On Not Waiting to be the Hummingbird (sermon)

On Not Waiting to be the Hummingbird:

The Life and Death

of Lee Hawkins

First Parish Church of Groton

May 24, 2015

[For audio version, click here.]

Two decades ago, I had the chance to speak with the coordinator of my grandmother’s hospice care, who happened to be an acquaintance of mine. I asked how she was doing – not medically, but spiritually. My friend said simply, respecting both my grandmother’s confidentiality and my grief-as-curiosity, “As we live, so we die.” This was unfortunate for my grandmother, who barely topped five feet but intimidated the beejeezus out of nearly anyone, including her progeny, with her need for control and insistence on her rightness in the world. Dying was no easy path for her.

Today I want to tell you about a different older woman whom I loved. I want to tell you about a different way to encounter dying and death. I want to tell you about someone who, when the time was right, couldn’t wait to be the hummingbird. I want to tell you about Eleanor “Lee” Hawkins. There are many reasons I am telling you about Lee. In December, I go before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. Scuttlebutt says one commonly posed questions is, “Please name one Unitarian or Universalist or Unitarian Universalist hero from each of the last four centuries.” If I get that question, I plan on naming Lee as my 21st century choice. I am telling you about Lee as a talisman for myself, a gesture as part of my own spiritual practice of befriending death, my inelegant attempts to live into that line from our reading: “the tenderness yet to come.” That poem is our reading today because Lee left instructions for me to read it at her memorial service last September. Lee was, indeed, that hummingbird. Back in 2004, when her husband was dying at home, he called out to Lee from the bedroom. It was time. He told her that he was at death’s door. Lee went to him full of devoted love – they had been married for decades upon decades and were still effervescent with their adoration for each other. She sat on the bed, and asked, “Rog – what’s it like?” I am telling you about Lee because I want her witness in the world to expand your notions of what is to be human in this aching world that always, without exception, ends in death. Rev. Forrest Church invited his congregation – Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City – to witness his journey of terminal illness and facing his own death. He wrote about it in one of his many books, though this theme of death was a frequent one for him. Here are some of his wise words:

Death is not a curse to be outwitted no matter the cost. Death is the natural pivot on which life turns, without which life as we know it could not be. A pro-life-support position is not always a pro-life position. When we can no longer hold on with purpose, to let go is to die with dignity and grace.” (Cathedral of the World: A Universalist Theology)

At one point, he was interviewed by NPR’s Terry Gross. She asked him about his initial (relatively positive) reaction to news of his terminal diagnosis and how he was in a “pink cloud” for several days. She wondered if it was denial, or if it was his “theology” at work.   In response, Church said,

“Every minister spends a lifetime preparing for this exam. The most important work we do is done with families in bereavement. But we really don’t know, having given all of this advice and held all of these hands and walked all of this journeys through the valley, how we ourselves are going to respond. And it was a great relief to me that I was able to embrace my death. I sensed that, if you’ve made peace with your life, you can make peace with your death. But if you haven’t, it’s much more difficult.”

