Autumn Celebration with Our Joyful Singers
Our Seventh Principle & SixthTradition
Our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Traditions are central to our shared faith. The 7th Principle is: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” The 6th Tradition is: “Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions, which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”
As a spiritual community, we believe that human beings are part of nature; we believe that it is our sacred duty to live lives that are sustainable, not only to other human beings, but also to the rest of the natural world on which we all depend. Our spiritual practices, as a denomination and congregation, include elements of Earth-centered traditions, like the nature-based traditions of the Native Americans, the nature-centered traditions of the pagans, and the naturalistic philosophies of scientists, evolutionists, and ecologists. As one element of celebrating these traditions, we remember the rhythms of nature, like the changing of the seasons; so, this is our autumn celebration, and on these quarterly holidays, our choir, the Joyful Singers under the inspired direction of Dr. Sharon Scholl, help us truly to celebrate together.
Joyful Singers: Festive Processional
John’s Psalm 23 from Creation Songs: One Day in Its Fullness
“By the grace of this world we live. We are fed by the green fields. We drink and wash ourselves in its rushing waters. When we stop to touch and to be touched by nature,
Our spirits are restored. Nature can help us understand the paths to virtue.
We shall die, and tragedy will befall us, But the light we have discovered or reflected with live on. One day of life, understood in its fullness, satisfies perfectly.
Practice goodness and mercy, and open yourselves to these aspects of the world, and your cup will overflow.”
Life is a gift. Nature blesses us every day, whether we have earned it or not. Life is also tragic, and we will die, but the truth, goodness and love that we have created, given, and shared will not be lost, but will endure. The gift of life, the blessings of nature, the friendship, justice, and love we receive from other people, are all portions of the grace of our lives. They are more than our due. We do not earn them. Grace happens. Grace is inherent in our lives. So, every time that we understand these things, each moment we grasp the inherent worth that exists, and practice the goodness and mercy that they teach us, then we become perfectly satisfied, and our cups overflow.
Joyful Singers: The Blue Green Hills of Earth
Thich Nhat Hanh’s: “You are not just a wave but the water” from True Love
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and peace activist, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. For 30 years he has taught throughout the world and has established communities in France, Vermont, and California. I was honored to attend an 8 day silent retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh about 20 years ago. Next February, our Sunday morning Religious Discussion Group will study his book, True Love, from which the following concept is taken.
“We have a great fear inside ourselves. We are afraid of everything—of our death, of being alone, of change—and the practice of mindfulness helps us to touch nonfear. We think that we have a beginning and an end, a birth and a death, and we might think that before our birth we were not there and after our death we will not be there. We get caught up in concepts.
Together let us look deeply at a wave in the ocean. It lives its life as a wave, but it lives the life of water at the same time. Water is the essence of all waves. If the wave were able to turn toward itself and touch its substance, which is water, then it would be able to attain nonfear and nirvana. It would be able to stop getting caught in its concepts. The waves are what Buddhists call the historic dimension; they come and go; they are transient. The water is what Buddhists call the ultimate dimension. The water remains. What we need is enough concentration, enough mindfulness, enough practice, enough love in order to touch the foundation of being, the water, that is behind the transient waves of change.”
People often say to me as a minister: “I cannot change. My sorrow, or anger, or despair, or hate will never end.” However, the reality is that we do change, that we can change. We may not want to change. We may get something out of being stuck. It may excuse our fear or inaction or stubbornness. Behind these temporary emotions and syndromes are the blessings and grace of existence. Discover again that you are water, that you are a liberated and blessed soul in a graceful universe and part of a natural world that is brimming with truth, goodness, and love. Find your reserves of the ultimate, embrace the enduring in yourselves, and share it again with the world. Get unstuck. Get past despair or disdain or inaction, and find evolving truths, practical justice, embracing love.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj’s I am That: As Long as you are a Prisoner
Nisargadatta Maharaj was a 20th century Hindu merchant, parent and husband named Maruti who spent most of his life in Bombay, now called Mumbai, which is now the world’s Maximum City. In middle age, Nisargadatta became a spiritual guru and teacher. Like thousands, if not millions before him, he became a spiritual seer without formal or academic training, out of his own meditations and worship. UUCJ member David Keal loaned me his book, I Am That, the traditional formulation for God, like the Biblical I Am That I Am, and we will study this book in January in our Religious Discussion Group at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays in the Fletcher Room at the west basement end of the south wing.
I have not yet digested this book, but I discovered on page 45 a statement that stopped me in my tracks: “When you are free of the world, you can do something about it. As long as you are a prisoner of it, you are helpless to change it.”
