Our Golden UUs shared what it means to age ... gracefully.
Our great group of Golden UUs shared what the meaning of life is all about ... what it means to grow older -- and how to do so with grace.
The bottom line: Love
Our Golden UUs shared what it means to age ... gracefully.
How you grow older is up to you ...
Our great group of Golden UUs shared what the meaning of life is all about ... what it means to grow older -- and how to do so with grace.
The bottom line: Love
Do you have a spiritual practice?
Walking? Hiking? Meditating? Praying? Serving others?
How much nourishment are you giving your practice?
In this sermon, the Rev. Lyn Cox encourages us to to end the Jewish new year in harmony.
What would a life in harmony feel like for you?
Listen to her sermon here or read the entire sermon below.
The Book of Life
By Rev. Lyn Cox
The Jewish Holiday of Rosh Hashana, the new year, begins this evening. A Rosh Hashana tradition is to wish for each other to “be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.” The image is of a giant ledger of rights and wrongs, open for updating during the High Holidays. We want everybody to end the year in the black. For me as a Universalist, I think of the Book of Life more as an ongoing story, one that we can write each other into by our compassion and curiosity for one another, a book we can write ourselves into with our active participation in harmony with the sacred. One of the ways we know we’re working with Life is when we recognize flow and change. Biological life is ongoing, persistent, dynamic, and a little bit chaotic. When someone tells me, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life,” I hear, “May you be an active participant in a story about positive change.” May it be so for all of us.
The questions for Rosh Hashana are, in some ways, the same questions that many Pagans ask as they consider justice at the Fall Equinox, and the same questions that many people involved with school ask at the beginning of the academic year: How can we change? How can we improve? How can we make choices that sustain life? Coming back to these big questions on a regular basis is important, because in the day-to-day moments, we often feel backed into the corner. Some creative, nourishing choices are difficult to see when we’re looking at a problem too closely or in isolation. Starting the year with room to grow requires some mutual support.
In thinking about joining the story of life, the story of change and growth, a few ideas come up: Redefine the problem. Maintain a spiritual practice. Find and care for divinity in each other. I think if we can do these things, we can write our stories into an ongoing, thriving Book of Life: Redefine the problem. Maintain a spiritual practice. Find and care for the divinity in each other.
Redefine the Problem
The metaphor of turning is a strong theme in the Jewish High Holidays. That can mean turning toward a spiritual life or returning to a direction congruent with your values. I also like to think about turning over a puzzle as you figure out how to solve it. Get a different perspective. Open up to new possibilities.
Universalist minister Olympia Brown was someone who found a way to win by turning a problem over. The Universalist Church had not yet ordained a woman in 1860, as she was applying and getting rejected from theological schools. She was persistent until she was admitted to the Universalist Divinity School at Saint Lawrence University. Quoting now from the Dictionary of UU Biography (http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/olympiabrown.html): “Ebenezer Fisher, President of the[school], offered her admission but added that he ‘did not think women were called to the ministry. But I leave that between you and the Great Head of the Church.’ This, Olympia thought, ‘was exactly where it should be left. But when I arrived, I was told I had not been expected and that Mr. Fisher had said I would not come as he had written so discouragingly to me. I had supposed his discouragement was my encouragement.’”
Even after excelling in her studies and as a student preacher, she knew she could not be ordained through the usual channels. She took her case directly to the council meeting of the regional Universalist Association, and her ordination was affirmed by the General Convention. Rather than asking, “How can I get the local council to ordain me?” Olympia asked, “How can I make a change for equality?” She redefined the problem.
I am also reminded of another fictional character backed into a different corner, Captain Kirk in Star Trek, and his response to the Kobayashi Maru test at Starfleet Academy. The test is a battle simulation designed to illuminate a potential officer’s character when faced with a no-win situation involving death. In the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we find out that Kirk reprogrammed the simulator before he took the test for a third time. He said he didn’t believe in no-win situations.