Minister or lay person, churched or so-called “unchurched,” organized or free-range, death is the great leveler, and there is much for us to learn and gain and be enriched by these stories and acts of witness. Born in California, Lee lived much of her life in Staten Island, teaching public school, active in the UU congregation there. Then, for the last twenty or so years, she was in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and I were members of the same UU congregation. As I understand it, for most of her adult life, Lee spoke of her intention to be aware and in control at the end of her life. Yes, documents: a well, advanced directive. But conversations, too, with her family: extraordinary medical interventions, her vision of what a good life is and also what a good death might be. This intention was part and particle of her deeply rational, deeply kind, deeply political being. As she gained years, having not succumbed to the vagaries, surprises, and tragedies so many of us humans experience, she prepared for the possibility of dying of old age on her terms. This impulse was not born of that depression that can accompany the aging process, which is often so much about losing – losing capacities, losing friends, losing out on experiences in the wider world – though anticipating this, and eventually experiencing it, did inform some of the timing and texture Lee’s choices. Lee was public about her plans. When the time came – and she did not know exactly what time that was, but when it did – she would “manage her own death.” That’s the phrase she chose to describe her actions. “Manage her own death:” some amount of control, but also facing towards it, not away. She researched her options methodically and with attention to how her choice might impact her family and community. She made her decisions in relationship with her adult children – not seeking their approval, but informing them, bringing them along, gaining their assent. In the end, at the age of 90, still without terminal diagnosis, living in a body weakening and a mind beginning to forget, she made it clear that, when the time came, she would stop eating and drinking. In late June, I heard from a mutual friend: it was nearly “time.” Like so many of her friends did at this time, one evening I brought dinner over to Lee.  She had not much hunger for food, but certainly for company.  Each of us knew we were having what would be our last conversation. Lee took such delight in the gift of knowingly having a last conversation – she said it was one of the best parts of being public about deciding to manage her death. Talking about death and being near death has never been hard for me, but last summer I was completing my internship as a hospital chaplain, so I was getting even more practice. While “eating” with Lee, I asked her if she would meet with my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) peers and supervisor.    Never having lost the drive to teach, I knew Lee would welcome this opportunity. Seven of us spent a few hours with her, listening to and learning from a person choosing to encounter death with such intention. One of my favorite moments from that meeting is Lee chiding the quiet ones who didn’t ask questions – “how could they pass up this opportunity?” she queried, impatient at their timidity. Ever committed to teaching and to public witness of encountering death without fear (or, from her humanist side, superstition), she had taken part in a community dialogue about death the year before she died. She had been interviewed by the local newspaper about her plans, engaging in an intimate and frank dialogue that was published in 2013. By late August, Lee had intentionally stopped eating and drinking. Surrounded by her three adult children, moving towards death, Lee invited (and her children had allowed), that same local newspaper reporter and photographer to be present, to record in word and photo, the process of her dying and her death, which took place on September 2 last year. The narrative and photo-narrative was published to much praise and much condemnation. Death can be a hard thing and we have, for the most part, hidden it away. So when a person like Lee, or a journalist, or a newspaper, decides to stop hiding, strong feelings erupt. Not many of us are ready for death. I am not ready for death. But it does not much matter, our readiness, our assent. Death comes. Wise people tell us that if we live our lives knowing that we are going to die – that we are in many ways, always dying, each moment – that our lived days will be fuller and more precious. A hard lesson to take in, but our ministries, and our very lives, depend upon it. Let me close with another UU voice who has blessed us with reflections upon her own death. The Rev. Nancy Shaffer was diagnosed with a brain tumor which eventually, and far too soon, took her life on June 5, 2012. Nancy kept a journal with the intention of having her reflections published, which they were, under the title, While Still There Is Light:

This is not lost on me: Given that I have a tumor That – I am told – will someday kill me I have also the advantage That I must reflect now – While I am alive – On the meaning of my life And how I want to leave it. I might have died quickly. This is harder, perhaps, But exquisitely richer: I get to grieve for my own self. How tender and not-to-be-missed Is this?

by Paul Joyce

by Paul Joyce

May each of us be more able to face death: that of loved ones — even our own — to know peace and ease, and perhaps even the curiosity of Mary Oliver’s hummingbird. Amen. Blessed be. May it be so.

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Mother’s Day Proclamation in the Shadow of #BaltimoreUprising

Mothers-Day-PeaceMother’s Day is upon us. In Unitarian Universalist congregations, Mother’s Day is often spent invoking the words of Unitarian Julia Ward Howe and her Mother’s Day Proclamation. She wrote it in 1870 as an international anti-war cry, having witnessed the carnage of the Civil War in this country and the Franco-Prussian war in Europe. It is a fierce vision of women crossing arbitrary national borders to come together for peace.

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

This year, I read these words in a new light. This year, I read these words in the light of #BaltimoreUprising, in the light of #Ferguson, in the light of #BlackLivesMatters.

A few weeks ago, the internet and television were all hot and bothered about Toya 920x920Graham, a mother who was videotaped hitting her 16-year-old son who had taken part in the resistance to the police (I refuse to call it rioting), cussing him out, shaming him into leaving the scene of the unrest. Mainstream media lauded her as Mother of the Year. Her actions, despite or because they were physically violent, were praised as what was necessary to get her “thug” son out of harm’s way.

I have spent the past twenty years working from a strengths-based perspective with parents of young children, mostly in marginalized communities, primarily in communities of color. I have dedicated my professional life to culturally competent support of young mothers and young fathers to raise their children well. What the nation and world saw in that videotape does not fall into the category of what is considered strengths-based parenting; the praise for her parenting choices was worrisome to me. I wondered, given my social work profession, whether it I might have something to add to the national conversation.

