"Instant change takes time," Cox said.
"Stories about the rebirth of the sun remind us that warmth will return, even though the spring is a long way off. We can simply mark the days on the calendar, observing the return. Alternately, we can practice and prepare a little bit with each passing day. Giving thanks for ongoing seasonal change sharpens our awareness for dramatic changes like fall color, the first snow, or the blossoms of spring. Being ready for instant change takes preparation over time."
While this service was held before the US Election it's a good reminder for those who are afraid right now that the light will return.
And to be patient with your own readiness.
Read the sermon below or listen to the audio above!
The Wheel of the Year
By Rev. Lyn Cox, As revised for UUCY, October 23, 2016
This morning’s Time for All Ages story (a Welsh legend about the sorceress Cerridwen, her assistant Gwion who stole her potion, and the birth of the bard Taliesin) was all about change. Change happens. Sometimes change is delightful, sometimes it is disappointing. We deal with hope and loss throughout our lives. Change takes its own turns. When the changes are sudden or painful, we look for emotional or spiritual resources to help us cope. Instant change takes time. It is possible to begin again, to rearrange the pieces of the past in order to open the door for something new.
These are some of the lessons I find in earth-based spirituality. The constant changing of the seasons offer points of reflection for the changes in life’s seasons.
Every tradition has its own way of marking those changes, depending on geography and culture, yet there are common themes among earth-based religions. Today, I will be mainly drawing from Welsh and Celtic mythology, ancient and re-imagined, looking for the tools of resilience at different points in the Pagan calendar. Solstices and equinoxes, the beginnings and the ends of agricultural seasons, offer the wisdom of the wheel of the year. Change takes its own turns. Instant change takes time.
Change Takes Its Own Turns
Dealing with disappointment and loss is one of the perennial questions for any spiritual path. Change can be painful. Our physical abilities may change with each passing year. Societal changes may or may not go the way we hope. We lose the people we love to death or to circumstance. Some changes feel like little jabs, some like huge holes.
In this morning’s story, Cerridwen and Gwion had to deal with unintended results from the potion of inspiration and wisdom. Cerridwen’s disappointment takes center stage as she angrily pursues Gwion. Gwion, too, has to deal with the surprising turn of events. Both of them go through several changes as they wrestle with what this event means.
We can sympathize with their anger and fear. The high-speed magical chase ends with Cerridwen swallowing the seed, incorporating the experience back into her body. Both the tale of the chase and the reincorporation of loss are important here. First, Cerridwen experiences her anger and disappointment. The loss is primary. Eventually, she incorporates the loss, she swallows the seed, and it becomes part of her larger story, just a chapter in a much longer book.
Loss reminds us of what has been precious. Priorities come into focus. At first, disappointment is isolating. Pain gets the spotlight, blocking out context. Perhaps that spotlight is necessary in order for loss to tell its story. After that, the stage lights come up, and we see the whole ensemble, the caring networks of the past and the present. Like Cerridwen, we can swallow the seed. We can bring the experience inside us to meet the resources we had within the whole time.
I’m not suggesting that we skip directly to finding the hidden gifts of loss. I am not going to tell you to look on the bright side immediately after a painful turn of events. Grief needs time. Honor your experience.
The Pagan holiday that speaks most directly to loss is the one coming up next weekend: Samhain, or Halloween. The wheel of the year turns. On Samhain, the veil between the worlds is thin, allowing passage for the spirits of the beloved dead. Some families set up home altars for their ancestors, displaying their pictures and favorite items. Some families visit a graveyard during the day, sprucing up gravesites and sharing memories with each other. During evening rituals, we name ancestors and meditate about the coming year. Samhain is a time for both remembering and letting go.
An annual observance like Samhain sets aside a time and provides a framework when we can feel the impact of loss, tell the story of what happened, and then re-tell the story of our lives as we incorporate the change. Change takes its own turns. Keeping pace with the wheel of the year helps us to turn with the changes.
Instant Change Takes Time
Of course, sometimes change seems sudden when it has been building for a while. Sometimes our response to sudden change can be built gradually, too. Instant change takes time. Cerridwen’s story reflects this in a couple of ways. The potion of wisdom and inspiration took a year and a day, not to mention the time that Cerridwen put into planning. Taliesin, the greatest bard of ancient Wales, is given an extensive backstory. Even as early as the day when Prince Elffin takes him home, the changes in Taliesin and Elffin’s lives had been a long time in the making.
The birth of Taliesin in the story echoes a number of Pagan myths about agrarian gods who are born from a seed, rise in the growing season, die with the harvest, and leave the seeds of their own rebirth. We can look to the myths of death and rebirth to find metaphors for our own experience of change.
In many earth-based traditions, rebirth is celebrated at the winter solstice. It seems a little bit odd that the winter solstice is the time of rebirth on so many calendars in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s cold. Nothing seems to be growing. We may not see much evidence of rebirth. We celebrate rebirth at the time when the year is coldest, and when the sun seems to stand still. This is the hinge upon which the year turns. I think that the deepest part of the winter is when we need to hear that message the most.
