Monday, October 29, 2012
Sabbath for the 21st Century
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen2: 2-3) We hear in the book of Genesis.
Today we are talking about Sabbath. We know it often as the name of a day of the week, as a part of the Jewish and Christian tradition. But it’s much broader than that. Most spiritual traditions celebrate some form of Sabbath. Before Hebrews, the Babylonians celebrated a lunar Sabbath, also a day of rest. Buddhists use a lunar Sabbath on the new, full, and quarter moons as a day for monks and lay people to feast and reflect.
Sabbath is deeply rooted in the spiritual traditions that we draw from. But as you know, we should never feel limited by those traditions. They inform our faith; they do not dictate it. What I want to talk about to day is a Sabbath for the twenty-first century. How can you and I take time out of our busy lives to reorient ourselves, to touch the ground and reach for the sky, time to remember what it means to be human.
Sabbath for the twenty first century isn’t an ancient prohibition of work on a particular day of the week. It’s also not a day off of work to run all the errands that you weren’t able to do the rest of the week. The point after all, is to take time to refresh and renew. While it may feel good to scratch those errands off your to-do list, that’s not the sort of renewal I am speaking of. In fact it is the opposite of errands.
Sabbath is the opposite, and perhaps the antidote to busyness. Our culture is steeped in, what seems to be, a new obsession with activity. We are obsessed with busyness. Perhaps it is the protestant work ethic on steroids. You know what I am talking about, the incessant need to be meeting, building, driving or going somewhere.
Before many of our meetings here at the Fellowship we begin with a check in, it’s a time to share how your week has been and how you are feeling at the moment. All too often, and I should say ministers do the exact same thing when they gather, all to often, we greet one another with a list of our overscheduled activities. We list them as a way of describing our life, as if over scheduling our lives, living on fumes, living on the surface, is a badge of honor. Rather than honestly saying that we feel run down, exhausted, longing for support and in need of rest, we rattle off a list of activities.
This busyness is endemic. Some parents at least, are beginning to see that it takes a toll on their children. Participating in multiple sports leagues, arts programs and high-gear academics all at the same time burns our kids out. Some parents are beginning to see that. We have yet to see that their busyness is an outgrowth of our own.
Sabbath is an antidote to busyness. It is an intentional carving out of time to focus on renewal. It’s not just time without work, it’s time with an intention to tap into deeper sources of meaning. Every Sunday morning during the call to worship, I say “This hour is sacred because we make it so.” It is our intention and our effort that makes a moment sacred, not the time that it takes in the calendar or the physical building. On Sunday’s this hour is sacred because we who gather here make it so. But, in the rest of your life, what time do you make sacred by recognizing it as such? It doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes now and then.
Sabbath doesn’t require any special equipment or skill. It can happen at any time of day, any day of the week. You don’t have to go anywhere. The key is taking time, and consciously understanding that time as different, as a time for renewal, a sacred time. The only thing Sabbath really requires is for you to make it so.
But why? Why is he lecturing us about busyness, and giving us one more thing to squeeze into our schedule? Why take a Sabbath?
Quite simply, because we have to. We are finite beings, with pretty fragile bodies, minds, and spirits. Like everything else in our world, rest is a necessary part of the rhythm of our lives. All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of Fall and winter. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale.
Remembering the Sabbath is simply remembering that we are a part of a rhythm of life. Notice, I say remembering the Sabbath. That is the language that is used in the Bible where it is mentioned as a commandment. It doesn’t say obey the Sabbath, it doesn’t say participate in the Sabbath, it says remember the Sabbath. It’s a recognition that the time for rest is a built in, necessary piece of life. We are just called to remember it.
When we take time to reorient ourselves to what is good and true, the rest of live comes in more vividly. Taking that time makes the rest of life better, and it makes us better at living the rest of our lives. If you want it from a scientific perspective, Sabbath provides a different mode for your brain and your emotions to function in. And changing the modality of your brain is a critical piece of expanding your mind, and keeping your intelligence flowing. We get stuck in ruts in our lives. I don’t just mean eating the same thing of reading the same type of book. We get stuck in the rut of thinking about the same things and thinking in the same ways. The synapses in our brain, get fired over and over in the same direction. As those neural pathways get more and more traveled, it becomes harder and harder for us to think and to feel the full variety we are capable of.