Yet, given that I am white and she is Black; given that I live in a community that has not been beset by poverty and violence for decades and she has, I felt that for me to enter into the national diatribe (in which she would be the object, which means it couldn’t be a conversation) was against my values. I did not want to become part of the problem. I have seen some interesting pieces written, like this one, as well as some terrible ones (to which I won’t bother to link to).  I will just say that when ultra-conservative Ben Stein praises her as 2015’s Rosa Parks, something is amiss.

(If you want to pay attention to a strong African American mother, read this piece by Valerie Bell, asking us to take back Mother’s Day.)

I just read a post by Terry Keleher, a white man, on the Colorlines web site. In the shadow of the unjust criminal “justice” system that disproportionately brings about the deaths of unarmed Black and Brown young men and women, as Mother’s Day approaches, he wrote of a scene he fantasizes seeing:

So in my scenario I imagined a heavily militarized line of police, donning shields and riot gear, much like they were in Ferguson and Baltimore. But this time, from behind the police line, I’d see a white mom rushing up to her police-officer son, tackling him to the ground and wrestling the weapons out of his hand. All along, she’d shout, “What’s the matter with you? What don’t you understand about Black Lives Matter? Did your police force not get the memo?” Then more white moms would join in, chasing and chastising their police-officer sons and daughters.

How can I not hear the strains of the Mother’s Day Proclamation:

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

What if it had not been Toya Graham who stopped her son, but it had been the mother of one of the police officers spraying tear gas?

What if it a concerned citizens group of mothers, perhaps of all races and colors, walked to the police line, arm in arm, and had said, “No more”? Of course, this happened as part of the peaceful protests that were not widely publicized, but they spoke to the young Black and Brown people resisting.

What if this group was of mothers of the other Baltimore, still claiming as their own these youth, but did so by saying, “Not this way. Not in our name.” to the police officers?

We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

Sometimes it does feel like we live in different countries. Given how segregated of a life we lead – how white people live separate from communities of color, how housing is cut up into enclaves based on class – we are kept from knowing each other, caring for each other. We are kept from being in such relationship that we might be “too tender” to hurt one another. Demographic statistics bear out that this is the reality for most white people in this nation — a shameful reality of the shameful history of systemic, institutionalized racism.

The day has come when we white mothers (and fathers) need to step up, to perhaps even to use our bodies to end violence in the name of peace, most certainly to resist the racist actions of too many police forces in our nation’s cities and towns.  For certain, the day is already here when we white parents should be talking with our kids about, as Keheler says,

the prevalence and impacts of white privilege, racial bias and police violence. Parents can play a critical role in teaching children to be conscious and active in counteracting the dominant patterns of racism. Feigned colorblindness and silence is the enemy of change.

What it will take for me to step forward, to raise up the courage, to use my white privilege and my power as a mother to be on the side of love and speak truth to power, that #BlackLivesMatter in all the venues available to me?  This is our work, too, white people, friends and not-yet-friends.  This is our work, too.

blacklivesmatter

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A Litany of Blessings (for Tori Jameson)

(At my current seminary, Andover Newton Theological School, it is tradition that at the last UU worship before graduation, we recognize those of us who are graduating.  Each graduating senior is blessed by someone else.  My friend asked me if I would bless her.  Shared today, May 4, 2015.)

"What is calling you?" painting by Donna Estabrooks.

“What is calling you?” painting by Donna Estabrooks.

Blessings of

  • courage and failure, for surely these are the stuff of which any ministry is made;
  • the senses, for eros and for fury, for surely these are the stuff of which embodied ministry is made;
  • darkness, in and of itself and light, in and of itself, and then of balance, of complement, of integration, for surely these are the stuff of which wise ministry is made;
  • beauty, of creativity, of wordless engagement, for surely these are the stuff of which deep ministry is made;
  • persistence and companionship, of solitude and of slow down, for surely these are the stuff of which steadfast ministry is made;
  • humility and connection, over and over again, and then some more, for surely these are the stuff of which true ministry is made.

Tori may you remember all your roots with gladness, even those tainted with pain and confusion, and certainly those which came with joy and insight, as they brought you here to this moment and will bring you forward into what is to come.

Know that you were known in this place because you shared yourself, that you are always a part of this mysterious web of connection and interconnection holding you as you share your gifts.

May you go out and be a blessing to this world.

blessings-rock

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Prayer for This Day – May 3, 2015

For church this morning at First Parish Church of Groton, I wrote the pastoral prayer ahead of time.  However, when the time came, I was moved to dump most of it and to give voice to the joys and sorrows voiced by the congregation.  Here is the original written version of the prayer…

May the spirit of prayer be upon our house ….

