"Spirit and Soul”

Worship Script 2


Worship Script (2 of 4)

OPENING WORDS

This morning, as we gather,

Let us form, all together,

The body of love.

Some of us as the eyes,

Some of us as the ears,

Some of us as the stout arms and legs,

Some of us as the heart.

All together, we form the body of love.

Let us learn how it feels to live in this body

How it is to claim the power of this body

How it is to know life through this body

And, through this body, let us learn to be free.

 

HYMN #41  "You That Have Spent the Silent Night"

 

 FIRST READING

“The soul, in its loneliness, hopes only for "salvation." And yet what is the burden of the Bible if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God, and it is therefore the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them. The world is certainly thought of as a place of spiritual trial, but it is also the confluence of soul and body, word and flesh, where thoughts must become deeds, where goodness must be enacted. This is the great meeting place, the narrow passage where spirit and flesh, word and world, pass into each other. The Bible's aim, as I read it, is not the freeing of the spirit from the world. It is the handbook of their interaction. It says that they cannot be divided; that their mutuality, their unity, is inescapable; that they are not reconciled in division, but in harmony. What else can be meant by the resurrection of the body? The body should be "filled with light," perfected in understanding. And so everywhere there is the sense of consequence, fear and desire, grief and joy. What is desirable is repeatedly defined in the tensions of the sense of consequence.” 
― Wendell BerryThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

 

SECOND READING

 “Your soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.” 
― John O'Donohue,

 

HYMN #77  "Seek Not Afar for Beauty"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

The Wind and the Sun

An Akan Story by Farida Salifu

Sometimes, people talk about “Spirit” as if it had qualities like what we find in nature.  As if it were in the wind.  Let’s hear this story about the wind, in relationship to other parts of nature.  And let’s wonder how what we might call “spirit” is in relationship to other parts of life, too! 

One day, the boastful wind declared to the sun, ‘You know that I am the strongest and most effective of all the weather!’

And the sun replied, ‘All weather can be strong and effective.’

But the stubborn wind disagreed. ‘All weather is strong,’ said the wind, ‘but I am the strongest of all. Let us have a competition to prove this. The weather that makes people remove the most of their clothing will show that they are indeed the strongest of all.’

The sun agreed to take part in the competition and suggested that the wind should go first. And so the wind blew and blew upon the earth, creating first a light breeze, and then massive gales that swept across the lands below. Peoples’ hats flew up into the air and many were forced to hold tightly to their jackets and coats so that they would not lose them in the mighty gale. 

After many minutes of blowing and blowing, the wind had managed to cause a great deal of chaos. He had blown away many hats. He had swept away empty bottles, rubbish, newspapers and umbrellas. But he had not caused people to lose their clothes.

Next it was the turn of the sun. And the sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky, heating up the earth below until the people began to take off their clothes. First they removed their shoes, then socks, then jackets. Some even removed their trousers in an attempt to stay cool in the lovely afternoon heat.

When the wind saw how effective the sun had been, he grew very angry indeed and caused the weather to change from sunshine back to wind so that the people below had to quickly put their clothes back on and head indoors away from the unexpected gale. Wind could not believe that the sun had won the competition and proven himself to be the most effective of all weather.

The rain and clouds, and the rest of the weather, all cheered for the sun and hailed him as the new hero. But the sun immediately stopped the cheering and told everyone that he was not a hero at all, but that all weather was important in its own unique way. ‘There cannot be one of us without the other,’ explained the sun. ‘Each of us does an important job, and each of us depends on the other to create the seasons. We water the earth, we blow the clouds across the sky, give people light and shade, and make sure that trees and flowers and crops grow in the earth.’

The sun called the wind over to share in the glory; he explained that all weather was part of a team and that they should all be proud of the work that they do.

Wind understood then that everything and everybody is different. It is important not to feel that you are better than anybody else. Wind also understood how important it was to work as a team so that you might make the most of the strengths of those around you. And so it was that all weather worked in harmony, each doing the task best suited to them, each appreciating the work of the other. 

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Life, gather us into the center

Of everything, which, of course,

Has no center. Gather us in, anyway.

Let us feel ourselves upheld

Even as we might feel we are falling.

Shepherd us to a moment of safety

That we might catch our breath

And then go out to do what
Love calls us to do.

Amen.

 

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 ESSAY

The Soul of the Whole

by Rev. Victoria Safford, Senior Minister, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church

It seems to me we speak all the time and all at once of two kinds of spiritual integrity, two ways of being deeply, liberally, religious—one looking inward, one looking outward. And that presents a kind of paradox. Our work as 21st century Unitarian Universalists is to attend to both at once, never one without the other, because in fact they are not as separate as they seem; they’re entirely intertwined. And whenever we forget this, things start quickly to unravel.

