“Change”

Worship Script 4


CHANGE
Worship Script (4 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

We come into this time,

As instruments of life,

As channels of the spirit of love,

As bearers of the light

But, while the spirit moves,

So do we.

We are shaped gently by it:

By love, by life, by the light that we carry

We are redirected, reconfigured, reformed by it

And, as we allow ourselves to be molded,

We become able to carry and conduct

More of it.

Let this time together be a time

Of being reshaped and re-aligned

By love,

That we might, in our lives,

Be helpful in spreading it

Out into the world.

 

HYMN #12 "O Life That Maketh All Things New"

 

 FIRST READING

“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into it’s dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment” 
 Pema Chödrön,

 

 SECOND READING

“You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you're not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened. I mean Gauguin decided at a certain point he wasn't a banker anymore; he was a painter. And so he walked away from banking. I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.” 
 Anaïs Nin

 

 HYMN #168 "One More Step"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

“Startull: The Story of an Average Yellow Star”

This is a short, fun play, to be acted out in worship.  To get the script, go to:

http://thegreatstory.org/stardust-parable.pdf

 

MEDITATION

There’s a kind of breathing that has been empirically shown to produce relaxation.  It is sometimes known as “2-5-1” because here’s how it works: you breath in for 2 counts, breath out for 5 counts, and then hold your breath for one count.  This is the cycle: 2, 5, 1.  We’re going to have silent meditation today, for about three minutes.  Let’s try the 2-5-1 cycle, with my guidance.  [leader guides people in breathing steadily in this rhythm, then, as they catch on, fades out from the verbal/audible guidance.  At the end, after three minutes or so, say….] Blessings.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

Sermon

Repainting Our Lives

 by Susan LaMar

 Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by the later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. (Lillian Hellman, from Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, 1973)

Like the canvas in this passage, our life canvases carry all of our pictures, all of our story. Sometimes our earlier pictures show through, obvious to us and to the people around us. Our parents remember us as children; as our own children grow, we remember them in all their stages. Spouses remember each other as they were when they first met, when they first fell in love.

Sometimes the early pictures are not transparent to others, but they are there, in our own inner landscapes. Choices, fond memories and regrets mingle to form the final canvas. The child inside the elder is still there, somewhere.

There are so many images sketched on all of our hearts. Layer upon layer of them. One that always stands out for me is of an elderly gentleman I met many years ago during a hospital chaplaincy. He was in for some tests, but was not particularly sick. Bored, mostly. We had not had an opportunity to talk at any length until this one particular afternoon, when he asked me to sit down. I sat in the chair beside his bed, and he sat in his hospital gownon the side of the bed, legs dangling.

“Do you like being a chaplain?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“That’s good,” he said, “It’s good to be happy in your work.”

There was a pause.

“Tell me about your work,” I ventured.

There was a long pause, and then he stared directly into my eyes, his anguish palpable. “I was a merchant of death,” he said.

“Tell me,” I said quietly.

“I was an engineer. I designed guided missile systems. I was good, too. But…” Another pause, and a deep breath. “I made a good living,” he continued. “Nice house, put my kids through college. They’re all teachers and social workers, you know. Very important work… I did very well… But…” Another long pause; another deep breath.

“I remember toward the end, just before I retired. We had designed a new system, and were running a simulated test. Sure enough, the system worked, just as we planned. The bomb landed within ten feet of its target. And my whole team cheered. They cheered. And…I lost it,” he said. “I screamed at them: Stop it, just stop it! We just killed people. You don’t cheer when you kill people.”

He swung his legs up on to the bed and lay back, lost in his thoughts.

A few moments later his granddaughter walked into the room, a young adult, recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in social work, and the gentleman transformed right before my eyes. The cloud disappeared, and his face was radiant with joy and pride and love as he introduced us.

I excused myself, but that image has stayed with me all these years—the simultaneous anguish and pride painted on that gentleman’s countenance, his canvas. A personal canvas that held those two pictures—a job that provided a good living, that launched his children and through them his grandchildren into work that will better humanity. And a career that also provides him distress and sorrow as he looks back on his life. The cloud and the glory, simultaneously. Pentimento. Repentance.

