting, music, silent contemplation, readings of scripture, poetry, devotional reflections.  We remembered those who are departed and named those who are away from us this holiday, and named what we are thankful for.

Then the decorating of the main hall began, and more folks came in to bring dishes of food, plus the turkeys and hams that volunteers had cooked at home.  We began just after 2 PM with words of welcome, a reading from the back of the hymnal and a song.  We had about 75 people, including at least four grandchildren of church members plus friends and relatives of members.  We had new and long time members.  Every table had its own unique centerpiece.

And we had food.

There was WAY too much food.  And I ate WAY too much food.  I rested and table hopped before feeling that I could justify any dessert.  By then there was less of it.  Just as well.  For the past two hours we have been cleaning, tossing, recycling and storing.  Thanks to Randy, who comes every year and runs the dishwasher/sanitizer for hours.  He’s still there. Soon I’ll go over and lock up the building and set the alarm.   My feet are tired.  I can’t imagine that I can sit and read without dozing off and it’s not even 6 PM!

God bless us, every one.



Death, Loss and the Spirituality of Mortality, sermon at UU Society of Sacramento, Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hymns:  #1003, “Where Do We Come From?”;

#123, “Spirit of Life”; #86, “Blessed Spirit of My Life”.  Also, parody of “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Nicaea) by Christopher Raible:  “Coffee, Coffee Coffee,”  verses 1 and 3.

Choral Music: Autumn Vesper, words by Emily Bronte, music by Audrey Snyder

Shared Offering  for Sacramento Loaves & Fishes.

Testimony by Diane O.

Jean’s mother, Lucille, was lying silently in her bed, her breathing labored, and her face was pinched in pain.    Her morphine didn’t seem to help much.

We kept her lips moisturized, and frequently dabbed her face with a warm washcloth.  We placed a soft cuddly toy in her hand to hold.  We had created an altar of sorts on her rolling bedside table with her favorite objects, fresh yellow roses in a vase, and photos of those she loved including a picture of her husband, Warren. When we repositioned her each time we made sure Warren was in her line of sight.

We made up the futon and spent the night in Lucille’s room.   We startled throughout the night anytime Lucille’s breathing seemed to stop but then she would take in a deep breath.   By morning we were all exhausted.

Jean had left the room momentarily as I finished repositioning Lucille.   I leaned over and carefully wrapped my arms around her so I wouldn’t add to her pain.  I cried as I told her I loved her and was glad she had come to live with us.

I told her I loved Jean and would take care of her for the rest of my life.

I whispered to her… that I was worried about her struggling so hard to live.   I Told Lucille that it was time to dance a Strauss waltz with Warren again.  He was waiting for her, and she would be safe.

I tucked her covers, wiped my tears off of her face and gently kissed her cheek. When Jean returned we left her alone to quietly rest while exiting through the door of her bedroom onto the porch.   A few minutes later I looked through the door and noticed the cuddly toy on the floor.  –Jean!!!!!!!    We rushed to her bed.  Lucille had moved on to a gentler plane of existence to join her husband and family.

Good-bye, Lucille, and thank you for teaching us about the honors we are bestowed in life.

[Addendum: Death and I are familiar old friends.  Death is as beautiful in its pain and sorrow as is the joy and promise while holding a newborn covered with placenta fluids screaming its first cry.   This little story is meant as an adieu  to Lucille as much as a thank you for teaching us to live, dance, laugh and cry with honor when life can be a struggle. ]

 

Sermon by Roger Jones

            This has been the weekend of All Souls Day and All Saints Day in the Christian calendar.  In the Pagan tradition, it is the time of Samhain (SOW-in), the time when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.  In Mexican cultures, the Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, is a time to laugh at mortality, remember our ancestors, and celebrate life with art, music, food and fellowship.  Our mortality is the cause and the reason for all of these ritual days

            We are all bound together–all of us–in the common experience of being alive, and knowing that each one of us will die, and having to make some response to this reality.  With those words I begin most of the memorial services at which I officiate.

            Death comes to us all.  Loss hurts us all, sooner or later.  Yet it is not easy to talk about death, especially if it’s near.  To speak about our vulnerability to loss and death… perhaps this makes us feel even more vulnerable.

            Yet when we take the risk to open our heart, we may gain a stronger heart.  When we dare to reach out in times of loss or fear, we may find a warm embrace, a kind word, or a quiet, listening presence from another person.  To exchange such gestures of welcome and honesty is a spiritual gift.  It can be a source of spiritual growth.