I think what ties the fictional character and historical person together is that they approached the idea of a no-win situation with skepticism. Just like we willingly suspend disbelief to an extent when we’re watching a play or reading a novel, these stories are about suspending disbelief in a negative outcome. That gives us a little more room to redefine the problem.
Maintain a Spiritual Practice
Something else we can do to align ourselves with the story of life, a story of change and growth, is to maintain a spiritual practice. A spiritual practice is something you do regularly that brings you back to your center and keeps you accountable to your deepest values. Such a practice may help helps us to stay optimistic. More often than not, I believe an individual spiritual practice will increase our capacity to step back, reflect, recharge, and approach our challenges with a clear mind. You can believe or not that God or Goddess or the Universe puts opportunities to adapt in front of us, but it makes sense to me that a practice of openness and gratitude makes it easier to see solutions when they come along.
Singing helps me do that. I will admit that I have been a bit stressed at times lately, sometimes in response to world events, sometimes in my more challenging moments as a parent. Some of the same things that give me strength and hope can, if I lose perspective, lead me to worry. I’ve been busy stewing in my own juices, generally feeling trapped in a pressure cooker of my own devising. Recently, I had to turn off the radio in the car, because my frustration with all of the news stations and commercials was so great that not even my favorite playlist could fix it. I wished I had something that would give me a nudge forward, something that would make me believe in a new beginning. In the silence, I remembered the song, “Fire of Commitment,” a contemporary UU hymn by Jason Shelton. (It’s #1028 in Singing the Journey.)
When the fire of commitment sets our minds and souls ablaze
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin
Beginning the future sounded pretty good to me. I started to feel a glimmer of possibility. I realized that it had been too long since I sang spiritual music, too long since I blasted something so starkly denominational from my speakers, and entirely too long since I connected my spiritual path with the work I was doing outside of church. I had forgotten a tool that, when I used it regularly, brought me hope and optimism. I sang the whole thing again. By the time I got where I was going, I had some ideas about gratitude and reconciliation, and some other ideas about focusing on work that I’m passionate about. It was a good day.
Spiritual practices help us keep our inner “tools” handy for the challenges that come along. Otherwise the only tools we have are the ones being sold in the media. Maybe we can find something useful in popular culture, or maybe we’ll end up with the reality TV attitude of “I’m not here to make friends.” I believe that we can maintain our life-affirming, growth-encouraging resources by using them regularly. Whether your practice is mindful walking, prayer, yoga, baking, writing thank-you notes, or something else, I believe that habits of the soul help us to find creative solutions.
Find and Care For Divinity in Each Other
Welcoming the stranger helps us to see the possibilities for growth and change. In Jewish wisdom, it is said that when one saves a life, one saves a world. Sounds a bit like interdependence. We know that the health of the whole depends on all of us. Our communities are stronger when more of us are fed and housed. Reaching out to someone who needs help has a positive ripple effect. Save a life, save a world.
One of our UU principles is respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This comes from the Universalist side of our heritage, which says that no one is beyond the reach of Divine love. For some of us who are theists, we see a reflection of the Holy in every face. For some of us who are not theists, we look for all of the holiness we expect to find in the people around us and in the world as it is. I think we can agree on finding and caring for divinity in each other. A covenant is alive.
This respect for each other is part of what leads us to form a community in covenant. We make promises to one another and to the source of our ultimate concern about how we will be together and how we will pursue our mission together. The thing about covenants is that they embrace relationship, and they are resilient enough to survive brokenness.
Unitarian Universalist theologian James Luther Adams gave credit to Jewish theologian Martin Buber in calling humans “promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking, promise-renewing” creatures. Adams said that making commitments are how we become human, how we are brought out of separateness, how we exercise both agency and accountability. But of course sometimes we fail. When we fall out of covenant, we can come back in and be invited to come back in through those same practices, such as deep listening and loving speech.
What I would like to suggest is that, in moving forward together as a congregation in this year of discernment, we face the possibility of mistakes with courage. We may try something as a congregation and miss the mark. We may enter into a time of great challenge and occasionally get so caught up in it that we have to apologize, reconcile, and repair our covenant. Let us begin again in love.