There is the part of you that is most uniquely you, deeper than mind, more durable even than your will—and holy, if you like that word, or sacred. It is the essence of identity, radiant with dignity and worth. Even when you feel unworthy and undignified, it’s there, and has been since the moment of your birth, or your conception, or that instant that the old church once called “quickening.” We could argue all day long about when exactly it begins—but we won’t.

No one knows whence or when it comes into the world, nor when or whither it leaves. If you’ve ever been present to the birth of a person or the dying of a person, you’ve maybe glimpsed at the bedside the difference between “presence” and “no presence.” Without words, without anything that any of your five senses can latch onto, it’s palpable and ineffable. Some people call this the soul.

A member of the congregation I serve described it this way: “Soul is more eternal than personality. It is the indwelling of the spirit, the true self, the real self.”

John O’Donohue, who was a Catholic priest and a strong, mystical poet, wrote:

There is a voice within you that no one, not even you, has ever heardthe music of your own spirit. It takes a long time to sift through the more superficial voices of your own gift in order to enter into the deep significance and tonality of your Otherness. When you speak from that deep, inner voice, you are really speaking from the unique tabernacle of your own presence.

So there is this practice, this awareness, of something deeply intimate and inviolate within each person, present from the start. If we have any doctrine to deliver to our children, then this is surely part of it: that they are originals, shining, powerful, lovely and beloved; that their worth and dignity and beauty need not be earned, and can’t be, because these things are inherent and can never be denied, destroyed or desecrated—though sometimes you can feel as if they are. How to return to the home of the soul when you feel lost or lonesome or “beside yourself” is part of what we hope they’re learning, what all of us are learning.

There is a sense of individual identity, personhood, sanctity, your own interiority. At the same time, there is this other understanding: a parallel idea, equally compelling, equally demanding, just as beautiful, and grounded not only in mysticism but in biology and physics—grounded in the ground, in the natural, physical world. This is the awareness that whatever we are as human, living beings is deeply interfused, interwoven, interconnected and interdependent with everything else.

That’s true at a molecular level. It’s true of the vapor of our breath, the material substance of the body, dust to dust. It’s true as well in other ways—in the sense that whatever it is that is holy in me, separate and unique, touches somehow what is holy in you. It is not separate; it is the selfsame holiness, the spirit of life that blows in the wind and flows in water and sap and glacial ice, and among and within the animals, fishes, birds, the grasses and the trees—the spirit of life.

I think this is what people mean when they say, as they often do, “I believe that when we die our energy dissipates back into the energy of everything.” This is pantheism, defined by one writer as the belief that the universe, with all its existing laws and properties, is an interconnected whole that we can rightly consider sacred…a holiness not confined to any one thing but immanent in everything. A pantheist walks literally in the mind and body of God.

It’s a little different from panentheism, the belief that God is both immanent and transcendent, that we all, and trees all, carry a piece of a larger, external, God within us. Either way— pantheist, panentheist—it’s a sense that the divinity in each touches the divinity in all.

In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unitarian, wrote famously (and somewhat densely) about what he called “The Over-Soul”:

[We] are a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence… [It is] that great nature in which we rest, as the earth lies in the soft arms of the atmosphere; that Unity, that Over-soul, within which every [person’s] particular being is contained and made one with all other; that common heart…to which all right action is submission. [It is a] deep power in which we exist….  And just as there is no ceiling between our heads and the infinite heavens, so is there no wall between the soul and God. The walls are taken away.

In the twentieth century, poet Carl Sandburg said it much more simply:

There is only one horse of the earth and his name is All Horses.

There is only one bird in the air and [her] name is All Wings. There is only one fish in the sea and [its] name is All Fins.

There is only one man in the world and his name is All Men.

There is only one woman in the world and her name is All Women.

There is only one child in the world and the child's name is All Children.

We think of the soul in two ways at once: as the spark within you that is uniquely your own, and also as the part of you that makes you part of everything. The paradox is that the deeper inside yourself you go—in prayer, in meditation, in mature self-understanding—the closer you come to a sense of belonging in all, and belonging to all. When my congregation says that the mission of our church is “to grow our souls and serve the world,” we’re speaking of one continuous endeavor.

What does this look like in real life, in real time, in the practical, day-to-day, actual, grubby, busy, wonderful, terrible, tangible world where we live? How does all this fluffy stuff show up? Here is an example:

Not long ago a church member posted on Facebook a picture of a bathroom door, one of the restrooms in our church building, with the words, “Here is just one of the reasons why I love my church.” A picture of the bathroom door! Our restroom doors have been evolving here, thanks to our administrator, other staff, and many friends and members. The words and pictures on those doors speak an explicit theology, and we’ve been trying for some time to get it right. We are striving to express as plainly as we can the radical hospitality that is the very core of our religion, and like all theological treatises, the signage on our doors is a work in progress.