            All of us can be enriched by the honest gifts of sadness and love, the mix of memories, gratitude, grief, and fear which are part of dying and part of mourning a loss.   One of the gifts of being a minister is the invitation to hear what it means to lose a dear friend, colleague, family member or another loved one.  Also, it is an honor to bear witness to the feelings and thoughts of a congregation member who is facing the end of life.   These experiences have enriched my life.  They nourish my spirit, with gratitude for the gift of life and for the moments I have with others.  As a young person, I was afraid of life in many ways.  As a minister, learning about loss, death and grief has deepened my love of life.

            I think the main ingredient is honesty.  I learned this the hard way, and only in looking back over the years.

When I was nine years old and my brother was in his junior year of college, he married his high school sweetheart.  This was against our father’s wishes and loud protestations, but I had a new friend in my young sister in law. Her name was Lynn.  I had fun watching movies and shopping with her, and going to stay with them in their new mobile home.  Within two years they had a baby boy, and I was an uncle.  They gave him my middle name.  Not long after that, my brother’s wife began having serious physical symptoms.  Weeks and weeks of tests at the university medical center revealed a rare type of cancer.  Because my father was a physician, he learned from his medical colleagues that her prognosis was fatal.  He told my mother; Mom told her sister.  In a moment of upset, Mom told me, sort of.   Standing over the bathroom sink, crying as she brushed her teeth, she blurted out:  “Lynn might have something terminal.”   Nobody else in my or my sister in law’s family heard it straight, including her.   My parents did not talk any more with me about what was happening.

Photographs from her baby son’s first birthday party show that the illness and the treatments for it had withered and weakened Lynn.  Three months later, she died.  I don’t know how or when the denial about her fatal condition ended.  I think she asked “Am I going to die?” and they told her no.

Those were the days when medicine was heroic and its inadequacies were cause for hushed words.  As I recall, many people with a terminal diagnosis spent long stretches in hospitals and often died there.  Death was a shameful enemy, something to fight so much that you couldn’t let up for a moment, even to talk about it.  As a boy, I didn’t know how to talk about it, didn’t know when or with whom it would be okay to talk about my sister in law’s prognosis, or my fears, or my love for her.  I was an invisible witness.  I was not an invited or included participant in this family drama, even though I had been foretold its conclusion. I was thought of as too young to visit her in the hospital.  Had I been able to go, it might have been a source of comfort for her, as well as for me.

When she died, my brother called my parents on the phone from the hospital.  I listened in on the telephone extension in another room.  After my parents expressed their sorrow, Mom told her son, “Come on home, Honey.” Then my mother called her sister, long distance. I listened in on their conversation too.  I wanted to hear how you say these things, and how one reacts to the news.  Just after my aunt said “Hello,” Mom said, “She’s gone.”  My aunt let out a sigh full of pity.

My sister in law died with the best medical care in the state, but maybe not the most complete care.  It was a time when people felt censored from speaking openly about death.  It was a time when the concept and practice of hospice care was just coming out of exile.    In the western world the first hospice opened as early as the 14th century, in Europe.  Of course, people around the globe have been dying at home instead of in an institution through most of history, with family and care-giving team often one and the same.  The modern ministry known as hospice has made it natural once again to face dying and mourning with honesty, and to face it as an opportunity for growth.

Hospice teams include medical, social service and religious professionals and trained volunteers. They strive not only to ease the last few months of patients’ lives, but to help them experience as much presence, kindness, truth and love as life can hold.

I wonder how my sister in law’s family and my family might have been enriched by a more open approach when she was dying. Instead of keeping everybody apart in our separate fears and sadness, we could have invited one another to come together.

The hospice movement has made a tremendous difference in how North Americans live with loss, and live through our own dying process.  Hospice programs are sustained by voluntary donations and by government grants, in recognition that health care includes care for our experience of the end of life.   Even if we are not a client of hospice care, its philosophy has affected our medical establishment and legal system.  No longer must we expect that every effort will be made to prolong life when the prognosis is that someone will die.  No longer are so many people afraid of talking openly about the coming separation.  We have more tools and encouragement to speak about loss as it approaches, to express appreciation, regrets, and forgiveness, to say farewell and “I love you.”

Of course, many of us die unexpectedly from an accident or murder or another violent cause, or from a sudden health crisis.  But many of us have a slow decline into death.  If this is how my death will occur, I hope to benefit from hospice care when my time comes.  The humorist Woody Allen says:  “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  Thanks to the hospice movement, more people have more courage to be closer to death when it happens, at our own passing or in losing a loved one.

Orson Scott Card is a contemporary science fiction writer.  In his short story Mortal Gods, space aliens have come to earth.  They have established themselves in American cities as friendly neighbors. They build homes that look like houses of worship—temples, churches, mosques.  The aliens, however, are not human-like at all.  They are slithering green blobs that look like bunches of seaweed. These smart aliens inform humans that it’s not feasible for us humans to visit any planet with life on it, as getting to the closest one would take 500 years.  That’s how long it took the aliens, and the reason they could make it here is that they never die.  They are immortal.