I know that you and we are capable of returning to the Book of Life. There is great kindness here. The talent and energy that is drawn forth from people here in the service of compassion is astounding. It matters. If you sent a card, held someone in prayer, brought a meal, showed up to honor someone, sent an encouraging text message, it matters. These acts of kindness add up to sustain bodies and spirits. Save a life, save a world.
What I’m asking here is that this congregation continues to practice compassion. Keep practicing kindness, and may others can follow your example. Offer a kind word to care for someone’s spirit, and let that kindness ripple out to everyone they meet. When covenantal missteps happen, begin again in love. Care for each other so that we have the strength to find creative solutions in the year ahead.
As we support our neighbors and family celebrating the Jewish High Holidays, may the spirit of the season call us back to the idea of starting over, of re-committing to our values, of seeing the big picture of our whole system. The turning seasons may set us in motion, turning over problems to find a new perspective. The rhythms of the days and nights may inspire us to maintain a spiritual practice. The cooler weather may bring us together, in close view of the divinity that we care for in each other. May these changes help us to adapt in life-affirming ways. May we all be written into the Book of Life.
© 2016 Rev. Lyn Cox
"When have you received the blessing of neighborliness? When have you been greeted with respect, cared for, and invited to take shared responsibility for the common good? I have experienced neighborliness when I’ve been through big milestones in my life and people brought me food, when I was participating in activism on behalf of people and a community that I loved, and when I’ve received the kindness of strangers who recognized me as a member of the human family."
The Rev. Lyn Cox brings light to the idea of being a good neighbor -- what it means to BE one and what it means to RECEIVE the kindness of others.
Listen to this sermon now or read the entire sermon below.
A Covenant of Neighborliness
By Rev. Lyn Cox
When have you received the blessing of neighborliness? When have you been greeted with respect, cared for, and invited to take shared responsibility for the common good? I have experienced neighborliness when I’ve been through big milestones in my life and people brought me food, when I was participating in activism on behalf of people and a community that I loved, and when I’ve received the kindness of strangers who recognized me as a member of the human family.
I like to think of neighborliness as a kind of covenant. It’s not a written covenant. Neighborliness is an unwritten set of sacred promises, a sense of relatedness with other people and the world and with something larger than ourselves. Neighborliness is rooted in a particular experience of time and place, yet ripples outward to the horizons of our awareness of the interdependent web. Covenants bind us together in mutual care and responsibility, whether or not our promises are expressed in words.
You are probably familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Rich B. dramatized it for us so well last Easter. A traveler is attacked and injured on the Jericho road. Respected members of the traveler’s own community don't stop to help. A Samaritan, a member of a culture on the other side of a bitter divide, is the person who not only stops, but invests in the injured traveler's future care. The parable demonstrates that obligations to our neighbors include those beyond our immediate circle, even to those we may consider "them" instead of "us."
It's easy to say in theory, of course we would help someone from another group, of course that person would be our neighbor. What if that person were connected with a political movement with which I heartily disagree? What if that person is from a dangerous place, and may bring danger with them? What if that person is a member of an organization that betrayed me? When the roles were reversed, when I needed help, there have been people who surprised me by stopping. Overcoming my assumptions about "us and them" is a constant discipline.
This congregation puts a lot of work into being neighborly. It's one of the things I love about you. You have long been committed to being a respectful member of the interfaith community. UUCY is a reliable participant in the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, to be held this year on November 22 at Luther Memorial on Hollywood Drive. You have been practicing food justice through the community garden and Our Daily Bread. You welcome neighbors into the parlor for the weekly English Conversation Club. All of these represent the hospitality of a good neighbor. This church shines like a friendly porch light on the way home.
I would like to suggest that being neighborly will grow into action on a larger scale. If we take our values seriously, reflect on them, and challenge ourselves to spiritual growth, I think we will find that this congregation is called to be a neighborly institution, an organized group that not only takes the time to help, but also addresses the root causes of suffering.
