Let Me Be Saved By Small Things

Spirit of Life, Radiant Mystery,
Source of all that is good and holy:
I confess to a certain weariness of spirit.

Just as we were beginning to recover
from the other disasters,
another shooting.

And since the rains have still not come
the power will be turned off
again.

And people who should love one another
and speak with kindness
or at least civility
are shouting in rage
and flouncing away–
forever!–they say
from their circles of love and support.

What is to become of us?

I long to pray to an omnipotent god
who would fix all this
if we just said the right words

But since that is not an option

I take myself
to the running waters
and listen to their song.

I call my dear friend
and listen to their beautiful voice.

And I sit with a four-year-old child
and read our favorite story.

Salvation is not something grand
heralded with trumpets;

It is instead effected by
a hundred small things:

The good dinner on a beautiful table,
a small child bouncing on your belly,
a dog chewing a bone against your leg.

The way water slides over smooth stone
over and over again but
never exactly
the same way twice.

The way the ravens converse
as they fly over the neighborhood
talking to each other
at the end of the day.

The way moss springs to life
the moment
it is touched
by rain.

Spirit of Life,
let me be saved by these small things.

Blessed be.

 

 

 

 

 

You… Shining (A Prayer for Yom Kippur)

Great Spirit of Life, Mysterious energy
that moves in and through all things:

Our old unwanted thoughts and habits
lie underfoot like the old leaves
that now begin to fall
on your hillsides.
We may have needed them once,
but no more.

Send the sweet rain
of Your love and compassion
that these old things
may be transformed
into rich soil for new growth.

And as feathery moss awakens
to the touch of rain,
and sends out new, seeking tendrils,
may we be made so fresh, and alive, and alert,
that when we look into each other’s faces
we see… You, shining.

Amen.

We Need Only Be

Spirit of Life,
Great immensity of love in which
we live and move and have our being:

Sometimes words fail.
Sometimes the catastrophe is so great
and the pain and fear and bewilderment
are so overwhelming
that we run out of things to say.
It feels impossible to pray.

In those times help us remember
that it is not our words
that connect us to you,
though they can help.
It is not our deeds
that connect us to you,
though they can help too.

No, it is rather that
we can never become disconnected.
Like a bird soaring on an updraft,
we need only be
and we are held in you.
We need only breathe,
and we breathe in you.

I breathe in God,
God breathes in me.
I breathe in Love,
Love breathes in me.

I rest in God,
God rests in me.
I rest in Love,
Love rests in me.

I move in God,
God moves in me.
I move in Love,
Love moves in me.

Help us remember:
we need only be,
and we are held in infinite love.

Blessed be.

God’s Porch

If you just lost everything in a fire
If the floods have taken it all away
If the diagnosis is worse
than anything you imagined
If the pain just won’t let up

If you are afraid for the life
of your grown-up child
If you can’t keep a baby growing
If your failing parent is far far away
And you can’t afford to travel

If you spend every day in the car outside
the worksite of your toddler’s father
singing to the baby and praying each moment
that ICE won’t come today

If you are hiding in the hills with no place to go
because the trailers for the workers
burned down

If you can’t go outside
without some jerk shouting comments
about every aspect of your body

If you fear for your life
when you see a police car
If you fear for the life of your son

If you worry every day
about what kind of world
this is for raising your children
If you’re scared of the man
with his hand on the button
If you’re afraid of what’s happening
to your marriage

Come to my house.

Come sit on the porch a while.

Look up at the trees. Listen to the quiet.
Allow peace to enter your heart.
A dragonfly darts to and fro above the yard
and butterflies silently flutter.
Hummingbirds drink from the feeders
and bees work in the clover.

There are wind chimes of metal
and one of bamboo
and they sway
sometimes sounding
in the breeze.

Come sit on the porch,
or lie down if you prefer.
We have many different kinds of chairs.
Breathe in the sweet air.
Gaze up into blue sky.
See the bright colors of the zinnias.

I will bring you something
delicious to drink
and if it is cool I will tuck you in
with a blanket

You can lie back and rest and relax
And just leave it all to me.