As individuals, as families, as communities, as peoples and nations, we tend toward imprisoning ourselves. We get estranged, even divorced, from people and yet often remain caught in their expectations, even when we have come to understand that these expectations are inappropriate, pernicious, or a waste of our time and energy. We get bound up with the people we care about and love, even when many of the bonds are wrong, ignorant, or dead ends. We have many ways of imprisoning ourselves; so, much of human liberation is simply a matter of letting go of outworn ideas, beliefs, practices, habits, and syndromes. You need to get free of all the portions of your world that are not or do not need to be ultimately real for you. When you do so, then you can transform yourself and make a better world. Let go, get free, stop imprisoning yourselves and be who you are and need to be in order to make the changes in the world that it needs and you can do.
A Letter to My Father
This is a letter that I wrote to my 93 old Father, in July 1995, a few months before he died. My parents had become Unitarian Universalists in their sixties in Wichita, Kansas.
“Dad, this letter is about “you being afraid to go to sleep because you may die.” I can understand anyone’s fear of dying. Life is a great gift, and we do not know what will happen when we die. Every human being fears pain and the loss of capacities in their dying. Unitarian Universalists, like us, do not fear death itself because we are Unitarians, and we know that death is a natural part of life, and we are Universalists, and we believe that all people find peace in death. If there is a heaven, everybody goes there, and there is not hell, and no one receives punishment after death.
“You have been blessed with a very long and full life. You have had several careers, a marriage of 70 years, 4 children, many grandchildren and great grandchildren. You have had so many friends, good neighbors, fond colleagues, and been active in a number of important groups, from Boy Scouts in your youth, to the Wichita Unitarian Church in your maturity. You have worked hard, helped people, supported worthy causes, and savored life. You have traveled the United States thoroughly and seen many other places in the world. You have read hundreds of excellent books and played and listened to thousands of hours of great music. You have drawn and painted many beautiful pictures and taken thousands of gorgeous photographs. You helped your parents, and other relatives and friends in their own age. You have lived a worthy life.
“Most little children have a time when they are afraid to go to sleep because they might not wake up. They have confused sleep and death, and sometimes, they also feel guilty about something, and they think that God will punish them for whatever they did. Sometimes the same sort of thing happens to fundamentalist believers, because they, too, have confused sleep and death, and they believe in a god that punishes. Unitarian Universalists, like you, do not believe in this nonsense. Sleep is sleep, the rest that makes life possible. At some point, each of us dies. I have been with many people now in their dying, sometimes as they died, and not one of them ended up fearing death. Death itself is a welcome release when it comes. Death is: being embraced by creation itself and becoming again part of the universe from which we came. It is a solution, not a problem. It is liberation, not bondage. It is an embrace, not a rejection. All the evidence, and there has been much excellent research in the years I have been an adult, indicates that death itself is a positive experience. Death is an experience with common elements whatever the persons’ background and faith. You enter a tunnel, there is light at the end of it, and there is a welcoming presence there. You end up feeling anticipation and the peace that passes understanding.
“Your family, your helpers, your minister, your neighbors, and your medical staff will do everything they can to make your dying as easy as possible, when your time comes. In the meantime, relax, be at peace, and sleep when it is time to sleep. If you are going to live, you need to get a night’s rest. People die as often awake as asleep and in chairs as in beds. Trying to fight death when it is time to let go will simply replace dignity with fear and replace peace with agony, but it will not make death any less likely or any later because of your fear and agony. I invite you not to waste time and energy being afraid.
“I try to treat each of my days as possibly my last. What should I do if this was my last day? Creation has given us life, and creation takes our life away in death when it chooses. Our choices are what we do with our lives and how we face our deaths. We deserve to put our energy and wisdom into living, not escape, to put our energy and wisdom into courage and not fear.
”If there is anything you want to talk to me about concerning your fears, I welcome it, not because I have the answers. No one has the answers to these biggest questions of living, but I have lived with other people facing death, and I have been reassured by my experiences. I love you, and I want to help you complete your life well, as you have done so much to make my life beautiful and joyful.
Much love to my great Dad, John”
Joyful Singers: Remember Me
Integrity, Fortitude and Grace
If I was called upon to explain how to live life well with a single word, I think that word might be integrity. Integrity implies the qualities of being complete and undivided. It suggests firm adherence to a code of values and a strong sense of incorruptibility. A person with integrity has an inherent soundness to them, and is relatively unimpaired by the trials of existence.