Sometimes we just need to use a different part of the brain to solve a problem, no matter how big or small. If any of you are writers of crossword puzzlers you may know this phenomenon. Sitting and staring at a computer screen or problem isn’t always what you need to solve it. You need to get up and move around. My best sermon material typically comes to me when I am running, not when I am buried in books or meditating.
So Sabbath isn’t a huge commitment, it’s necessary, and it makes us perform better in the rest of our lives. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. So why not, why aren’t we all on board with this practice?
Because when we really pause, when we really take a moment out, the silence and stillness is scary. We fear that when we let our identity go beyond the busyness, there may be nothing left. It can be scary. When we turn off the din of constant noise and visual stimulation, we come to a void, a dark and quiet void.
That was one of the things that returned Peace Corps volunteers share. Being in the Peace Corps is wonderful, but it’s also a very isolating experience. When you are the only American in a village, you spend a significant amount of time alone. In that quiet you get to know yourself very well, which can be a good thing, or a very unsettling thing.
Silence is uncomfortable. Not just because we socially don’t know what to do with it. It is uncomfortable because it brings us face to face with a void. Spirituality is not for the faint of heart. Facing the quiet, the void can be scary business, but that’s why we come here, to face that quiet together.
And when we do face the quiet together, we are reminded of the person under the busyness. We remember that every soul is sacred. We remember that there is an interdependent web of life that supports us and all that we love. In the quiet we find a new foundation, and perhaps most importantly, we find peace.
I want to spend the rest of our time talking about the what practicing a Sabbath for the 21st Century might look like. We can start with the spiritual practice that we all share in common, coming to church. Carving out this time to come to worship is a huge piece of remembering the Sabbath.
Just coming to church doesn’t necessarily make it a Sabbath. Last week we celebrated our shared ministry and the tremendous volunteer contributions that many of our members make. I want to challenge those same people to be sure that they are actually making their time at the Fellowship a time for renewal, not a time for more busyness. Peter Walzer didn’t attend worship for about two years. Yes, he was here, but he was attending to the needs of our sound system, so he was always on duty. And because of their family demands, this was the only time they could spend at the Fellowship. It was not a good idea. Peter can tell you that.
So we fixed it. Many of you have noticed that we have broadened our volunteer pool to help run the sound and video on Sunday mornings. Everyone should get to come to church some days and not work. Everyone should have the opportunity to remember the Sabbath here at UUFLB.
But as I said earlier, Sabbath isn’t just about a particular time or a particular day of the week. You can hold sacred time any day of any week. It is sacred because you make it so. There are a thousand and one ways of doing that.
Find a candle that holds meaning for you. It may be a chalice or not. When you have set aside some tie – before a meal, meditation, or simply quiet reading – set the candle in front of you, say a simple blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few breaths. For just this moment, let the hurry of the world fall away.
Or prepare a Sabbath meal. Shop for the ingredients that bring you the most pleasure. This food is not so much for survival as for sheer, savory delight. Take as much time as you like to feel, tastes, smell each ingredient, every spice, bread, and vegetable. Decorate the table with flowers, linens, and candles. Say a prayer or give thanks. Give thanks for the earth and enjoy.
Your very own body has all the tools you need for a moment of Sabbath, anywhere, anytime. One beautiful form of meditation is to simply follow your breath. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of each breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration. Don’t change you breathing, don’t strain or push. Feel the rhythm. When your mind wanders, as it will, don’t worry. Simply return your awareness to the breath. Do it for a few minutes at first. And if you feel like taking a longer Sabbath, then lengthen the time.
Of course many of us find refuge and Sabbath in nature. As I said earlier, rest is a part of nature and creation, Sabbath time beats in synchronicity with the rhythms of nature. Set aside a period of time and walk, bike, sail, nap – anything that allows your body to be soothed by the nourishment of the earth.
Whether you do it alone or with other people, in silence, in nature, reading a book, cooking a meal, or just in a brief moment of lighting a candle, know that you are worth the time. You are worth taking the time to touch the earth and reach for the sky and remember what it means to be human, to be connected.