Who is our neighbor and what does that mean? For us as Unitarian Universalists, neighborliness encompasses several of our core values. The values I want to lift up today have to do with justice, equity, and compassion, which comprise the second of our seven UU principles.
Being neighborly involves considerate curiosity. Somewhere in between apathy and nosy-ness, there is a sweet spot of taking interest in one another. Considerate curiosity allows people to speak for themselves and to know that they will be heard warmly.
Recognizing our interdependence is a second value of neighborliness. What happens to one affects us all. Alliances of responsibility help us to respond with strength.
A third value of neighborliness is the willingness to expand our comfort zones. Building relationships means risking things like awkwardness and disagreement.
Neighborliness means a lot of different things. Today we’ll start with considerate curiosity, interdependence, and expanding our comfort zones.
Cultivating an atmosphere of considerate curiosity is a group discipline. It is harder than it sounds. We have to commit to it as a shared expectation. In this sanctuary, people listen warmly during Candles of Sharing, and at home members click the link to find out how they can help when they see the virtual candles of sharing in the Beacon email newsletter. Sometimes we notice without prompting when someone isn’t well or is having a tough time or has something great going on.
Sometimes we don’t notice. We can work on that. I don’t think it’s possible for a congregation to notice 100% of the time when a well-placed question is in order. As you increase your fellowship and adult faith development activities, there will be more opportunities to notice. Check out Grounds on the Ground after the service today, bringing your beverage and your greetings to the lower lobby of this building. Unless you’re in the Path to Membership class, in which case I’m looking forward to meeting you here.
This congregation has done well in the past year with growing your pastoral ministries. You have increased the number and the preparedness of Pastoral Associates, members who will listen compassionately and help you stay connected with the church. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to guess that hundreds of cards and casseroles have traveled between families in the last year. All of that begins with people being interested in one another’s wellbeing.
Considerate curiosity is a practice for institutions as well as individuals. Through the connections formed between groups and the growing we do within groups, we learn how to ask the questions that improve our world. In this congregation, we are learning together how to talk about racism, gender diversity, and overcoming the generational divide that separates humans into market segments. These are difficult and rewarding disciplines, and we will get better at them as we practice direct address and covenantal behavior toward our common goals.
The part about institutional relationships is important. Our Racial Justice Team is just getting started with studying resources and relationships for congregational involvement in racial justice. We’re learning that racial justice is both global and local. We need legislation at the state and national level, yet much of the work of racial justice is relentlessly local. Black lives matter. We live out that truth, in part, by building relationships in our own neighborhoods between this congregation and the congregations and community-building organizations led by people of color. To be effective allies, we will collectively invest our time and energy, and we will risk the vulnerability of relationship. We will not be instantly good at this. We are not likely to be leading the charge or providing expertise. Let us approach congregation-based relationships as a spiritual practice of considerate curiosity. Show up, make mistakes, learn, try again.
In terms of the Good Samaritan parable, the Samaritan shows considerate curiosity when he stops and notices what has happened. It’s a first step. Paying attention seems like a basic practice. I don’t expect a reward for noticing pain or discrimination or how someone’s day is going. Even so, considerate curiosity is a learned skill and it takes time. Organizing our intentions will help us to mature in our capacity to pay attention.
The second step is recognizing our interdependence. That’s the crux of the issue in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The injured traveler is not some irrelevant object. The danger on the Jericho Road affects all travelers. Acts of kindness are not simply benevolent gifts to people who have nothing to do with us. Neighborly behavior is an act of relationship, not pity.
Perhaps you had an opportunity to see the documentary, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, on PBS this past Tuesday, or you remember the Mystery History quiz last week. Martha and Waitstill Sharp were some of the first representatives of what became the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee in Europe during World War II. They saved intellectuals, artists, journalists, and children, among others. This is during a time when Americans did not have unanimous feelings about the Nazis. Some were suspicious of Jewish immigrants and thought that refugees would include Nazi spies. Today we may be horrified by the Holocaust, but at the time there was a very real sense of “us” and “them” between those in power here and those who were fleeing Nazi persecution.