At the moment, there’s a picture of a baby on each door, to show that there are diaper stations. There’s a picture of a wheelchair on each door, to show each restroom is accessible. There’s a single-stall restroom labeled “all gender,” and on the other two (one with a small label “women” and one with a small label “men”), there’s a sign that reads, “Gender diversity is welcomed here. All are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their identity.” Gone at last are the iconic stick figures with the little skirt and little pants.

Our bathrooms are evolving. Our church email signatures are also shifting, so that staff can indicate the pronouns by which they wish to be addressed and in so doing, invite everyone to whom we write to do the same, to level the ground, the common ground, and name it as open, holy ground. He/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/their, xe/xim/xer—the English language presents challenges and creative invitations to self-determination. And the meticulous grammarian in me, the child of an English teacher, is creaking and groaning toward a new definition of “correct usage”: not politically correct, but attuned to the music of right relationship. We’re hoping that our church nametags, for everyone, will soon state pronoun preference right beneath our names, opening a necessary conversation and extending even wider welcome.

It is no symbolic gesture. Right now some states are passing laws to force transgender people and gender-queer people, some of them young children in their schools, to use bathrooms rigidly assigned by outdated misunderstandings of gender identity and fluidity, forcing people to conform to a binary idea, an ancient, flat-world duality, that can no longer can hold us all. In fact, it never could. We can laugh a little at how on earth and who could possibly enforce this (you need to present a birth certificate to pee?) but pretty soon it’s not really funny. People get hurt over this—physically hurt. It’s not safe. People get beaten up over this. They get killed.

Each of us has a name…and a spirit, and a soul, a dignified personhood, which may not conform to what others think they see or what they may expect, but which shines brightly. It burns truly, just the same. We can’t see it, but we believe in it. As Unitarian Universalists, we are about creating space, open, gracious space, wherein it is safe for the soul to show up, where each single one is honored and the soul of the whole is revered—the holiness within us and within which we all dwell.

We say, “I see you: stranger, friend, companion, living creature, fellow traveler on the same round earth. I cannot know—even if I know you well, even if I am your mother, your partner, your colleague in the next cubicle at work—I can’t know what it’s like to be you, and therefore presumptions and assumptions, whether born of convention or convenience or prejudice or ignorance or fear, need to all fall away.” We say, “The divinity within me greets the divinity in you.”

At least we try to say it. That’s where we begin. And there are about as many ways to put your foot in it and say the wrong thing as there are people on the planet. I speak from the most glaring, clumsy experience. But we try, and we learn, and take risks, and make mistakes and scatter forgiveness like wildflower seeds, everywhere we go.

Some time ago a church member spoke about their understanding of the soul:

I think of the light in a human as the inspiration to create in our own ways, in relationships, in intellectual and soul-felt pursuits. I was created to be a life-partner and parent, a singer, a wordsmith. My big questions have been about creative inspiration, about what breathes life into a human no matter their human circumstance. My questions have been about whom to thank by name when I see beauty, to whom to direct my voice when I sing, who hears me when I wail out with affliction or grief. I no longer identify myself as a fundamentalist Christian, and many who call themselves Christian would not recognize me as kindred, but I believe God knows my name.

“Each of us has a name,” says the poet, Zelda—many names, really, given by our parents, our relationships, our history and actions. Some names are bestowed on us by other people, names we might or might not claim as truly ours. Self-determination is a radical and sacred act, a human right. When a tiny child just on the edge of words speaks their own name for the first time it is revolutionary; they become a little freedom fighter.

When someone says, “I believe God knows my name,” I think they mean our truest, original self. I think of that exercise in consciousness-raising in which participants are asked to each name ten things that define them as a person. You make a list: I’m a father. A son. Life partner to this woman or this man. A widow. A musician. A Muslim, a Jew, a butcher, baker, candlestick maker—you’re listing the things that define you. Irish, Armenian, African, Dutch. Gay/straight. Tall/short. Blue-eyed/brown-eyed. Black/white. A survivor of abuse or cancer or war. A lover of orchids or baseball, online gaming or golf.

You list ten things, and then, in this exercise, you have to take two away, just cross them out. (The exercise is about what exclusion feels like, what invisibility or prejudice feels like.) So you cross out two parts of yourself, and then another two, then three—until at some point you can’t do it anymore, not only because there’s nothing left, but because it is a terrible betrayal. All these relationships defining you are connected, and the stories are connected, the legacies, losses, accomplishments, choices—these things are so finely intertwined with your original being that the weave can never be unwoven.

Your true name, the name God knows, is a singular composite, a gorgeous and unprecedented tapestry. “Who are you?” is a complicated question. Who are you? And whose? And why, and how, and who says so? Who gets to say? The soul is a spark deep within, inviolate, your own, and you stoke that fire with new vitality all your whole life long, shining your bright flame, and warming your hands at the hearths of strangers and lovers and everyone else.

 

HYMN #88  "Calm Soul of All Things"

 

BENEDICTION

Be hope to those who need hope

Be reassurance to those who need that, too

Be full of the spirit

That the world might know

Your heart

Go in peace