(Text in italics adapted from this prayer by Tamara Lebak)

Spirit of Life, we gather this day to be reminded of the sacred in the ordinary, the holy moments of waking yet again to a new day.  Help us this day to be fully present in our living, awake to each breath.

We come together to share and witness our joys and our sorrows, our moment by moments and the long stringing together of them, holding especially in our hearts and prayers:

[call out what was shared during Candles of Joys & Sorrows]

We hold the people of Nepal in the midst of suffering: may there be in the midst of that earthly devastation moments of connection, compassion, and comfort,  shelter and decent medical care.

We hold the residents of Baltimore, and all the cities of our nation: may there be and may we make justice for all so that we all can know and be peace.

Let us rejoice that so many of the girls stolen last year from their schools and families in Nigeria have been found; may their transition to a new life be one that is a salve to their suffering, for surely the trauma they have experienced sowed the seeds of confusion and despair.

May those working so that the foundations of our history stay strong be surrounded with abundance and support;

May those working on behalf of all our towns and cities be wise and skillful;

May we be blessed with guests who expand our heart and minds.

Holy One, help us to remember that we did not make this day before us.  Center of all Centers, remind us that we have the recurring pleasure to greet each moment as it unfolds, to reach out with an embrace, to kiss its cheek as though it were a visitor who has come a long way just to see us.

These and the prayers of our hearts we now.  Amen.  Blessed be.

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Prayer of Gratitude & Despair: Earth Day

Hear these words of thanksgiving and of lament.

Ours be a prayer of gratitude,

raising praise for life that sustains and renews,

to grace that surrounds and surprises,

for the abiding truth: there is no separation

between us and the rest

of the interdependent web

of all existence.

Ours be a lament of despair

in the form of a poem by Adrienne Rich:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save.

So much has been destroyed.

I have to cast my lot with those who,

age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,

reconstitute the world.

May we walk lightly,

May we seek humbly,

May we breathe deeply,

May we bring compassion,

May we be whole.

by v-collins

by v-collins

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How of Now: Holding this Earth, Our Gratitude, Our Pain (sermon)

First Parish Church of Groton, April 26, 2015

 Audio version here.

Perhaps you know this parable, which invites us to see with new eyes, or eyes that are willing to see newly:

There once was a simple farmer who lived and struggled alongside his neighbors and friends, trying to exist and fulfill a peaceful life. One day news arrived from far away, that his old loving father had died. His neighbors gathered to grieve, but the farmer simply said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” 

In time relatives brought a very fine horse of great cost and fine breeding, left to the farmer by his father. All the villagers and neighbors gathered in delight with him to celebrate his good fortune, but he just said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off.

Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

It is Earth Day.  Well, it is the Sunday after Earth Day, which counts as Earth Day in Church.

Earth Day is a joyful event — a chance to celebrate the planet and its natural richness, to connect with the spirit of generation and regeneration. It is opportunities to learn about how we can reduce in greenhouse gases or carbon footprints, gathering together in community to bless and embody the interconnected web of which we most definitely a part. A chance to experience and express our gratitude for this, our only planet.

And…

Earth Day, especially with each new micro-bit of data, each new study released from a reputable source, each latest news report on nearly all of the channels or web sites worth trusting, each alarming announcement from some United Nations office, has its shadow side whose most recognizable name is Climate Change. These shadows are both deep and ragged, often causing us to either be paralyzed with fear or to turn away in denial (or both).  As Joanna Macy says,

dandelionspiralAll of us are prey to the fear that it may be too late, and thus any effort is essentially hopeless. Any strategy we can mount seems so puny in comparison with the mighty systemic forces embedded in the military-industrial complex. The accelerating pace of destruction and contamination may already be taking us beyond those tipping points where ecological and social systems unravel irreparably.

Joanna Macy is a Buddhist scholar and environmental activist who has developed something called The Work That Reconnects. The Work That Reconnects follows a four-point spiral – perhaps you will recognize it in the flow of today’s worship service and in this sermon. It starts with gratitude (including recognizing new life, new members, and joining our sparkling glass bead-jewels into a greater whole), honoring our pain (and surrounding it with tears of holy water), seeing with new eyes, and going forth.

Jewels of gratitude for the earth, stones of despair for the world -- First Parish ritual for Earth Day, 2015

Jewels of gratitude for the earth, stones of despair for the world — First Parish ritual for Earth Day, 2015

The intention of this work is to help us not be stuck, paralyzed by those deep, ragged shadows, but to face them, and in so doing, find ways to be part of the good that is still very much possible.