Make your time sacred, and remember the Sabbath.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Our Shared Ministry
The Unitarian Universalist theologian Rebecca Parker, tells us that churches are in the business of doing four things. Equally important and interwoven, these four things constitute the mission of liberal religion. First, we come together to resist systems of oppression and exploitation that divide peoples and separate all of humanity from the earth. Second, we come together to embody the spirit of covenant, the power of people freely joining in a community to share their resources for the benefit of all. Third, we come together to engage in rituals that nurture our spiritual and psychological well-being. And finally, we come together to deepen and broaden our minds so we might better understand our world and our place in it.
You will be hearing much more about these four pieces of our mission in the future. But I bring them up to give a framework for what we are talking about today, “Our Shared Ministry.” Today we are celebrating the mutual work of building this amazing community, this Fellowship, this church. Let’s unpack that word ministry for a minute. I can start with myself. I am a minister. I preach and teach a few classes and do pastoral care. I attend lots of meetings. I am a minister. What I do is tend to the ministry of a religious community. This religious community. What I do is ministry, not by virtue of my title or position, but by virtue of being in community with you all. My ministry is bound up with yours.
You see, building a community, sharing ourselves with one another is one huge piece of what it means to be a church. Sharing ourselves and making a place, a home together, is ministry, and it is a ministry that we all share in together. As I described the second piece of our mission, we come together to embody the spirit of covenant, the power of people freely joining in a community to share their resources for the benefit of all. I am a minister, but I cannot share on my own. Sharing is something that we do together, it’s a piece of ministry that is by definition relational.
We share this ministry of building a community. It takes a good number of different things, kindness, money, food, a building, time. We all contribute to the effort.
In preparation for this sermon I did a survey of a handful of our members who I know contribute an extraordinary amount of time and energy to support the fellowship. I was especially interested in talking to these people because much of what they do is in an unofficial role and often goes unrecognized by our wider community. I want to share with you some of their tremendous activity that helps our Fellowship. But equally important, are their reflections on why they do what they do. They serve today both as inspiration, and as a guide to how we might encourage our shared ministry into the future.
Mark Dimond checks the candles and oil lamp in the chalice, maintains the window treatments that keep us from roasting on sunny days, organizes the ushers to collect the offering, creates and changes the sign and banner out front, and helps put away the tables and tents, and creates boxes and bookmarks that remind us of our values. EVERY WEEK. And once each month he helps with food preparation for the homeless and goes to the shelter to distribute the food.
His dear wife Riva, the other pea in this pod, is just as busy. Riva brings cookies, organizes and supports the greeters, helps set up and break down the welcome table, helps prepare and clean up salad Sundays, leads a covenant group and the monthly discussion group at Laguna Woods, organizes a monthly meal at the homeless shelter, and she occasionally calls our members that we haven’t seen in a while. All of that effort comes out of one household. And that doesn’t even touch on the tremendous contributions that Rachel, Riva’s daughter, and Brian, their son in law, make to the Fellowship. Thank you Mark and Riva
Jack and Jean Paris come early every Sunday to the Fellowship. They used to set up tables, but now they are preempted by Paul, who gets here even earlier. But they always stay to help take the tables down. Jean takes the boxes and Jack takes the tables. She says, and I have witnessed, “He is a workhorse. He can’t be stopped.” Jean always brings two or three items when there is a salad Sunday and helps set up food. And they sing every week in the choir. Jean helps edit the Sealight and has done so since 2005. And before the format changed, Jean played a major role in organizing the Circle Suppers every month. Perhaps the contribution they get the most thanks for though, is bringing their delightful granddaughter, Ava with them. Thank you Jack and Jean.