My love will wrap around you
and you will know you are safe
and nothing will ever hurt you
again.

Come sit on the porch a while.
Come on up and rest.

I am here waiting
just
for you.

Growing Together

Spirit of Life,
Great Immensity of Love that birthed the stars
and washes through our bodies
with every beat of our hearts:

Help us know you as the greening force
that pushes tender shoots through hard pavement.
They penetrate and then grow, and grow,
prying apart the hardest places.
Lush green life reclaims ugly surfaces.

May it be so in our own lives.
May we welcome in the seeds of love.
May we encourage them to take root.
May they take hold and pry apart
any hard casings on our hearts,
anything that separates us, one from another.

Cracked open, may we all weep
with one another’s sorrow.
May we all laugh
with one another’s joy.
May we grow together, our roots intertwined,
beautiful with the life we share.

Blessed be.

What is good and real and beautiful

A cellist in Sarajevo
once played for 22 days in a row
to honor 22 people who were killed by a mortar
as they waited in line for bread.

When asked “How can you play music
when bombs are being dropped all around?”

He replied, “No, the question is,
how can people drop bombs
when there is such beautiful music?”

Today we paddled our kayaks
across a lake
and into a creek
between canyon walls lush with
willow, alder, cottonwood,
maple, fir, pine,
madrone, oak, cedar
Green upon green upon green
in so many different hues

Bald Eagle greeted us
by swooping over our heads
and hundreds of dragonflies
darted above the water.
Little fish swam just below
and the loudest sound
was the fluting call
of a hermit thrush.

This time on quiet water
among green trees and with
our other-than-human relatives
is necessary

Because for some unfathomable reason
people do drop bombs
and hurt children
and pretend there is no climate change

and we need to remind ourselves of
what is good and real and beautiful.

There is music.
There is the fragrance of the pines
on a warm summer day.
There is the kiss of our beloved.
There is the laughter of a happy child
as she bounces on our lap
and sings her little song.
There is the fluting call
of the hermit thrush.

If we can keep these in our hearts
we will be strong enough
to go into the belly of the beast
and put out its fire
with the sweet, sweet waters
of love.

 

 

 

The Heart Outside Your Body

At the grocery store
I saw a baby in the seat
of a cart and he smiled at me
with such delight
that he reminded me of my own baby
and I was instantly transported
back to those days
such a long time ago

when I was his favorite person in the world
and he would raise his little arms
with fingers pointing up
and a winning smile
knowing that I would lift him high
and swing him through the air
before settling him on my hip
and taking him to the next big thing.

He too would sit in the cart
and smile at people who walked by
always so friendly
and slightly mischievous

no words yet
but you always knew
just what he meant.

Now he is a grown man
overtopping me by a foot
with a man’s beard and muscles
and his expression is often hard to read.

He is one of the good ones
and as much as I would like
to claim credit for that
I must admit
he was born that way.

Elizabeth Stone said that to have a child is
“forever to have your heart
go walking outside your body.”

Even long after they are grown
This is true.
I miss my sweet baby boy
but I love the man he has become
and I wish his heart didn’t walk
quite so far away
so much of the time

because even though
I am no longer his favorite person
he and his sister
(also grown)
are still mine.

 

 

 

What The World Needs

Spirit of Life,
You who urge the spring salmon upstream
and the geese back to their nesting grounds:

There is so much pain in our world.

It is tempting to shut our eyes
and shut our hearts
just so we can survive.

But what the world needs
is for us to keep them open.

Help us keep our eyes open
to the suffering we see.

Grant us the strength
not to turn away,
but to move toward
those beings and places
where our love is most needed.

Help us open our hearts.

Help us know
that it is when we are most open
to your movement through us
into our beautiful and hurting world
that we will feel the most joy.

Help us open our hearts to joy.

Blessed be.

 

What The World Needs Now

Reading
excerpted from “Live For It” by Ellen Bass[i]

Jasmine unfolding, the scent and color attracting the bees,
the darker veins guiding them toward the nectar,
honey in honeycombs, worms aerating soil,
the levity of bird bones,
fins of fish, the eye blinking—
who could have ever conceived it?