If I was asked how to face death and life’s tragedies with a single word, I think it would be fortitude. Fortitude suggests the strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage. It implies an inner strength that sees the person through bad times and difficult decisions.
And if I was asked how people saved themselves through their living and their dying, and did so with a faith that affirmed life despite all its tragedies and confusions, in a single word, that word would be grace. I love words, and I especially appreciate the multiple meanings of many of our most important words. They mean a bunch of different things because that is the way reality is. Truth is complicated. So, in thinking about people living their lives with integrity and fortitude, I think that they also need grace. I called my first published book, which my New Jersey congregation published for me, A Graceful Minority because I have found that Unitarian Unitarians share a faith and live lives that reflect integrity, fortitude and grace. Many of us much of the time find a healthy balance in our lives. We remain relatively flexible; so, that we are more able than many other people to evolve as life so often requires. We embrace a faith that helps us grow rather than imprisoning us in outworn ideas, rituals or habits, and challenges us to take responsibility for ourselves and to accomplish much of what we are capable of doing.
Briefly reviewing the marvelous selections of our Joyful Singers today: We began with the Festive Processional. Gaudia is Latin for joy, and I have always thought of our Unitarian Universalist faith as a joyful faith, gaudy in good ways: not hidden but open, not solemn but joyous, not puritanical but free. Music, for many of us, is a wide and welcome door to our spirits, souls, deepest emotions and highest hopes. I have some major arguments with the traditional 23rd Psalm. For me, flowing water is a much better symbol than still waters. If you have ever stood by a lake, you soon realize that it is hardly still. Perfectly still waters quickly die. I also tend to dislike the term righteousness. I tend to replace calls to righteousness with admonitions to do justice with love and to love in fair ways. And my experience is that goodness and mercy tend to follow you best when you learn to regularly follow them.
I first heard the Blue Green Hills of Earth at a presentation of the Missa Gaya, the Earth Mass at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in NYC. Growing up in the Flint Hills of Kansas, I have been attracted throughout my life to mountains and the perspectives from the hill tops of life. Finding our harmony in the seasons of our lives, remembering each day that we are part of all creation, and need to be singing and living the songs of peace is basic to my faith, and, I believe, our shared Unitarian Universalist faith. I have had the privilege now of being with many people as they were dying. In the end, they did not fear death, but accepted it with grace, but they do, as the Joyful Singers reminded us in Remember Me, they do wish to be remembered. And, I want to honor those who have blessed my life. So, they are part of my daily prayers and meditations, and I make efforts to celebrate and honor them in my days, by word and by deed.
We do our best to live our lives with integrity, to face death and tragedy with fortitude, and to embrace all the seasons of our lives with grace.
Joyful Singers: Blackbird
Life, Death and Grace
Lennon’s and McCartney’s lyrics sure have weathered well, haven’t they? Sometimes we each feel like we have broken wings and sunken eyes and are flying off into a dark, dark night, but, we are determined, we liberated humans to learn to fly again even with our broken wings, ever looking for our moments to arrive. We are determined to learn to see even with our sunken eyes, to find our way to freedom, to learn to fly into the light of even the darkest of nights. Soon, you will hear the Joyful Singers’ closing anthem from Kenya, Amani Utupe: grant us peace, give us courage. As the song suggests, we travel down sometimes weary roads; we need strength to carry our loads. Sometimes the road is rocky and the way is dark, and there are so many confusing forks in the road. We do need all our own thoughtfulness, courage, and fortitude, but we also need all the help we can get, all the faith we can find, all the grace that blesses us.
Last Sunday, I was officiating at my daughter’s wedding. I got to walk her down the aisle as well as being the minister at their wedding. Born in 1981, Leela was a scheduled caesarian section baby. She was a child in Paramus, New Jersey, and an adolescent in Sacramento, California. When I separated from her mother, Leela was in 8th grade, and she did not realize that the marriage was failing. She was shocked, but I discovered later that after a couple of weeks that Leela made a conscious decision that it was not her fault, and that she needed to proceed with her life. She did so in ways that honored both her parents, and we continued to be the devoted parents we had always been to her. She divided each week with us. Kathleen, when she became a part of my life, became a friend to Leela and a confidant. Leela’s wedding was a glorious transition for her and for me. Life is complicated, but it can be lived, even in its darkest days, with integrity, fortitude, and grace. It helps to have a faith that affirms life, which recognizes death as a solution not a problem, as liberation not bondage, and as an embrace not a rejection. If we will have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to love, and hands to help each other, life has so much grace to give us, and we can find the courage to respond to it with the grace it deserves.