I love our reading this morning… Wanting “everyone to feel included in her prayer, she said several names for the Holy.”
You’ve heard me do it: “Spirit of Life and of Love. Great Mystery at the Heart of Things. Dear God.”
It is emblematic of our faith…we often talk about this as our religious pluralism…the reality that in this sanctuary liberal Christians sit next to atheists, across the aisle from UU-Buddhists and surrounded by many of us, perhaps most, who are uncomfortable putting any one label on our religious path.
We value the wisdom in all the world’s great faiths. They are all available for us to draw on.
It is strange, perhaps, that a faith called UNI-tarian can welcome so many names for what is Holy.
We present ourselves, even to ourselves, as all about searching and exploring rather than finding, all about questions rather than answers, all about the journey rather than the destination.
Katie, your job title has been Adult Programs, but what you have offered in so many ways has been invitation after invitation to search and explore, held in a community of love.
This way of being religious, this openness, this embracing and inclusive spirit is, of course, an aspiration rather than a lived reality. We are imperfect in our theological openness just as we are imperfect in our welcome of other diversities.
And our struggle with what language to use, can…well it can sometimes distract us from wrestling with the issues of what it means to live a faithful life and dealing with our yearning not only to search but to find…and to be found.
David Whyte’s in his essay entitled, Self Portrait:
“It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods. I want to know if you belong, or feel abandoned. If you know despair or can see it in others. I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. … I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living, falling toward the center of your longing. I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat. I have been told, in that fierce embrace, even the gods talk of God.”
“To live in the world with its harsh need to change you.”
It is good to be back in this pulpit. My time as Interim Co-President of the Unitarian Universalist Association…well, first, it is drawing to a close in two short weeks…this is the shortest interim ministry in history.
I do hope that my service is being helpful…being productive and there are some signs that progress is underway. The most hopeful of those signs is the willingness of our faith, of our congregations and of this congregation to be present to difficult questions, some of long standing, our willingness to be present even to “that harsh need to change.”
For us, life is an earthy business, with uncertainty always at play. More a jazz riff than a predictable chord progression. The fancy theological terms for how we live are embodiment and presence. When you get right down to it, what that means is that we show up as who we are, work with what we are given, and do the best we can.
There is a “for now”-ness about the way we live, a “day-by-day”-ness, a “get through the week-ness” that seems to defy the normal understanding of that word “faith” which sounds so substantial.
We are making this up as we go along…and we know it.
We talk about a theology of process, and celebrate co-creating with the spirit of life. It is an affirmation of our power…on a good day.
And yet…it can feel so ad hoc as we encounter a world of increasing violence and threat and still try to sustain our belief in the power of love.
I have been thinking a lot about that dilemma. About how to sustain not just a belief in the power of love…but the practice of loving and holding our hearts open…when there is so much evidence out there in the world that the wise course is to build tall walls, shut the doors and just hunker down.
I wish I could tell that I’ve found some simple answer. Some spiritual magic. Some mantra or even some music to make it easy. (Though music helps.)
But I have not found some final balm for the wounds life inflicts, nor some final certainty that guarantees meaning.
What I have found is a practice of living and a practice of presence.
I think we need to look closer than that infinite horizon for our ultimacy…and return our gaze often to the life that we shape with each day of our living.
To strive to make of our life an embodiment of the values we proclaim and the love on which we rely.
It is a way of living, even in a world of violence, that can offer a “way out of not way.”
Rev. Victoria Safford writes:
Every morning…we leave our houses, not knowing if it will be for the last time, and we decide what we’ll take with us, what we’ll carry: how much integrity, how much truth-telling, how much compassion, how much arrogance, how much anger, how much humor…How much faith and hope, how much love and gratitude—you pack these with your lunch. Every day, we gather what we think we will need, pick up what we love and all that we so far believe, put on our history, shoulder our experience and memory, take inventory of our blessings, and we start walking toward morning.
Moving toward morning…each day…searching and finding enough to get us through…holding our hearts as open as we can and offering all the blessings we can bestow. And by our practice of love, bringing love into the world.
Being away from First Unitarian for a few weeks has reminded me…it has brought it home…how many important things we do here in this church. We work for justice. We support children as they develop. We sing, we pray, we ponder. We listen always to hear how love calls us to live.
And we try to stay open to discover how we may need to change so that more of us find more of what we need to get through the week.
Perhaps the most important thing we do, imperfectly to be sure, is to create and sustain a community, not where we find some ultimate truth, but where we can be found.
A place where hundreds of us gather, every Sunday, hoping to find what we need, and hoping to be found, to be known and valued and loved for who we truly are.
We are found in worship and in witness, in study and in practice, in service to this community, and in service on behalf of this community in the wider world. We are found in the quiet of contemplation and in the hubbub of coffee hour.
Because it is in being found, by those we know, by those we love and found by ourselves, it is in being found that we can find the faith and the hope and the love to live the way we want to live.
We will conclude this service with the Unitarian Universalist Flower Communion. This service was created in 1923 by Dr. Norbert Capek, founder of the modern Unitarian movement in what was then Czechoslovakia in central Europe. It gives concrete expression to the hope we find in this liberal faith.
When the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek’s gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be—as Nazi court records show—“too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live.” Capek was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was killed the following year in a medical experiment. This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion. This ritual includes the original words of Dr. Capek to help us remember the principles and dreams for which he lived and died…and which we share.
We begin by consecrating, by blessing the flowers using Capek’s words.
The Consecration: From Capek
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask your blessings on these flowers, your messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to your holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of your most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do your will in this world.
Partaking of the Communion:
It is time now for us to share in the Flower Communion. Don’t worry if you did not bring a flower; there will be a blossom for each of us. On the main floor, those in the center sections will come down the center aisle. Those in the two outer sections will go out into the lobby and come down the center aisle as well. The ushers will release you and direct you down to the front to select your flower. Everyone will return to your seats using the side aisles.
I ask that as you take your flower from the basket, you do so quietly—reverently—with a sense of how important it is for each of us to hold our world and one another with gentleness, justice, and love. I ask that you select a flower—different from the one you brought—that particularly appeals to you. As you take your chosen flower—noting its particular shape and beauty—please remember to handle it carefully. It is a gift that someone has brought for you. It represents that person’s unique humanity, and therefore deserves your kindest touch. Let us share quietly in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness and love.
Will you pray with me now?
Spirit of Life and of Love. Great Mystery at the Heart of Things. Dear God.
In the presence of these flowers, that remind us of Creation’s profound beauty, diverse and unique, but related and interdependent, these flowers which come to us as gifts from we know not where and which we, in turn, choose to bring to our shared and common altar as gifts for one another,
In their presence we turn our thoughts to the mystery of life—which we never understand fully but which we glimpse in each of these flowers, and in each of our faces, and through relationships with neighbors near and far.
May they remind us of grace we have known in days past, forgiveness we have been granted, and provided. Love, unearned and shared. Generosity, unforeseen and most sacred.
And may they inspire us now, and in the days to come: to seek, to notice, to embrace and to create love and justice, to share with the world as exuberantly as these flowers.