The crescent moon, tender as new love in the luminescent blue,
Milkweed silk—who could have imagined it?

And my lover, when she lifts her lips to me
and I first feel that softness,
warm like summer nights as a child
when she rubs against me like fur
and small cries escape my mouth like birds,
“Sing to me,” she breathes
and I sing glory I did not know was mine to sing.

What is this but a miracle?
What is this but the improbable, marvelous reward of desire?

Desire—that fire I was taught to suspect,
that intensity I struggled to calm.
“Don’t want too much,” the voices warned.

No.  Want.  Want life.
Want this fragile oasis of the galaxy to flourish.
Want fertility, want seasons, want this spectacular
array of creatures,
this brilliant balance of need.
Want it.  Want it all.

Desire.  Welcome her raging power.
May her strength course through us.
Desire, she is life.  Desire life.
Allow ourselves to desire life, to want this sweetness
so passionately, that we live for it.

 

What The World Needs Now

(Offered at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Chico, February 10, 2019)

What does it mean to love and be loved?  What is healthy love and what is not?   What is the place of love in human life on earth, and why does it matter?

In the field of systematic theology, these questions fall into the category of theological anthropology, or human nature in relation to the divine.  Wow, you may be saying, that sounds dull.  I thought we were going to be talking about eros today!  I was expecting something a little more, shall we say, exciting?

Okay, let’s talk about eros.

Have you ever stood in a winter storm with your arms open wide and your face to the wind and felt it scour you clean?  In the summer, have you ever been so hot that you slipped off all your clothes and slid naked into a cold river?  Have you ever stood between the rising of the full moon, and the setting of the brilliant sun, and felt the turning of the earth?  Have you ever lost yourself in music or painting or sculpting, or danced in joy until dawn?  Have you ever tasted a strawberry picked straight from the plant and nearly swooned as the bright flavor exploded in your mouth?  Have you ever made love with another person and felt, if only for a moment, your two selves become one?  Has longing ever pierced your heart?  Has beauty ever made you cry?

These are erotic experiences, experiences in which we feel the life force moving through us and responding to the life all around us.  We feel a longing to intimately participate in this life; we long to know and be known, to love and be loved.  We see beauty and respond by creating more beauty; we are the world consciously loving itself.  We are part of a great communion of all life.

Erotic love is one of the most joyful pathways human beings can follow to awakening to this communion.  Relationships based on mutual care and pleasure provide refuge and sustenance for their partners.  These would be wonderful enough, but even more is possible.  The ecstatic awareness that comes with erotic love can be a magic portal.  Through it people can enter a new relationship with what some call the interdependent universe and others call the divine.  Do you remember your first mutual love?  Did colors seem brighter?  Did birds seem to be singing in a language you could almost understand?  Did every breeze seem to caress your skin?  Did the moon seem to hang low and lush, just for you?  The heightening of our senses that comes with desire can make us exquisitely aware of our interbeing with all that is.

This was what happened to a Muslim man named Mevlana Jelal Ad Din Muhammad Rumi, in 13th century Persia.  Rumi, as Americans call him, was born in what is now Afghanistan and moved to what is now Turkey as boy.  He was a respected scholar and jurist—until the fateful day when a wandering ascetic named Shams came into his life.  Shams means Sun in Arabic, and for Rumi Shams was his sun.  He fell madly in love.  His love for Shams opened his whole being so wide that he began regularly to experience all life and love as One, in Arabic called Allah, THE One. In the mystical school of Islam that Rumi began, Allah is said to have created the universe that Allah might be known by Allah.  In other words, the universe both is God and is a mirror of God; in still other words, the universe is Godself becoming.  In still yet other words, humans are the divine beholding the divine, both Lover and Beloved.  The job of lovers is to see the divine in each other and grow, through love, toward union with the whole.  In Islam, there is a concept of the unity of all creation.  It is a communion of all life and the divine, from which human beings often feel cut off, but long for.  The name of this concept is tawhid.  According to Rumi’s teachings, this communion, this state of participation in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, is what we seek when we love.

Here is one of Rumi’s ecstatic poems:

Some Kiss We Want

There is some kiss we want with
our whole lives, the touch of
spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling!

At night, I open the window and ask
the moon to come and press its
face against mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language- door and
open the love window. The moon
won’t use the door, only the window. [ii]

Rumi taught that when we love well, when we move past the limitations of our own ego, when we reach consciousness of our unity with the divine whole that is our world, we have no choice but to love that whole and care for every part and being.  Rumi taught his followers to love and care for peoples of all religions, castes, and nations, as well as the other creatures of the earth.

Hafiz was another Persian poet from this same school of thought.  Here is one of his works, which can be found in the back of our gray hymnal.

“Cloak yourself in a thousand ways; still shall I know you, my Beloved.
Veil yourself with every enchantment, and yet I shall feel you, presence, most close, dear, and intimate.
I shall salute you in the springing of cypresses and in the sheen of lakes, the laughter of fountains.
I shall surely see you in the tumbling clouds, in brightly embroidered meadows.

Oh, Beloved Presence, More beautiful than all the stars together,
I trace your face in ivy that climbs,
in clusters of grapes,
in morning flaming the mountains,
in the clear arch of sky.
You gladden the whole earth and make every heart great.
You are the breathing of the world.”[iii]

In this way of understanding, eros, the life force, our drive to love, is the divine moving in us, making us aware, giving us our ability to perceive beauty, making us long for union with all that is.  These Islamic teachers express an idea of the divine as both immanent—fully present in this world now—and transcendent.  Transcendent in this case not meaning something separate and apart, but rather a reality that is greater than the sum of its parts, something of which we are members and in which we participate.

One thing that might occur to you as I speak of these teachings is how familiar they sound.  Do they sound a little bit Unitarian Universalist? The unity of the divine, and the divine as both immanent and transcendent?  The universality of divine love?

This is not actually a coincidence.  Islam directly influenced the development of Unitarianism in eastern Europe, and that influenced American Unitarianism.  The Persian Sufi poets greatly influenced Unitarian and Universalist thinkers, particularly the Transcendentalists.  Think of William Ellery Channing writing:  “Nature is a great shining forth of the Divine Mind.”  And Emerson writing:  “Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball-I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me-I am part or particle of God.”

Partly as a result of these Islamic influences, our faith tradition has a long history of understanding the world as sacred and beautiful, and the human capacity for relationship and sexual love as being one of what Channing called “the powers of the soul.”  Our faith tradition values all healthy erotic relationships.  As Rebecca Parker writes in the book, A House for Hope,

“Eros is more than acceptable in liberal religious understanding, it is revelatory of humanity’s deepest capacities to touch and be touched, to take joy, to be transported and to transport another, to create life… at its best, sexual intimacy can reveal the powers of the soul—our ability to feel and be affected, our capacity for both vulnerability and power, to receive and to give.  It can teach us that we have agency to act in the world and that we can be moved deeply by the presence and the actions of another.  It can transport our hearts into spaces of openness, flexibility, tenderness.  It can renew, refresh, and satisfy our love for life—not only our affection for a beloved, but our affection for the world.  Same-sex affectional and sexual relationships do all this, just as heterosexual relationships can.”[iv]

These understandings directly counter conservative church doctrines holding that the world is corrupt, human sexual love is dangerous, and same-sex love is wrong.  Was anyone here taught these doctrines at some point in your life? According to these doctrines, the only way human beings can reach union with the divine is through obedience to God’s laws.  Rebecca Parker, again, shares an experience she once had in talking to a conservative colleague in ministry about the divide in the Methodist church over same-sex relationships.  She writes:

“Sam felt loved by God when he was obedient to God’s rule…In (his) interpretation of (Genesis), God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and created woman to be man’s helpmate.   Patriarchal heterosexual union is the way God has ordained things to be.  Only by complying…could people receive God’s love and be in right relationship with God…those who turn away from God’s love will suffer the torments of the damned, and those who accept it will be rewarded with eternal life…God’s love, he said, includes rewards and punishments, because human beings are nothing more than selfish, willful children…motivated by what gratifies us, by what we want, not what God wants…For him, love was inseparable from a hierarchical structure of command and obedience.”[v]

Our faith tradition sees this identification of love with “a hierarchical structure of command and obedience” as precisely the problem—in fact, we see it as the biggest problem facing life on earth.  It haunts personal sexual relationships, structures of political and economic power, and our relationships with the whole web of life.  Relationships with each other and the rest of the world that are based on patriarchal dominance, on control, and power over, cause harm.  Between individuals, at best, they limit women’s freedom, and at worst result in outright abuse and violence.  At larger levels, they give rise to industrial capitalism and empires whose machinery and wars endanger all of life on earth.

Unitarian Universalism offers an alternative.  We affirm the beauty and goodness of eros.  We affirm that healthy erotic love between human beings, whatever our sex or gender, can bring us joy.  Not only that, it can be a doorway through which we enter into profound awareness of our interbeing with all life.  Love is the seed, love is the green growing stem, love is the flower, love is the fruit, and love is the seed again of more love.  Love is the life force expressing itself in our human forms.  Eros, desire, longing…when we can let go of our need for control, and surrender to these powerful forces calling us toward communion, toward intimate relationship with the world, in ways that create life and beauty, we fulfill nature’s purpose.  We are ourselves fulfilled.

This is the Unitarian Universalist theological anthropology about eros.   It is what we believe about what it means to love and be loved, what healthy love is, and what the place of love is in human life on earth. And so it is critical that Unitarian Universalists make our voices heard in the public sphere.  Our faith tradition offers a path to healing our broken hearts and our wounded bodies.  It offers a path to healing our broken society, and our relationship with the whole community of life.  As Rebecca Parker writes:

“As we face the future, we need a rebirth of love for life, for the planet, and for one another, grounded in a relational understanding of human existence…There needs to be a (religious) home built on the understanding that all life is interdependent, whose foundation is faithful care, whose threshold is open-hearted welcome, whose kitchen serves any in need, and where love can lie down in peace and take joy.  This kind of love can provide us the nourishment we need to resist the excesses and injustices of market capitalism.  It can instigate more justice and sustainability for the planet.”[vi]

May this community be such a home for love.

Blessed be.

Artwork:  Pink Rhythms Chalice by Peg Green

[i] Bass, Ellen, “Live For It,” from Woman of Power.  Excerpted in Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, eds., 1996Life Prayers From Around the World:  365 Prayers, Blessings, and Affirmations to Celebrate the Human Journey, Harper Collins, San Francisco. Pp. 234-235.

[ii] There are so many translations of Rumi’s poetry online and in print that it is difficult to choose one to cite. A quick Google search will reveal many possibilities.

[iii] The same applies to the poetry of Hafiz.

[iv] Parker, Rebecca Ann, 2010.  “A Home for Love.”  Chapter Nine in Buehrens, John A., and Rebecca Ann Parker, A House for Hope:  The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-First Century.  Beacon Press, Boston.  Pp. 130-131.

[v] Ibid,  pp. 124-125

[vi] Ibid, p. 136.

If That Is Not Love

You say you have not known love…
but have you not seen the heron
landing on her stilt legs in the clear water
and did she not let you come closer than last time
before lifting her great wings and flying away?

What of the double rainbow you saw
over the ocean,
or the time the two young otters peered out at you
from underneath a rock,
making contact
on purpose?

Or the time you stood on the ground
with the brilliant sun setting on one side
and the radiant moon rising on the other
and you felt the turning of the earth?

And what of that bright orange
that you peeled to find
sections as if made for your hands
and each full of sweet tart juice
that ran everywhere
when you put it in your mouth?

You were made for this world
and it for you
and that is why, when you see
how the dead brown moss
on boulders and trees
springs to verdant life
at the slightest touch of rain,
you bend down and rub your cheek
ever so gently
across the bright green softness.

If that is not love,
I do not know what is.