Wonder Opens Us to… Reverence

Worship Script (2 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

From Born to Be Good by Dacher Keltner

 Awe produces a state of reverence, a feeling of respect and gratitude for the things that are given. Rituals build upon this feeling of reverence — we revere birth, we give thanks for food, we honor those who marry, we pay homage to the dead. We bow our head in appreciation of the kindness of strangers and everyday generosity.

 

HYMN #40 "The Morning Hangs a Signal

 

FIRST READING

From An Alter in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

 Reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self — something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding. A Native American elder I know says that he begins teaching people reverence by steering them over to the nearest tree.... 'Do you know that you didn't make this tree?' he asks them. If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way.

 

SECOND READING

From Simple Zen by C. Alexander and Annellen Simpkins

 When we experience ourselves as one small part of nature, we feel reverence. Zen teaches that we should feel reverence for all beings no matter how insignificant they might seem. From the enlightened vantage point, we should appreciate everything equally, from the most basic and small to the most complex and vast. Each has the whole reflected within.

 

HYMN #6 "Just as Long as I Have Breath"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

From Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd

 At nine thirty on an August night, filled with the lightening bugs and cricket sounds, my children and I lie in the backyard waiting for the Perseid meteor shower…. One after another they come, blazing across the heavens. And without warning, a spell of reverence falls across the backyard. We lie in silence while the ground beneath us grows holy and God's presence burns across the sky, yet deep and luminous inside me too. It is a rare moment. Not because the sight is so spectacular, but because I am aware of it. Because I have been taken out of myself. My children and I have stepped out of our familiar world into wonder and beauty, and we have discovered the Creator in the midst of it.

 

MEDITATION

From Between the Dreaming and the Coming True by Robert Benson

 We do not always see that we should be moving about our days and lives and places with awe and reverence and wonder, with the same soft steps with which we enter the room of a sleeping child or the mysterious silence of a cathedral. There is no ground that is not holy ground.

 (Pause) Blessed be.

 

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 that they 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

“Spirit Soul Quest”

by Meg Riley, senior minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship

“I love seeing that you’re entertaining earth spirits in the yard,” the man said to me, bending his head so that his tall frame could fit through my front door. He was a friend of a friend, someone I hadn’t met before, and with his unusually tall presence and bright pink face, I felt as if he might be from another world—a magical world.

Feeling every bit a muggle (non-magical person), I responded, puzzled. “Entertaining earth spirits?”  

“Well, what do you call what you’re doing out there?” he asked, waving his hand out the window at the flowers and herbs and vegetables that were flourishing where a lawn had once been.

“Um…gardening?” I responded, again feeling the chasm between our worlds. And our conversation went on from there to other things.

It took me, literally, years to understand what he had said to me, and why he had said it. It came clear gradually in other conversations. “You’re such an extrovert,” a friend said. “It amazes me that you are happy for hours at a time, alone in your garden.” I responded with shock. “Alone? Are you kidding? I’m surrounded by thousands of little green friends out there!”

Or, another day, I said to a friend, “The plants told me they are really upset by the violence of the machines doing the roadwork.” With a look bordering on fear, perhaps wondering how grounded I was in reality, my friend responded, “The plants don’t really talk to you, do they?” “Not with words,” I said. “But they make themselves very clear.”

And then I realized: maybe some people who are also gardeners don’t engage with plants in mutual relationship in the way that I do. Maybe not everyone experiences friendship and spiritual communion with plants. Maybe my kind of relatedness could indeed be called “entertaining earth spirits.”

I have always, from my youngest days, felt a deep kinship with the earth; I have known the earth and the natural world as living companions. I think most kids do, given proximity. When a big tree in our front yard had to be cut down because of heart rot, my three-year-old self sobbed and sobbed, sputtering out between spasms of wracking pain, “But she’s my sister!” And for most of the existence of humankind, entire cultures have known our interrelatedness, have honored the living earth.

Nowadays, in modern cultures, it is easy to feel as if we humans inhabit a mostly inanimate world. Even something as completely animate as the meat that some of us eat comes to us in neatly wrapped packages, in no way resembling the living animal it was cut from. In the U.S., farmers whose survival used to depend on knowing the earth intimately now sit atop giant machines and drive over fields with air conditioning and music, distanced from their crops. The oil that we put in our cars so that we can speed on cement highways is dredged up from under the earth in places far from us, and many of the foods that we eat come from places we’ll never see.

It delights me to know that many indigenous languages conceptualize the world not in relentlessly categorized boxes of male and female, but by whether any particular piece of it is animate or inanimate. Once I started trying to do that myself, I realized how much I label “things.” English is 70% nouns, I hear, while many indigenous languages are predominantly verbs. Verbs describe motion, action, life. Nouns so often put things in boxes.

I’ve been in many rooms where people are trying to put words like soul and spirit in a box, and the words simply won’t stay put. Once, in a seminary class on spirituality, we had a weekly assignment of finding three new definitions of spirituality. Twelve weeks, thirty-six definitions. None of the definitions were completely adequate, and the process freed me from trying to define words, per se, and opened me more in a commitment to experience them.

How do we stay connected to the essence of life that runs through the animate world? That’s the gist of spiritual practice, I think. For me, spiritual practice is any activity that opens me up to life’s vast web of animacy, done in a deliberate and steady way. (There are many other experiences that are spiritual, but come upon me without planning or warning.)  For half the year, gardening is my primary spiritual practice, and I’m out there at dawn for a few hours daily.

For the other half, I patch in various practices with less consistency: improv classes, certain kinds of movement, spiritually grounded activism, singing with other people, sitting quietly in candlelight each morning reading a meditation. These activities, at least some of the time, open me up to eternity, show me life’s vast horizon, connect me to all that is living.

Entertain earth spirits? You bet I do! And every other kind of spirit that comes to the door!

 

HYMN #23 "Bring Many Names"

 

BENEDICTION

Blessings to you and to all that you love,

Blessings to this whole world,

In need of more love

And blessing on our efforts 

To be that love in our time