I am honored that Barbara asked me to offer the sermon on this special occasion.
I’ve walked through the process with Barbara for more than ten years, since she began thinking about ministry.
The transition didn’t happen over night. She moved slowly, and carefully, balance her family life with professional goals. The change came slowly, but tonight it becomes a reality, and she finds herself in a place just right, as the old Shaker song says: ’tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free, ’tis a gift to come round where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in a place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight.’
I want to call your attention to the words of the Antonio Machado that Lauren Manning sang because those words suggest ‘a just-right place.’
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt — marvelous error! —
That I had a beehive
Here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
Were making white combs
And sweet honey
From my old failures.
What do you do with your old failures? Maybe you’re afraid of bees buzzing around your old failures.
Maybe you are afraid of getting stung—by those old failures! They certainly can sting!
Old failures can fester! Old failures can be merciless.
Remember those famous lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
As You Like It — II, i, 12
Old failures need not be the adversary. Indeed, the task is to learn from those old failures, to gain humility from those old failures, and to build a tolerance for failure the way the immune system builds a tolerance to germs!
In a strange way we are blessed by our imperfections.
Now a story about our ministry from Hermann Hesse. In his novel, Journey to the East, Hesse write about a band of pilgrims who are making a journey to the East, to find the master, the teacher, the guru.
Hesse has one of his characters say this:
One of the characteristics of the Journey to the East was that although the League aimed at quite definite, very lofty goals during the journey, yet every single participant could have … private goals. Indeed … had to have them…every single one of us, while appearing to share common ideals and goals, carried … fond childhood dreams … as a source of strength and comfort.
Hesse’s story is about the ‘law of service.’ (“Service is its law.” Where have we heard that?)
He says, “Who wishes to live long must serve, but …who wishes to rule does not live (well.)”
Hesse calls the group of pilgrims ‘the League,’ which I translate to ‘the congregation.’ He says how they have bonded, they’re a close-knit group. They shared lofty goals, but, truth be told, each one had private goals; each one carried childhood dreams; each one carried some old failures.
About half way into the League’s pilgrimage, the cook leaves. One night he just disappears into the darkness, and shortly after the cook leaves the group falls apart and disbands.
Later, a few stragglers stumble separately to the East. As each one arrives they are surprised to discover that the Master whom they sought was none other than the cook!
To lead, one must serve. To serve is to lead. It’s the glue in every relationship.
Twelve years ago Barbara was at Ferry Beach and one of our colleagues—now your colleague, Barbara—offered a workshop and listed four simple truths from basic Buddhist writings:
- Show up.
- Speak the truth.
- Do what you do with intensity.
- Don’t get attached to outcomes.
Barbara has held on to those simple truths, and, like all of us, she wrestles with them.
- Show up.
- Speak the truth.
- Do what you do with intensity.
- Don’t get attached to outcomes.
She wrote them down. She wrote about them in Soundings a few weeks ago. She’s been pondering them in her heart.
Woody Allen said, “80% of life is showing up.”
Look again. What does it mean to show up? What does it mean to be present? What does it mean to be ‘fully present to another person…to truly be in the moment?
How do you show up for a counseling session with someone going through divorce, dealing with the death of a loved one, or dealing with one’s own terminal illness?
How do you keep from running away, going inside yourself and curling up in a ball to hide, to protect yourself?
How do you show up for a sermon? Preparing a sermon is one thing. Preparing the person who is standing in the pulpit is another thing altogether. It’s the sum-total of your life up to that point.
Show up; don’t be attached to outcomes. If you are attached to outcomes, you are more present to your own agenda than to the process. Truth be told, you really haven’t showed up when you are attached to outcomes. We all do it. We all impose ourselves.
But showing up is what we’re called to do. That is what a calling means, in the final analysis.
We’re called to show up — in our marriages and partnerships. A committed relationship, by definition, is one in which we’ve promised to show up!
Showing up is what we’re called to do as parents. Children have an uncanny way of knowing if you’ve really showed up!
Showing up is what a friend does. Showing up in this way—in the sense of being fully present, defines the relationship we call friendship.
Being present is the primary ingredient of all significant relationships. Bees make sweet honey from old failures when you show up in this special way.
How do you show up at the hospital room, the nursing home, the counseling session, the wedding, the Board meeting, the coffee hour.
To show up is to speak the truth. Tears tell the truth behind the words.
Silence is truthful when you are fully present. You don’t have to worry about words, they often get in the way.
“Do what you do with intensity.” Sometimes intensity is soft. Quiet. The power of concentration is intense.
Intensity must always be authentic.
It is possible to try too hard. Trying hard can get in the way. Humility speaks quietly, and has its own kind of intensity.
Humility keeps us from becoming attached to outcomes.
Barbara: you and I took a walk together more than ten years ago, along the river, when you were beginning to wrestle with a big question. Like Jacob, you wouldn’t let it go until you got the blessing.
We’re still on that walk. It’s our shared journey to the East. As colleagues, now, we ask the basic questions.
This day, this service, is a confirmation of that questing. It’s an important stopping place on the journey.
Let’s keep buzzing with those bees to make sweet honey from all our old failures.
Jonathan Fast, the husband of our new Associate Minister, wrote the following piece which he read at her ordination:
My wife has told me that I should keep it to under thirty seconds.
So today I’m going to tell the briefest of the Unitarian Universalist Scriptures, the Parable of the Rabbits, or the Bunnies’ Short Tale.
And it came to pass that there were two rabbits, and they fell in love. When the time came to plight their troth, Mr. Rabbit said to his spouse, “I’m worried. Will you always love me and care for me?”
And Mrs. Rabbit said, “Don’t worry.”
Fall turned to winter, and winter to spring. When the crocuses poked their heads from the earth, Mrs. Rabbit told her husband that they needed to talk.
“We’re going to have some little bunnies,” she announced. Mr. Rabbit was worried. Little bunnies had to be fed and cuddled, and have their diapers changed. They were so much work! Would Mrs. Rabbit have any love left for him?
“Don’t worry,” Mrs. Rabbit said.
And indeed, Mr. Rabbit was amazed to discover that there was enough love for him and the little bunnies, with even a little left over for their pet dog, Zalochia.
The years passed. Mr. Rabbit lost his hair and put on a few pounds. Mrs. Rabbit got glasses and kept forgetting where she’d left them. One day she told her husband that they needed to talk. Mr. Rabbit got that worried feeling in his stomach, but said nothing.
“Our parents are getting old,” Mrs. Bunny said. “Their eyes grow dim. They walk with a stick now, and have memberships in the AARP. We need to love and care for them.”
Now Mr. Bunny was really worried. Between little bunnies and old bunnies would there possibly be any love left for him?
Well, to make a long story short, Mr. Rabbit discovered, to his delight, that there was more than enough to go around.
The years came and went. Time was a sly thief, stealing their lives a little bit at a time from right under their noses.
One day Mrs. Rabbit told Mr. Rabbit they needed to have a talk. Oh my God, what is it this time, Mr. Rabbit thought. But having grown old and wise, he just smiled and said, “Yes, dear?”
Mrs. Rabbit led him to the mouth of their rabbit hole, and waved her paw to encompass the hundreds of rabbits that lived around them in the woods. “I have had a vision,” she said. “I have come to realize that they are all our family, and I have decided to commit my life to loving and caring for all them.”
And Mr. Rabbit said, “Isn’t it time for the ten o’clock news?”
But the fact is, once Mr. Rabbit got used to the idea, he decided it was a pretty wonderful thing, and that he was blessed to be able to share in it.
And somehow, impossible as it seemed to him at first, there was always more than enough love to go around.