Jim Pemberton is probably the quietest do-gooder I know. I’m amazed he even let me have this conversation with him. He started his work on our building in 1974, when he, Kurt, and Jim Sweeney had to go down to the basement to relight the furnace on a regular basis. Since that time he has been a faithful steward of this beloved building. As a taste of what that means, last weekend, he came to change a toilet seat in the bathroom. Talk about a thankless job. Fortunately he went downstairs to check on another project. There he found that our basement was flooded with a couple of inches of water, and more was coming in from the neighbor’s sprinkler. He got the sprinkler shut off, and spent three hours squeegeeing and moping the floor, so that our kids would have a classroom the next morning. On top of regular maintenance our building requires, this is the sort of emergency he has been attending to since 1974. Thank you Jim.
Paul Bogdan is a relative newby to our efforts to maintain our building. But his efforts have been just as thorough and sincere. Paul comes to the church every Sunday morning at 8:45. He promptly begins setting up tables and tents for the greeters and social action committee. He brings out chairs for those folks to sit on, and he brings the nametags, our nametags, to hang on the front door so we can find them. But it’s not just Sundays. He also comes by twice each week to sweep up leaves and pick up trash. Since he lives very close by, he just keeps and eye on the building while the rest of us aren’t here to. Thank you Paul.
Amy Lemp offers a service for our congregation that many, I dare say most of you, don’t even know exists. For the past couple of years, Amy has organized our youth along with the youth of neighboring congregations to go on all sorts of fun adventures like laser tag, miniature golf, trampolining, bowling, and improv comedy. They have also had game nights. She also organized the programs that we all enjoyed at the church retreat two weeks ago. Years ago, I want to say 13 years ago, just after joining our Fellowship, which she found in the Yellow Pages. Amy thought we could benefit from an online presence. So she built and still manages our website. Thank you Amy.
Marta is a helper of a different variety. I marvel at her dedication to recycling. She’s often picking through the trash cans that the rest of us can’t seem to figure out. But more than recycling, she is always there to do the odd job. Maybe it is making food, or help with a computer, or moving something. Marta likes doing a variety of different things and is always eager to do what she can. Thank you Marta.
And the final person I talked to about helping was Colleen Schulkee. Colleen cooks homemade food every month for our meal at the homeless center. She cooks the food and serves the food with her children. And I want to stress, the homemade part of the story. As a family, they peel and cook real mashed potatoes to serve 70 people. Thank you Colleen.
Like I said earlier, more than understanding exactly what all these wonderful people do, I wanted to better understand why they do them, and how we can be supportive. That’s what was remarkable about talking to Colleen. She said she has just always volunteered in some way. It started in college, helping with wrap groups on birth control at the free clinic in Laguna Beach. And she has helped hold pre-mature babies. She helped tutor kids with reading. She’s a great reminder that cultivating generosity is a lifestyle. It’s just something you do once or twice.
The other thing that Colleen and I talked about was doing this work with her children. She’s glad to teach them, not about the value of helping people, but to be accepting of everyone, even the folks that they have gotten to know at the homeless shelter. She’s glad for that opportunity to teach her kids and she’s proud of how well they engage people whose life is very different from anything they have ever known. When we volunteer we serve as a model for our children, and everyone else around us.
But we aren’t just teaching our kids when we volunteer, we can also teach ourselves something new. Yes, many of us volunteer because we have a particular skill. But volunteering can also be an opportunity to try something completely new. That’s part of why Marta enjoys the great variety of different things. And Amy Lemp built our website, not because she was a pro, but because she had just put one together for the twins club that she was a part of. Many, I dare say most of our volunteer efforts are the fruit of good-will and hard work, not professional expertise. Larger churches and the corporations that most of us are used to dealing with, have highly trained staff to execute every operation. Our volunteers do the best job they can. The final product may not always be perfect, but their volunteer efforts represent the best of what we are as a community.
Some volunteers are novices, while others offer a finely honed skill. Mark Dimond said that the thing that he feels proud about is being uniquely useful. “Being uniquely useful,” that certainly is something worth being proud about. You see his contributions of printed material are based on his professional experience working in the printing industry. Similarly, Jim Pemberton worked in the appliance repair field for forty years. You can bet that we have benefitted from some of his mechanical know-how. A lot of times people bring with them particular gifts and skills that no one else could provide. Though I didn’t talk with her about this Sunday’s topic, I can’t help but mention Helen Fredrick’s tremendous contribution as our congregational nurse. I can say that now that my arm has stopped hurting from last week’s flu shot.