Instant change takes time. Stories about the rebirth of the sun remind us that warmth will return, even though the spring is a long way off. We can simply mark the days on the calendar, observing the return. Alternately, we can practice and prepare a little bit with each passing day. Giving thanks for ongoing seasonal change sharpens our awareness for dramatic changes like fall color, the first snow, or the blossoms of spring. Being ready for instant change takes preparation over time.
One of the gifts of the Pagan calendar is that it sets aside a particular time, the winter solstice, to contemplate the seeds of change when we appear to be standing still.
Spiritual or contemplative practices are like the hinge at the winter solstice. Daily or weekly, we find some way to be present in the moment, to find balance. Eventually, a regular sense of the present moment becomes a wellspring of balance. To put it another way, contemplative practices are like a vitamin for spiritual growth. You may have a contemplative practice and not think of it as spiritual. Exercise, practicing music, nature walks, memorizing poetry—each time we practice, we build capacity to handle change.
I’m not just talking about disappointing change. Positive changes take preparation, too. The arrival of a new family member, embracing a new opportunity, achieving a goal, even these kinds of changes require adjustment.
With practice, we can make the most of change.
Here at UUCY, the greeters and ushers who stand at the door, welcoming first-time visitors and long-time members alike, you are making a regular practice that lifts our spirits and prepares us for the delightful kind of change. The same goes for the hospitality hosts at coffee hour and all of our Common Good volunteers. Welcoming people means welcoming positive change. Each person changes who we are as a community. Practicing hospitality is a spiritual discipline that benefits us all.
The wheel of the year teaches that the seeds of change are buried in the moments when we appear to be standing still. Dramatic transformations come from chains of events, links that don’t seem dramatic at all until they add up. Our capacity to make the most of change can be increased by regular spiritual practices. By paying attention to the wheel of the year, we prepare ourselves for its turning.
Viewing change as a process of rebirth is all well and good, but rebirth involves going back to a starting point. Starting over may involve an acquired naiveté, a willingness to learn new meanings for old words, and openness to rearranging the pieces.
In this morning’s story, part of Gwion survived by transforming into a seed and then into the child Taliesen. He became a baby. He carried inspiration with him from his old life, and he learned other qualities in his new life.
Similarly, Cerridwen learned to begin again. Her old cauldron was destroyed. But the potion of wisdom and inspiration isn’t the last story about Cerridwen. Other legends tell of Cerridwen’s spell that would bring dead soldiers back to life. Some say that King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail was actually a search for Cerridwen’s cauldron. It’s a powerful image, a cooking pot for the transformation of life.
Pagan spirituality keeps faith in the truth that transformation is possible. Old words, old ideas, old rituals, can be changed and reframed with creativity in order to carry us into the future. We begin again, taking some things with us, leaving some things behind, making space for something new.
On the wheel of the year, there is a holiday in early February that brings up these themes of creativity and transformation. Sometimes called Imbolc, my favorite figure of this holiday is Brigid, goddess of the holy well, sacred flame, birth, art, healing, and metalwork. A lot of responsibility for one deity, I know. Imbolc is a time of beginnings. Again, we mark change as the wheel turns, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.
Creativity is one of the resources that Pagan spirituality offers in dealing with change. Pagans have a great need for the art of rearrangement. We gather the information we can from ancient earth-centered traditions. The rest we have to construct with imagination.
Isn’t that how it is with life-changing events? Rearranging old resources with new creativity? Suddenly, it seems like everything is different. We begin again. Yet we can bring a few things from before. The pieces go together in a new way. Moving to a new home, we bring some things, leave some things behind, and arrange them differently. Starting a job, we make the best use we can of the skills we have, and we learn new skills and new names. Pagan spirituality sees this process of rearrangement in alignment with the forces that uphold life.
As Unitarian Universalists, we apply the same kind of creativity to our free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Each one of us has gifts from the past, and each one of us has something that we have or would like to leave behind.
Whether you found this faith later or are lifelong Unitarian Universalist, we all start over in each phase of life, with spirituality being differently relevant as we grow and change. All of us have the gift and the responsibility to put our spiritual resources into the cauldron, to apply our creativity to the path of transformation.
We begin again, but not empty-handed.
Earth-based spirituality offers plenty of resources for responding to and participating in change. Samhain, the winter solstice, and Imbolc are just three examples of holidays with perspectives on the turning wheel. We need those resources, because change takes its own turns, sometimes for the better, sometimes at a cost, sometimes both. Instant change takes time as we prepare ourselves through spiritual practice. When we’ve been dipped in the cauldron of transformation, we begin again, rearranging the gifts of our past to make way for the future. As the wheel of the year turns, let us give each other the strength to turn with it. May we meet the changes of our lives with resilience and creativity.
So be it. Blessed be. Amen.