The aliens meet an old man, a human one, and they explain their observations of us.  When human beings die, we leave behind the things we have created, built, given away.  The aliens, on the other hand, must endure the decline and loss of everything they create and give.  Nothing they build can outlast them.  For this reason, they worship human beings.  To these alien observers, because we are not immortal, we are worthy of worship.  Death causes us to fear, but it gives them cause to revere our lives.

Even though you and I are not slithering green bunches of seaweed, we can learn from them, from those long-lived aliens.  We can praise and honor human life precisely because it is going to end.  We can affirm life, even in the face of death and even with the knowledge that we will lose what we love.  We can affirm life by going places in our world, communities, relationships and our hearts where life is not fun or clean or easy.

As the Dalai Lama writes: “No matter what is going on,” the opportunity remains to “develop the heart.”  Every day holds opportunities to develop the heart, pay attention, listen to life, listen to others, show kindness.  Every day is a new chance to be generous, and to speak with courage, honesty and love.  Life continues to offer such opportunities, both in the fullness of health and in those times when we face the end of life or the loss of another person.

We are all bound together–all of us–in the common experience of being alive, and knowing that each one of us will die, and having to make some response to this reality.   Let our response be that of coming together across the gaps of grief, uncertainty, or fear.

By coming together we affirm that we are connected.  Connected to one another and to all those beyond these walls, those living on this earth, those who are gone, and those who are here after us.

Together, let us rely on the power of love to help us face mortality with grace and embrace life with gratitude.  Together, may we strive to live with honesty, generosity, kindness and courage.

So may we live.  So may it be.  Amen and blessed be.



Birth, Breath, and Death — New Book on Lessons of Life as a UU Doula Midwife

I’ve been in conversation with Amy and thought I’d pass this along.  Read an excerpt of her book in the Fall 2013 UU World magazine.

Philosophy, religion and love infuse this thoughtful set of observations. –Kirkus Reviews
Amy Glenn has brought her own great sensitivity and heart to the portals where we enter and leave this life, and to the loving presence that is our source. Filled with a wisdom that touches into the great mystery, “Birth, Breath, and Death” is a poetic and beautiful reading experience. –Tara Brach, Ph.D. Author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge
I found myself re-reading, lingering, pausing to think and to settle into the peace and love that pervades every word in this little but powerful book. She probably doesn’t begin to consider herself A Teacher, but I would gladly sit at her feet and just soak up her inborn and learned wisdom. — Peggy Vincent, Midwife and Author of Baby Catcher
Amy Wright Glenn sensitively and poetically explores the nature of our most profound experiences. These reflections on life and death are not of dry theory but are informed by the depth and richness of her own life –both personal and professional.  Reading this book, I am brought ever closer to what I call “home” – that place of clear seeing and knowing from within, the place where I deepen my relationship to Self and the world around me.  –Sudha Carolyn Lundeen, Soulful Life Coach and Senior Kripalu Yoga Teacher Trainer
Amy has a poet’s heart and voice.  She integrates this lyric voice into a moving memoir of life experiences: her own and those she has witnessed in her work as mother, wife, doula, teacher, and chaplain.  I resonate with so much of her story, having made my own path out of constrictive religious bonds, and through my own passages of self-exploration and growth.  I also resonate with Amy’s ability to merge head and heart in her reflective process. I recommend Birth, Breath, & Death to any person who appreciates well-crafted narratives of growth and transformation, especially those professionals engaged in the work of spiritual and physical nurture. –Tedford J. Taylor, Clinical Ethicist, Chaplain, Director of Pastoral Care & Training
If you like narrative non-fiction about real women doing real work, their struggles, fears, failures and triumphs her story is for you. The energy of birth crackles on every page. Amy has delivered one amazing book. –Patricia Harman CNM, Author of The Midwife of Hope River, Arms Wide Open; a midwife’s journey and The Blue Cotton Gown
Amy Wright Glenn is a seeker who takes us on an adventurous journey in this compact, insightful and inspiring book. We travel with her into self-discovery and into the healing of wounds from childhood—the destination is an openhearted motherhood. She has written a lovely book. — Kathryn Black, Ph.D. Author of Mothering Without a Map
“Birth, Breath, and Death” is one extraordinary little book. I hope it will find its way into many, many hands: mothers-to-be, midwives, physicians, nurses, educators, doulas and healers of all kinds. Amy Wright Glenn writes about birth and birthing ourselves, as well as our babies. Five stars.” –Suzanne Arms, Director of Birthing The Future and Author of Immaculate Deception New York Times Best Book of the Year