In all of my conversations, I was delighted to hear how eager folks were to do all that they did. Nearly everyone I talked to spoke about connecting with other people through their volunteer work. Amy is thrilled when visitors talk about find the Fellowship through the website and colleen takes the kids to feed the homeless so they can connect with a different community. Marta talks about working with people with shared interest. And Paul said that he did what he did because it was an opportunity to serve others. I found this really striking. What he gets out of it, is an opportunity to serve. What a wonderful reminder of what we talk about every Sunday with the offertory. It is indeed a gift to be able to give. It is a point of connection, a sacred opportunity to express your love through action.
Another theme that came up was change. Many of these volunteers have been on the stage for a very, very long time. Jim talked about the changing technology of our AV system that he as worked with over the years. Apparently the first system was purchased at radio shack and was controlled from a box that sat up here next to the podium. After many different configurations, now, we have high quality sound and state of the art video that requires a computer to run. Jim said keeping up with this change was the most challenging thing he has done in his years as a volunteer. He also said it was the most rewarding. I think that’s very telling. There is a certain feeling of accomplishment that comes from seeing a project evolve, and knowing you are a part of it getting better and better. But that only comes in the long term. You have to stick with the evolution to reap the benefits of excellence.
But Jean Paris talked to me about another type of change. I mentioned that for a long time she had organized the Circle Suppers. She carefully planned who would bring what dish to every gathering and built a great relationships with newcomers based on food. This job that was important to Jean, looked pretty tedious and difficult to me and a few others. So we changed to organization of Circle Suppers, and did away with her job. We have talked about it and Jean is fine, but we could have gone about the change in a way that both honored her gifts and enhanced Circle Suppers. When we make change in the Fellowship, we have to remember that everyone is invested.
The final piece of feedback that I got is a very simple one. When I asked Riva why she did all of this work, her response was, “Why not?” I first read that and thought it wasn’t a very useful answer. But actually, it’s great. Why not? Why shouldn’t we assume that everyone will share part of themselves to help build our community. Why not spend a little extra time with people you care about? Why not share in the responsibility.
When we transform the question from “why give my time and energy to the people I care about,” to “Why wouldn’t I spend my time and energy sharing with the people I care about,” we begin a radical act, we begin to build the beloved community.
Part of church, a big part of church is about building a place that is different from the rest of the world. The community here is based on sharing what you can. That’s what the financial commitment of pledging is based on, giving what you can. And we ask the same thing in volunteer hours and skills, bring what you can to the table.
And from those plentiful resources, we share evenly among the community gathered. I want you to hear that this is a radical way of living in the world. It is not what happens every day. It’s not the way our capitalist economy operates. It’s not the picture of accumulating personal property and wealth that we see on television. Participating in our shared ministry is revolutionary. Not just because of the tremendous contributions that individuals make, the kind that we have heard of today. Building our shared ministry is revolutionary because it is different, it is lifesaving, and its living a life that we are called to live. And we need each other, we need this community to have an opportunity to do that.
Monday, October 15, 2012
The Planet Is Calling
“The Planet is Calling” As the title suggests, I intended to deliver to you today, yet another heavy-handed sermon about environmental responsibility. The planet is calling us to care, to live out our principles, to respond to the devastation. As usual I came up with this title well over a month ago, with a concept that our planet is calling us to respond. I do deeply believe that our planet is calling out to each one of us.
But, as I started writing about that call, something very new came to my sights. Yes, indeed the planet is calling, to each one of us. But that call is surprisingly multidimensional. Sometimes we hear a call of joy and the beauty and splendor of nature. We see the persistence of life and know that we are a part of that magic. Other times when we read the news, or sometimes just looking around our world, we hear the earth call out in pain. Together we have inflicted tremendous destruction to our home. We are just now beginning to make a psychological and spiritual shift away from exploitation to gratitude. We know that the earth is suffering and we hear that call.
For some the call of the planet is about a message of interconnectedness. For others, they find in the Earth calls us to a new sense of order. She can teach us the right ways if we are willing to open ourselves to her reason. The point I’m getting at is there is no one way the Earth calls, no one single message to be received. The messages in fact are many.