What are the options? In the midst of what we know about Climate Change, how it impacts the Have-Nots much more direly than the Haves; how some changes, like gigantic sheets of ice melting, are happening more rapidly than originally forecast, even just a few years ago; how so many animal species have gone extinct and even more are well on that same path?

I see five broad strokes of options:

  • Option #1: Use up natural resources faster, while they are still available, often purely for profit.
  • Option #2: Nihilistic hedonism — seeking material and corporal pleasure no matter the impact on the earth or on community – what we might call, “You only live once” attitude.
  • Option #3: Stick our heads in the sand.
  • Option #4: Do what one can with the belief that we can still tip the balance and still save humanity and nature as we know it. (More or less.)

Even though my North American life means that even without trying, I take part in one, two, and three on a regular basis (We all do. We are in this together.), these options, to be blunt, suck.  (That is theological terminology for really really bad.)

What I observe is that people of good conscious have been focusing on Option Four. But this is one is getting harder and harder to do. Not because we can’t do good things in the world. The harder and harder part is finding evidence for the latter part: that we can still tip the balance, that we haven’t already passed the point of no return.

In her book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein believes it is possible if we act now and we act collectively and fundamentally – changing not light bulbs, but our whole economic system. A gargantuan task, but possible, she says. But not for much longer, if we want it to make a difference in keeping our planet liveable for human beings.  Click here for a two-minute book trailer.)

What catches my attention is Option #5. The one I haven’t named quite yet.

Klein, Macy, our own Unitarian Universalist environmental activist Tim deChristopher, and many others – perhaps folks sitting here in this sanctuary — believe that the climate crisis just might be the “very existential crisis we need to release and unleash […] suppressed values on a global and sustained scale, to provide us with a chance for a mass jailbreak” [Klein] from certain doom.

The very thing we need to see through new (and yes, urgent) eyes.

What suppressed values? What is Option Five?

It is focusing not on whether, in the end (whatever that means) we will survive, but focusing instead, on who we will be and how we will act in the meantime, in the Now.

What kinds of actions and what kind of people will we be – moral? compassionate? generous? justice-seeking? This is Option Five: choosing to do good not knowing what will happen in the end, doing good in the face of uncertainty, without guarantee of result or even survival.

Beloved farmer, poet, prophet Wendell Berry tells us, “All we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is do the right thing today…. If using less energy would be a good idea for the future, that is because it is a good idea.”

Klein gives examples from both ends of the continuum of possible How-actions: how there has been amazing generosity among strangers in the face of catastrophes (blessings on the people of Kathmandu in Nepal in the midst of their devastating earthquake), global responses of aid when extreme weather has devastated places and people.

Also how climate change is already “coarsening” us, with humanity acting as if empathy, and not fossil fuels, is the finite resource.

899192e95a296608d1de3aebf7e25e65Our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each individual and our seventh principle affirms our belonging to the interdependent web of all existence and in between we hear Walt Whitman’s beautiful words from Song of Myself, that we “contain multitudes.” We say, amen, we are a mess of contradictions: persistent empathy and solidarity, as well as compassion fatigue and coarsening.

I have decided to call this Option Five, to give it more substance in my life, the How of Now rather than the What of Then. Choosing to guide my actions and commitments to how I want to be now, rather than trying to know what will happen then, in the future.

This is where our final stop, the fourth point, on the spiral brings us: going forth.

Because even existing here in the long shadows of damage of our own making, we believe that we are called to be people of compassion over consumption, of justice and fairness over security and I’ve-got-me-mines.

Ours is a faith that aspires to creating Beloved Community, not Beloved Certainty.

“Spiral Mandala” by Jim Bubgardner

The wise Joanna Macy says it this way:

there is no way to tell how the larger story will end. So we learn again that hardest and most rewarding of lessons: how to make friends with uncertainty; how to pour your whole passion into a project when you can’t be sure it’s going to work. How to free yourself from dependence on seeing the results of your actions.

Did you notice the post-it notes in your pews?* I invite you, during the postlude, to write one thing (or more than one thing), that you commit to doing as you go forth into this uncertain world. Who do you want to be and how do you want to be that person?

What action – of compassion, of conservation, of (social) change, of creativity, of connection – will you take knowing that you are part of the interdependent web of all existence?

Perhaps it will be to plant an extra row in your garden, that you might give fresh produce to the local food pantry this summer.