Hearing the Sharps’ words about their work, I was struck with how little difference they perceived between themselves and the people they were helping. Martha wrote with touching compassion about the mothers who entrusted children to her care. She gave the children of one envoy beige berets so that she could keep them together as a group and give them a sense of belonging in transition. She pretended to be the spouse of at least one intellectual she smuggled out right under the noses of the Gestapo. Martha and Waitstill Sharp reached out across divisions of language, geography, culture, and religion and found people related in the human family. They worked with a network of others who arranged transportation and jobs, people more swayed by compassion than fear of the other. Injustice across the ocean affects the world we live in right here. Who is my neighbor?
Our present-day Unitarian Universalist Service Committee reminds us that there are still refugees and asylum seekers in the world. There are Syrian refugees meeting rhetoric identical to what was said about Jewish refugees in the 1930s. There are Central Americans fleeing violence that is, in part, a consequence of U.S. foreign policy. There are asylum-seeking women and children at the Berks Detention Center, still being incarcerated over a year past the supposed 20-day limit as their asylum applications are considered. Our wellbeing as a nation is affected by our ability to exercise compassion and moral courage. Visit uusc.org for more information about how you can add your voice. What happens to a refugee or an asylum seeker affects us all. Who is our neighbor?
Expanding Comfort Zones
After considerate curiosity and recognizing interdependence, the third neighborly step is expanding our comfort zones. This is the extra mile between being polite and being a good neighbor. The above-and-beyond actions of the Good Samaritan from the Book of Luke are a good illustration here:
He went up and bandaged his wounds, bathing them with oil and wine. Then he lifted him on to his own beast, brought him to an inn, and looked after him. Next day he produced two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Look after him; and if you spend more, I will repay you on my way back.’ (Luke 10:34-35, Revised English Bible)
In other words, being a good neighbor involves going out of your way. All around, I see people challenging themselves like the Good Samaritan.
Challenge is good when it helps you grow. You have been through plenty of challenges together and have seen the promise on the other side. Some members are most interested in direct service, following the call of every spiritual tradition to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and house the homeless. Some members feel called to prophetic public witness. Some are strategic connecters, doing the radical work of introducing people to one another. It is right and good that members show diversity in their giftedness for shared ministry. In the magnificent breadth of issues and opportunities we hold among us, there is work to do in cultivating a sense of shared purpose beyond this campus. Organization is how we make the most impact and keep it up. Sustained organizational maturity has to go through barriers of uncomfortable conversations, stretching institutional capacities, and organizational unity.
I am so grateful to the Strategic Long Term Planning Task Force for the great work they are already doing in inviting discernment, and to the Board for their invitation to members to engage in Powerful Questions. During this turning point year, I would suggest that one of the things every member and friend can do starting today is to talk with people in the congregation you don’t normally talk to. Spend the social hour in a different part of the room. Plan a fellowship event. Sign up to be a greeter or a coffee host so that you can have a role as you introduce yourself to people you don’t normally talk with. In a congregation of this size, it is easy and tempting to stay within a comfort zone of a dozen or two people. Your ability to move forward together as one church will be enhanced the more you talk with each other in compassionately curious, slightly uncomfortable ways.
It seems to me, expanding our comfort zone is an opportunity to grow spiritually. We would need to be honest and vulnerable. Interactions with people in true relationship risk awkwardness, conflict, and scarcity. Social action and strategic planning are opportunities for spiritual growth because conversation means confronting things like awkwardness, conflict, and scarcity.
I believe that, if we listen to each other and to the still, small voice within, our experience will lead us to a unified calling. Whatever this congregation’s calling, I know it will grow in strength, fueled by the power of love.
Being a good neighbor is held in high esteem at this church. Members here already practice compassionate curiosity. We reflect together on interdependence. We grow our comfort zones in our outreach and our honest discussions with one another. May we continue to grow in our practice and in our understanding of the covenant of neighborliness. So be it. Blessed be. Amen.
Multigenerational Service Promotes Love, Courage and Wisdom.
