Begin Again

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

Easter is one of those “not again” days that I imagine UU preachers who have been around for a while struggle with. Which sermon is appropriate this year, for this group of people? Would it be better to bring out the full-on pagan celebration of spring? Or would one of the homilies about how UUs can understand the death and rising of man long ago that was supposed to bring us all into a joyous harmony but still hasn’t come about be best?

This has been a hard year for all of us, not just for your tired preachers….

To borrow from a president’s letter to his UU congregation this week:

We have undergone a profoundly difficult year—a time of terrifying political upheavals played out amidst the existential threat of the pandemic—and these trials are far from over. We may have gotten to the place where we can begin to look past the current health crisis, but it’s equally true that what we see when we look ahead is that… we have quite a way to go before we can think of life as anything like ‘normal.’ It has been the most traumatic year that we collectively have ever experienced—a year of disconnection, of isolation and of losses.

–We have been kept from those who are most important to us.

–We have lost a great deal of our sense of safety, of security and of predictability.

–We have lost a great deal of our sense of “control” over what happens to us.

This is, of course, the very definition of trauma. I don’t think we are returning to “normal” anytime soon, although I have been giddy with the idea that we might at any minute be together again. Signs of spring have a way of making us giddy with anticipation.

Yet, if we were all thrown back together tomorrow, we’d be visiting our traumatized selves on each other, with likely not-good results!

This is the time for patience, for taking it slow and carefully, appreciating that we have the time to slowly wake up to what will be, if we would learn to live into what is NOW… right now.

Perhaps contemplating strings—the invisible ties that remind us that we aren’t lost from those who have held us, who will hold us, who do hold us—is appropriate. 

Contemplating those strings that make this moment, this hour, our safe space, is what we do here and now. This space where it is okay to feel your feelings, whatever they are. This space where it is okay to remember that UUs have been proud to be known as heretics, the people who reinterpret holidays and holy days, not always doing what is expected, or certainly “normal,” but what is freeing and centering and appropriate for now.

We are held by the liberal strings of Judaism and Christianity. We’re stitched into a fabric that includes Buddhism, Paganism, Humanism, and more.

As the Rev. Mary Edes says, in her piece There Is Room for You Here:

If God is your strength and companion
and prayer the means of centering your thoughts,
There is room for you here.
If the teachings of the Buddha give you
clarity and calm in the midst of human striving,
There is room for you here
If Gaia’s seasonal rhythms lead you best
through the myriad steps of Life’s great dance.
There is room for you here.
If the still mysterious capacity and power of the Mind,
stirs your imagination and quickens your pulse,
There is room for you here.
Rest now, beside that spring, wherever it is for you
And let your attention go to the small places inside
or out in the great wide world—

We are all in need of a “spring of healing,” as my Pentecostal brethren might say. Learning to be mindful in each present moment, learning and practicing with intention, being born again may be the very best we can do, to rise to what will be required of us.    

Sarah Conover tells a story about the Buddha called Which Gift Will You Offer?

One day, the Buddha and a large following of monks and nuns were passing through a village. The Buddha chose a large shade tree to sit beneath so the group could rest awhile out of the heat. For a time, he sat in meditation going deep into himself as he sought to still and clear his mind. Slowly, he became more and more relaxed; and his followers saw the change on his face. When he opened his eyes, he looked around and carefully took in the details around him: the fragrance of the blossoms on the tree, the breeze providing some relief from the heat of the sun, the faces of the many villagers who had heard about a visiting teacher and had gathered to hear him, the isolated trees and the simple dwellings of the villagers in the distance, and, finally, the mountains rising in the east beyond the fields where the villagers grew vegetables. Out of this mindfulness, the Buddha began to teach. As he spoke, the people became quiet, wanting to hear every word.

One surly young man stood to the side, watching, as the crowd grew larger and larger. To him, it seemed that there were too many people traveling from the city to his village, and each had something to sell or teach. Impatient with the bulging crowd of monks and villagers, he shouted at the Buddha, “Go away! You just want to take advantage of us! You teachers come here to say a few pretty words and then ask for food and money!”

But the Buddha was unruffled by these insults. He remained calm, exuding a feeling of loving-kindness. He politely requested that the man come forward. Then he asked, “Young sir, if you purchased a lovely gift for someone, but that person did not accept the gift, to whom does the gift then belong?”

The odd question took the young man by surprise. “I guess the gift would still be mine because I was the one who bought it.”

“Exactly so,” replied the Buddha. “Now, you have just cursed me and been angry with me. But if I do not accept your curses, if I do not get insulted and angry in return, these curses will fall back upon you—the same as the gift returning to its owner.”

The young man clasped his hands together and slowly bowed to the Buddha. It was an acknowledgement that a valuable lesson had been learned. And so, the Buddha concluded for all to hear, “As a mirror reflects an object, as a still lake reflects the sky: take care that what you speak or act is for good. For goodness will always cast back goodness and harm will always cast back harm.” Because of this, practice mindfulness in all that you do so that your reflection is the one that you intend. 

From Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents collected and adapted by Sarah Conover

I don’t know if I can be as “unruffled” as the Buddha. But perhaps I can learn the lesson the young man received. We can all learn to summon an inner calm,  a calm that is fed by a “secure” heart.

These words are from Julie Hamilton.

It’s Easter morning
and I’m here, and you’re there,
and somewhere between us are flowers
and above us the true-blue dream of sky
and underneath us
the illimitable earth
breathing as she always does
in cycles of death and rebirth
everything that is holy
(which is everything)
stands between me and you:
the infinite of all existence/
the great happening is happening all around us
that is to say, my distant friend,
life is happening and the sun
is rising again
over us all
I am a human merely being
in these times of pandemic and spring
and the leaping green gathers
for one more attempt
to remind me that Yes
is still (always) an answer
ready to be spoken

May we be born again with the energy of intention always available to the secure heart. 

You are loved. You are held. 

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