I’m reminded of a movie I saw recently. I appreciated it exploring a Jewish theology’s complex understanding of God. The primary character in the film was having a crisis of faith. As she went into a fertility clinic to try artificial insemination she refused to pray. God had not followed through with her prayers so far, and she didn’t want to bring him in on this deeply held hope. But her agnostic friend, knowing how important prayer was to her, insisted that she pray. And she said, maybe God is complicated. Maybe sometimes he’s stubborn and we don’t understand. Maybe sometimes God is busy or just not paying attention. It could be.”
And the woman’s response was magical. She said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe God is complicated and unpredictable, like me.”
My point is that maybe the messages that the Earth has to offer us are also complicated. Maybe there are a great many different things for us to listen for. Sometimes it’s hope, sometimes it’s warning, sometimes it’s nurturing, sometimes it’s destruction. The earth is in fact calling to us. And we have the great opportunity of learning and hearing from a teacher who is complicated, just like we are.
The earth is calling us in many different ways. I want to talk about some of those calls in particular. The way that always comes to my mind is the way that our planet invites us to celebrate. Just this past weekend many of us were up in the San Bernadino Mountains at Camp DeBenneville Pines. We were there at the perfect time. Crisp cool mornings gave way to sun-filled afternoons. Many of us got to canoe on a pond and watch a bald eagle perch high above. There were aspen trees ablaze and the sweet vanilla scent of Jeffrey pine trees filled the air. It was an exhilarating time, impossible not to feel the celebration of Earth.
This celebration is part of our Unitarian Universalist faith. It doesn’t take long to hear this kind of call, if you open yourself to it. You can see it in simple things like grass breaking through the pavement, or in the magic of the epic of evolution. Earth’s call to celebrate the beauty of life is all around us in a flood of senses. It is pleasure for our eyes, ears, tongue and skin. It’s a tremendous variety, a richness of color, a depth and lightness that human hands will never create.
It is true, that these magnificent pieces of creation were not made for human pleasure. Geology is random; biology serves a purpose rooted in natural selection. This tremendous variety was not created for human consumption.
Yet still its is there before us. To close our eyes and ears to that beautiful call would is an affront to the Earth itself and to all things sacred. And more than that, closing ourselves to the beauty of nature is an affront to ourselves, our own very human need for a rich experience of life, an affront to our own well-being.
The Earth calls us to celebrate the beauty of life. And in what sometimes comes as a jarring and fickle turn, she reminds us of the tremendous pain and suffering we have inflicted.
Earth’s call of pain comes in a few different forms. Sometimes we see it in littered areas. Sometimes we smell the smog-infested air. More and more we know that weather patterns are changing as the Earth struggles to keep up. But I think mostly it’s the scientific community that tries to explain the sort of hardship that our planet endures. Still, it is hard for us to grasp, because the impact of our actions is so delayed. But the momentum is building. That’s probably the most frightening piece of the picture, that the pain that we inflict on the Earth is in fact rapidly increasing.
The momentum of climate change is like a freight train, make that ten thousand freight trains, running faster, and faster and faster with an accumulated impact that is really unknowable. Recent emissions of carbon dioxide already commit the planet to at least another half-century of rapid warming. Let me say that again, what is already in the air, commits us to another half-century of rapid global warming.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the planets painful call. This is after all what we hear when we open the paper or turn on the news. It’s the one we are reminded of day after day.
Coupled with that call of pain, is a call to more deeply understand our interconnections. Some of us take that call of doom and devastation and we are reminded of the generations that will come after us. We are reminded that in our rapidly shrinking global ecology. Strange to say, the environmental devastation is forcing all of us to take seriously the concept of Universalism. In fact our salvation, our fate is tied with the fate of everyone else. No one escapes the world that we create. No one gets a free pass.
Universalism teaches us that our salvation is wrapped up together. That may come in theological terms, it may come in terms of personal fulfillment and meaning, it may come in terms of creating peace an justice, but it most certainly is true for the environmental reality of our fate. The earth is calling, reminding us that what befalls one of us, will befall the rest. We are all in this together.