Repentance is, after all, a theological word for the deliberate choice to change. To paint a new picture on the canvas of our lives. Isn’t that the way most of our lives work? Layer upon layer as we walk forward making our choices and changing our minds. Repainting…repenting… A continual process.

We don’t know how long the canvas mural of our lives will be, or how many times we will be able to see again. We never know how many times we will be given the opportunity to make different choices. All we know is that we do have will—we can make new and different choices as we journey along. We can repent.

Repent. What a charged word! We don’t hear it much in the secular world, and rarely in Unitarian Universalism. At least I didn’t, growing up in a very secular, humanist, non-theistic church and family. In fact, I grew up thinking it was a joke. It always seemed to me to be a word worthy only of mockery and ridicule, perhaps because I only ever saw it in cartoons, where ratty-looking bearded men in robes carried signs saying, “Repent, ye sinners!” We, after all, were UUs! Sometimes it seemed that there was an underlying assumption that we would never have anything to repent from. Since we didn’t believe in sin, then, hey, we’re all set!

But since then I’ve come to thinkit just might be a useful word. The way repent is used in our culture, its meaning has three distinct aspects:

First, it has to do with feeling remorse. And I mean to really, deeply feel and own regret, humiliation, or shame for something you have done. Yes, all of those are very charged words. There is an element of despair in those difficult feelings. How, we might ask, can I ever fix this, make right the wrong that I have done or caused? How can I change what has already been done? When we have these feelings they touch our soul, and they sting. Even years later, when we remember the situation, those feelings come flooding back. They have left their mark on our canvas.

Then there is the second aspect of repentance. The cognitive decision never to do again the action that caused this anguish. There is movement from feeling to reason.

And the third part is action. To actually never again do the action that caused the anguish. In other words, to change, to transform. This includes, of course, recognizing a whole universe or set of actions that count under the umbrella of those from which to refrain. If cheating on a history test was cause for repentance, then the vow should cover cheating on other subjects, or on income taxes, and so on.

All the parts—the feelings right down to your toes, the decision to change and the actual change are equally important. The transformation that we are striving for is inside the deepest reaches of our being, a change in our soul, a link between feelings, will, and action.

It is life work that is never done, and in my opinion is not done in public. Soul work is done in private, although its effects are seen in public. I think some folks get this exactly backwards. Public figures say, “I have repented!” as though their transgression is never to be seen again on the canvas of their lives. Yet, in a way, this form of repentance is like being in recovery from an addiction. You are never fully recovered; repentance is never completely over and done.

Our mistakes, our bad choices, our errors in judgment, even criminal activities are always with us. We can feel the remorse, and we can move on to make new and different choices, but the results can only be judged over a long time. And never solely by us. We have to do the work, but whether we have really changed will show in our lives,—and that is about others. It is about our relationships.

Maybe that is why repentance is such a difficult notion. We don’t want control to be taken away from us. We want to be able to say, “It’s over and done. It’s water under the bridge. I’ve changed.” Especially if we have. Because we do change, all the time. But our actions forever live with us—actions that went before and those from our changed selves as we go forward. 

What I like about the pentimento image is that although the word shares a root with repentance, it directs our attention to a different place. It can spring us out of the dark and difficult connotations that I’ve been talking about. It helps us shift into the realm of opportunity to do things differently. It assures us that there is always an opportunity to paint a different picture. That there is always an opportunity to wake up and be transformed so that others will notice the difference, even though the old image is still with us.

Our awakenings happen over the course of our lifetimes. As years go by we change, sometimes just by virtue of having more experience, wider and deeper observations of the effects of our actions, a closer relationship to our deepest, most ultimate values.

That gentleman, sitting on the edge of his hospital bed, so anguished about his career, also held a beautiful painting of his life through the values he passed on to his children and grandchildren. Perhaps even telling his story to me helped him come to terms with his life. His pentimento life.

We all have pentimento lives. May we paint with care.

HYMN #121 We’ll Build a Land

 

BENEDICTION

Go into the day

Your head high

Your resolve clear:

To meet every challenge

With courage,

Every obstacle

With curiosity,

Every doubt

With wonder.