Love. Courage. Wisdom. This was the focus of our 2016 Ingathering Service -- to be a people that promotes these characteristics. To be a congregation that loves, that thinks and that is brave to seek a more fair and just world.
We all bring these passions to UUCY. What do we do with them?
Listen to a snippet of UUCY Ingathering Service or read part of it below.
Here's Part of the Sermon
That’s all the woman said to me before turning away. I had just arrived at a meeting to discuss the ending of racism and white privilege at a small working group of Quaker church members.
I was also a minority- that is to say, one of the few white people in the room.
This small group proposed sweeping changes that would investigate white privilege and discern a way forward in a body that governed 100 churches. Six hours later, their proposal would be rejected at a business meeting for needing more “seasoning.”
But for now, I sat in the room, careful to listen and not to talk. Many white people often governed the talking in larger business meetings, as the majority, privileged voice. The woman who got my attention with the words “fierce love” went on to tell new people in the group that this would be painful work for us, and the group would be careful “to work around the wound, and not to touch the wound itself.”
As I learned more about white privilege and how I benefitted from it, and did a personal moral inventory as well, I appreciated this group’s Fierce Love. I walk with them in support for the work that needs to be done. I would call it a moral imperative. I was humbled and chagrined. I was not in Kansas anymore. I was transformed.
Ian Lawton’s Soulseeds blog has this to say about Fierce love- “It is risky business. It is an act of faith. But the greater the risk, the more powerful the growth and adventure. Without the comfort of security, fierce love achieves something far more powerful; honest engagement with reality.” Fierce love is tenacious. It grabs you, and holds on tight.
The tin man may have been made of metal, but he does a lot of crying. He feels fierce love. He feels love deeply for others, and is sensitive about the state of the world and those in it.
He is brave, and he ACTS.
Who will you travel with this year, with your fierce love?
What ministry sets you on fire? What do you have fierce love for, despite the risks? You may see improvements and goals, but more likely, it’s relationships built and unexpected goals achieved.
Do you have fierce love for our environment?
For food justice? Immigration rights?
Helping our children and youth understand all the facets of UU?
Could you have fierce love for those seeking support in wage equality?
Do you have fierce love about making This Special Place radically welcoming?
UUCY champions fierce love.
We understand that we are also transformed by it.
-- Erika Juran
"As Unitarian Universalists we believe that revelation is ever-present. The Spirit of Life, God, The Universe, by whatever name you call it is whispering to us each and every day urging us to wake up to our lives, to pay attention, to consider what we will do with our one wild and precious life." -- Cindy Thoman-Terlazzo
What does it mean to walk in this world fully awake?
This was the message Cindy Terlazzo, a longtime UUCY member, brought to UUCY on Aug. 28.
She began by reading Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day," and launched into her personal revelation.
"One afternoon I was lying on the grass gazing all around me, drinking deeply of the beauty that surrounded me. I was particularly entranced by watching a string of prayer flags that had been suspended between some trees fluttering in the breeze. Now maybe the events of the weekend had primed me, but for just a moment – time stood still. And I knew that I had been witness to something divine. For a few brief moments, this simple occurrence pierced through all my layers of ordinary assumptions of how the world is constructed. This seemingly ordinary event resonated with something deep inside me. I felt whole, content, connected to all that was around me. It was as if the inter-connected web of life, to which we often refer, was revealed to me in those few brief moments. I knew that I was as much a part of this web as every single thing that surrounded me."
You can listen to the Mary Oliver poem that Cindy read during the service below. A poem that captures what it feels like to be fully aware and present in this life.
Read her entire sermon below, or listen.
Sermon by Cindy Terlazzo
Sunday, August 21, 2016
As we move more deeply into this time of worship, I’d like share this poem by Mary Oliver entitled:
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I took part in a Sufi retreat this spring. The retreat was held in a stunningly beautiful location near Charlottlesville, VA. Everything about the weekend – the location, music, the dances, teachings and conversations – was conducive to a renewal of the spirit. One afternoon I was lying on the grass gazing all around me, drinking deeply of the beauty that surrounded me. I was particularly entranced by watching a string of prayer flags that had been suspended between some trees fluttering in the breeze.
Now maybe the events of the weekend had primed me, but for just a moment – time stood still. And I knew that I had been witness to something divine. For a few brief moments, this simple occurrence pierced through all my layers of ordinary assumptions of how the world is constructed. This seemingly ordinary event resonated with something deep inside me. I felt whole, content, connected to all that was around me. It was as if the inter-connected web of life, to which we often refer, was revealed to me in those few brief moments. I knew that I was as much a part of this web as every single thing that surrounded me.
Now the dictionary tells us that a revelation is something that is disclosed, especially a striking disclosure, as something not before realized.
And this simple occurrence – the fluttering of a breeze through a string of prayer flags – was indeed a striking disclosure – a reminder of things I can forget when I assume that my life, that any life, is simply ordinary.
UU minister, James Luther Adams, stated, "We cannot properly place our confidence in our own creations; we must depend upon a transforming reality that breaks through encrusted forms of life and thought to create new forms. We put our faith in a creative reality that is re-creative. Revelation is continuous.”
How often do we find that our thoughts, that our very lives, have become encrusted. What an image. I picture our spirits at times like parched earth, cracked and crusted over, seemingly devoid of life – yet given the proper conditions – enough transforming rain – new life, new forms emerge.
As Unitarian Universalists we believe that revelation is ever-present. The Spirit of Life, God, The Universe, by whatever name you call it is whispering to us each and every day urging us to wake up to our lives, to pay attention, to consider what we will do with our one wild and precious life.
So if we are immersed in continuous revelation with the source of all life it seems that revelation will make itself known in many forms. My encounter with the prayer flags invoked in me a sense of unity and oneness with all that was around me but let me now contrast this with another time, another place several years ago. It was a lovely summer day. I lived with my family on a property in northern Maryland. To all outward appearances I had a good and happy life.
On this particular day, the lawn needed to be mowed so I went about this task as I usually did. My actions were somewhat absentminded. I was doing something I had done many times before – random thoughts flitting through my head while I went about my work. Suddenly, I became intensely aware of the specificity of my thoughts. It was like an amplifier had been hooked up and every random thought was now broadcast in such a way that I had to pay attention. I was shocked by what I heard. A litany of complaints – one after another played in an endless loop in my head. One discontented grievance after another about money, my kids, my job, my self-worth – on and on. Not one uplifting or positive thought in the lot.
Even though I was astonished by this peek into my psyche, I realized that I had received an unexpected gift – another divine revelation. I didn’t like the flotsam of thought that I had become so very aware of but I did realize that such awareness, as uncomfortable as it was, gave me the opportunity to pay attention to how such thoughts might be manifesting in my life – through self-care, my words, my interactions with others and the world around me.
Perhaps there was no real connection, but a few months later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In retrospection, I had to wonder if my subterranean discontent with life, in some way provided fertile ground for a weakened immune system. In any event, this awareness, this light bulb moment of revelation, allowed me to make a conscious choice to change – or not – but the possibility for new and creative forms of being were more solidly within my grasp.
UU theologian, Rebecca Parker says that “Revelation comes to those who are radically hospitable to what they don’t know.” I am going to say this one more time. “Revelation comes to those who are radically hospitable to what they don’t know.” I am both challenged and intrigued by this statement. Perhaps it is similar to the idea that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Her statement does suggest to me that those moments of revelation and insight arrive because on some level we are ready to become aware of what we don’t know. In our deepest beings we are hard-wired for awakening.
And while it is obvious to so many of us that, in this country, we are long overdue for a change regarding how we value life, could it be that the tragedies of Orlando, of the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, the Dallas police officers, and too many others, has finally revealed to us that the status quo is not working…could this finally be the tipping point, the events, tragic as they are, that will serve as the striking disclosure that shakes us out of our stupor, our polarized and encrusted thinking?
Every day, every moment holds the potential for awakening. Revelation is continuous. Out of the deepest darkness, out of the most ordinary and extraordinary occurrences may come that bolt of awareness that illuminates our clouded vision – making room for real change.
Revelation is continuous.
Revelation can show up any time, any place. Maybe you have found this to be so in your life. Maybe you have been engaged in something quite everyday – making dinner, taking out the trash, flossing your teeth, listening to the daily news and for just a brief moment, some larger awareness tapped you on the shoulder and you were able to see your life in a new, a different fashion. A striking disclosure urging you to wake up.
In a season rife with fear mongering and political posturing and more sorrow than we know what to do with, may we be ready to catch those moments of revelation when they arrive. May we be open to the holy voices that speak to us in many ways every day. May we be open to this presence whether it arrives in the fluttering of wind-caressed prayer flags, in the litany of thoughts that flood our heads when we least expect it or in the tragic announcement of yet another act of violence. May we be primed to find this presence in the faces of those we see passing on the street. Walt Whitman says:
“I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least, Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself. Why should I wish to see God better than this day? I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then, In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass, I find letters from God dropped in the street, and everyone is signed by God's name, And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come for ever and ever.”
Oft times it seems we think about revelation as something mystical or otherworldly but, really, revelation – the universal urging to pay attention to our lives – is present everywhere. I found that this following, unattributed reflection, captures the idea of the mystical within the ordinary quite well:
“I am a devout skeptic. I don’t believe in ESP or heaven or a zillion other unverifiable things. And yet after returning from an extended trip to Argentina, where people tend to be intensely sociable, I had a powerful vision during waking hours for six straight days. As I went through my day, I saw every person literally connected to every other person in the vicinity via umbilical-type cords. If the interaction between persons was positive, a golden, amber liquid flowed between them in this cord; if it was negative, the fluid looked blackish-green. No one else showed any awareness of these cords, which also stretched between people not obviously interacting in the moment.
The message was clear to me: We are all connected, whether we realize it or not; furthermore, I want to generate amber, not bile. I told no one for six months because I was concerned that they’d have me locked up as crazy. When I finally shared it with a colleague (a history professor well versed in religion), he had this insightful comment: “If you had been a Catholic, you’d have seen the Virgin Mary. You, however, are a Unitarian Universalist—so naturally you saw the interconnected web!” Fifteen years later, I am still committed to caring for the web, aiming to inspire interpersonal harmony wherever I go.” ~ Soul Matters Leader
All of life is a continual revelation. Everywhere we turn amidst all the joy and rapture, the sorrow and the pain. Everything whispers in our ear calling us to wake up, pay attention, to notice our lives. The challenge extended to you, to me, to all of us is to decide what action will we take? How will we transform revelation into re-creation? What exactly will you do with your one wild and precious life that is so intimately linked with all others?
May we all go forth in good faith. May we all trust in life.
In the end – All Will Be Revealed.
Sting of a wasp.
Rip of a nail.
A razor’s slice.
The needle’s plunge.
A piercing word.
A stab of betrayal.
The boundary crossed.
A trust broken.
In this lacerating moment,
Pain is all you know.
Life is tattooing scripture into your flesh,
Scribing incandescence in your nerves.
In this single searing point
Of intolerable concentration,
Wound become portal.
Brokenness surrenders to
Crystalline brilliance of Being.
~ Translated by Lorin Roche from The Radiance Sutras
This Refulgent Summer
In this time of strife in our country and world, it's easy to get caught up, impassioned and overwhelmed.
It's easy to be the cynic.
It's easy to call out on all the wrongdoing.
It's easy to think you are right and everyone and everything else is wrong.
It's harder to hold on to what is good ... to pay attention to the beauty all around.
Rev. Lyn Cox shares this relevant and timely message of refulgence ... the shining part of this world that we might be less apt to see if we aren't paying attention.
Listen the sermon on the right sidebar or read the transcript below.
-- UUCY Communications Team
The UUCY is a religious community that inspires the mind and spirit, honors religious freedom, and embraces diversity; its members minister to each other with love, and work for a just society.
Affirm all souls in love.
Build a nurturing congregation.
Celebrate one another and care for the world.