But the Earth’s call isn’t all about doom and gloom. It’s also about a deep rootedness, a profound truth that I feel, and I know many of you have felt in nature. Feeling that connection in with nature is the most common experience of spirituality that I have heard shared among Unitarian Universalists. It’s not about facts and figures, it’s not a textbook on ecology, it’s just a feeling that is available to us. I guess the earth is calling to our natural animal intuition. Many of us hear a call from the earth that is about interconnection. That interconnection is one of the deepest and strongest threads of Unitarian and Universalist theology.
I’ve preached so many sermons about Emerson and Thoreau’s appreciation for nature, and the sense of connection that grows out of it. I often think of them as sages, walking in the woods and writing great essays. But they did more than feel the connection. They answered the Earth’s call to connection by sharing the news with other people
Sensing a fundamental connection with all of humanity, Thoreau spoke out against the exploitation of Irish immigrants who had fled their own country to escape starvation. He was indignant about the American Indians, who had been driven even farther west into territory that nobody wanted. And perhaps Thoreau’s most eloquent writings were in he rejection of slavery. Time and time again Throeau stood on the right side of the debate. He stood on the side that recognized all people of the Earth as his brothers and sisters.
The Earth led Throeau and subsequently many other great leaders to understand that there is a higher law. It’s a law that may not be reflected in science, and certainly not in economics. There is a higher law that we cannot escape, no matter how much we try to delude ourselves.
The earth has a way of calling us into order. I guess it is tough love, but nature is telling us that what we have assumed to be right for so long, the logic of amassing more goods is not a recipe for mutual success.
The call of our planet has, with great skill, begun to strip back a misguided theory of what human thriving looks like. She is telling us not just about the environment, but about ourselves. The earth is calling out to help us better understand our relationship with each other.
Thanks to her call, we are coming to realize that We have created a materialistic system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its salves and victims. For most of us who want to have a house, a car, a refrigerator, a television, and so on, we must sacrifice our time and our lives in exchange. We are constantly under the pressure of time. So that rather than enjoying a cup of tea with another person, we must turn our mind, and our heart to acquiring another object.
The earth is calling us to live up to a different future, not just for the sake of the planet, but for the sake of our sanity. The earth is calling to let us know that the way we have organized ourselves, logical though we though it might have seemed, simply isn’t working. The earth is calling us to find another way.
Before we finish our time together, I want to talk a little bit about our responsibility to respond to Earth’s call. Rather than giving a laundry list of things you shouldn’t do and things you should let go of, I want to offer you in invitation to build a deeper relationship with the Earth.
I deeply believe that the Earth calls us to recognize and celebrate what is good, what is beautiful, what is life affirming, what keeps us connected to our home. I have three suggestions to think about. Live with the seasons. Stay close to the ground. Honor the earth. (From “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril”)
After the weather this week, it’s a great time to remember to live with the seasons. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time for strawberries and melons, a time for acorn squash. A time for basking in the sun, a time for cuddling up in a blanket. A time for rain and a time for drought. Live with these seasons, plant for the, celebrate them, and anticipate what each will bring. Yes, they are harder to recognize here in Southern California, but they do exist in a powerful way. Let each season be what it will, and celebrate with the variety of experience that each season brings.
And the second suggestion, stay close to the ground. Walk where you are going, and go where you can walk. Refuse to fly. Move close to your family. Sit on the steps or the curb, or a fallen log. Dig potatoes. Pick up trash when you see it. Get to know your neighbors and plant food where you can. Lie on you back and watch the stars or the clouds. Connection with the earth, both metaphorical and actual gives us life and grounds our joys. Stay close to the ground.
And finally, honor the earth. If you have forgotten how, then think of how you honor your grandmother, a wizened woman in the nursing home. You honor her by visiting her, spending time holding her hand, singing her songs of the season, telling her stories of how she cared for you, bringing small gifts, stroking her arm, listening to her, making sure her hair is clean and people are kind to her. The Earth is equally beloved and holy.
Live with the seasons. Stay close to the ground. Honor the earth. The planet is calling with a voice that can change our lives, if we are willing to let it. The planet is calling, let us answer that call with our lives.