Maybe you will choose to read that article with the headline about climate-change-doom that your fear tells you to skip over, saving the cute-kitten-video-clip for another time.

Perhaps you will go to a local meeting about the Kinder Morgan pipeline and learn about the organizing to protect the land and the landowner and our communities (let me tell you, in Western Mass, where I live, they are learning civil disobedience rather than cede their land, homes, and forests to this project).

Maybe you will take part in the Village concept right here: taking care of ourselves across the lifespan, here, in our hometown, in our own homes.

Maybe it will be to renew your commitment to keep your re-usable grocery bags in your car and to never use new plastic bags again. You can impose your own plastic grocery bag tax: if you forget the ones you already own, you are not allowed to use the free ones at the cash register, but must buy a new re-usable bag. That will get you to remember to keep them in the car and bring them with pretty darn quick.

Perhaps you will spend more time than you usually do sitting in silence in a place of nature, opening to the fact and feeling that there really is no separation, that we are part and particle of nature as it is part and particle of us. Then let that deep truth guide your actions.

Whatever compassionate, conservationist, justice-y, creative, change thing you will do to go forth, write it on that post-it. Memorize it, which is to say, place it on your heart.

Then, as you leave the sanctuary, there is a poster of the earth, made by the youth in our Middle Matters program, made by people whose lives will bear the brunt of our mistakes and our strivings much more than we can ever know. Place it there, as our communal tribute and promise to go forth, marshalling hope in the face of the uncertain, choosing the How of Now, not the What of Then.

0426151146a

The completed (only just begun) Going Forth board from First Parish…

Let me close repeating again the wisdom from Wendell Berry: “All we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is do the right thing today…. If using less energy would be a good idea for the future, that is because it is a good idea.”

May it be so. Amen. Blessed be.

* Post-it notes made, according to the package labeling, with adhesive derived from plants and paper from trees sustainably managed, reducing the use of petroleum and making them recycle-able (which regular post-it notes are not).

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The Hope of Raspberry Brambles

It’s risky, writing about hope without being in touch with at least some semblance of it, particularly when one aspires to be a minister.

My post yesterday for today’s Earth Day was not hope-giving. It was well-crafted. It was articulate. Someone even called it “compassionate.”  But it was not hopeful.

I was not hopeful.

It’s such a delicate balance, this hope thing.

How to live in the world without rose-colored glasses, how to see Reality (even in a post-modern world that informs us there are many Realities), how to stay awake?

quote from a poem by William Stafford

quote from a poem by William Stafford

quote from a poem by William Stafford

quote from a poem by William Stafford

So I wrote, and posted, and as I did, the “crusty, sharp edges of my own complicity” were popping holes in any balloon of hope that might catch a ride on a gentle breeze.

Then I walked out to my garden, the one late in making itself available because of our heavy winter just past and the long-lasting snow mounds.

I walked out to the raspberry canes.  I gave myself over to this scratchy annual early spring ritual.

A ritual of breaking off the grey-dead cane, hollowed out, some still gasping at life, but nevertheless already beyond regeneration.

A ritual of pulling some of the out-of-bound upstarts, for they throw themselves fecundly to places where no bramble should ever grow.

A ritual of blessing the live canes that they might bring their dusky-red manna come the end of July.

photo by Tiffany Woods

photo by Tiffany Woods

It reminded me of the wisdom to be found in this Mary Oliver poem, “When I Am Among the Trees,”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

For the poet, she goes to the trees.  Which sometimes works for me, too.  But today, it was the raspberry bushes, not as elegant as trees, but still containing some of the same magic.

After disentangling myself from the Screen of Over-Information;big-Flat-head-cane-borer-Fig-2

after I breathing the air of green-yard-bursting forth;

after thirty minutes of caring for this hedge that needs/does not need me;

after feeling somethings sharp scrape my forearms, but it was not my complicity;

after something real of this earth, both alive and dead, took me within its fortress;

after something wild made a promise to offer its fruits to me yet again, as it has done

done summer after summer;

I felt better.

I moved closer to sensing that I, too, “have come into the world …to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”   This may not be hope.  But it is connection.

I am reminded of the classic tale of the Buddha, when tempted by Mara, touched the earth and banished Mara.  There are many interpretations of this story, but I am struck how when the Buddha literally grounded himself, something generative, even hopeful, was allowed to happen — made possible by connection.  To the earth.

His earth, at least in the story, was not a raspberry bramble, but mine, at least today, was.

Truly a blessing.

Posted in Earth, End of the World, Hope | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments