Reading: The Summer Day, Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pail forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life.
Sermon: ‘A Renewable Faith’
If someone asked to tell them about your Unitarian Universalist faith, what would you say?
You might recite our statement of affirmation: ‘love is the spirit..’ You might offer the children’s version by making two U’s with your hands and saying, “We are Unitarian Universalists, we believe in open minds, (pointing to your head) loving hearts, (pointing to your heart) and helping hands, (holding out your hands.)”
I tend to say that we believe in Nature-that we are part of the earth. Like all life on this planet, we came from the earth and we return to the earth. From the moment we arrive on the planet we have to make connections, we are dependent on the love and care of others, which is our primary connection. Then, all of our lives, we need to make connections with others as we grow, change, learn and develop a sense of the self (small ‘s’ for our individual identity) and our sense of the Self, (capital S for the larger Self that Buddhists talk about: ‘I am the Self which dwells in the heart of every mortal creature.’)
I like to remind people that the word religion comes from the Latin verb’legare,’ which means ‘to connect,’ so re-legare is to reconnect. We need to reconnect with other people, with Nature (God if you will) and with the ever-changing, evolving, aging self we are.
You might say that we Unitarian Universalists don’t need to have all the answers, but we believe that we can keep learning from experience, so we have a growing, changing, evolving faith. We can’t know all the answers, but we can keep asking questions. One part of life is that it is a big question mark; it’s a wonderful mystery.
After we try to give an answer to someone’s question we might say, ‘So, what do you think? We believe in listening!
That’s how we might respond to someone who asks. But what do we say to one another, in the context of our Sunday services, or at rites of passage: Child Dedications, Weddings, Coming of Age Services, and Memorial Services? And what do we say to ourselves in the quiet of our own minds, or in the noisy confusion of changes, losses, disappointments, and so forth?
We need to acknowledge that there are times when we seem to lose our faith, when we are in the midst of change, when we’re in the midst of a big transition.
It’s like that risky time when the trapeze artist lets go of the swing andreaches out for the person on the other swing to catch her. Faith!
There are those moments when we let go and spend some scary seconds in mid-air. Sometimes it takes days, weeks or longer in that mid-air place after letting go of something that worked for a time-a marriage, a job, a friendship, or an idea. We’ve let go, but we haven’t found something or someone to take its place, yet. Transitions can be a scary.
Then there are times when we read in the newspaper about bombs going off in Israel or Iraq, or people doing bad things to one another, when our faith in things like love, open minds and helping hands doesn’t work for us, when our faith seems to be shattered.
That’s why we need a renewable faith, because those times happen in everyone’s life.
Our faith system is hurt by reading about the head of the New York Stock Exchange grabbing (stealing?) $140,000,000 in salary and bonuses, while millions of people are out of work, or they are working for $6 an hour, working a fulltime job for $240 a week, which isn’t enough to pay for rent, food and health care.
Our faith system is assaulted when we read about tax cuts for the wealthy and program cuts for children in poverty and for the elderly who worked all their lives and don’t have enough to live on.
All those things are part of our real, down-to-earth faith system. That’s why we need a renewable faith, one that isn’t all used up with some big loss or disappointment or one that isn’t destroyed when we learn something new about Nature. That’s what happened after Galileo, after Darwin, and so forth.
We need a renewable faith system so we can learn to forgive others and to feel forgiveness ourselves.a faith system that admits that none of us is perfect and no one has all the answers.
We’re here to build that kind of renewable faith, and we’re here to renew our enthusiasm and our appreciation for this place, for all we’ve built together here.
It’s a new year. May you find ways to feel renewed, to continue to grow, to learn, to love, to forgive and to feel forgiven.
Together we can help one another to make this a better world with peace and justice for all. That’s a faith statement, and it must be renewable, again and again.