Worship Script 2
Worship Script (2 of 4)
We gather this morning on the forming edge of our lives.
As the old crumbles away and falls into the ocean of mystery,
We feel ourselves tender, newly born,
Perhaps even unsure.
Let us welcome it all
Let us welcome each other
Let us welcome the process and the steady force of life
That moves through us, and among us,
And has delivered us here,
To this day.
HYMN #83 Winds Be Still
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
“Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.”
― Alice Walker, Living by the Word
HYMN #128 For All That Is Our Life
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Releasing the Cows
(Told by Master Thich Nhat Hanh)
One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.
The farmer said, "Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don't know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.
The Buddha said, "My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction."
So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, "My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.
"That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows."
In our hearts, in our bodies,
In our love, in this world.
Let us learn to receive you
To welcome your power
In our lives.
Let us learn to receive you
To be changed by you
Let us learn to receive you
That we would live
And be changed.
Let us grow wise,
As we learn to receive you,
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.
Transitions, Expected and Unexpected
by Josh Pawelek, parish minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: East, Manchester, Connecticut
Reading #655 in our hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, is entitled, “Change Alone is Unchanging.” ( It’s attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraklietos, also known as the weeping philosopher. “In searching for the truth,” he says, “be ready for the unexpected. Change alone is unchanging.”
These words ring true to me, the same truth I encounter in Rev. Vanessa Rush Southern’s meditation, “Expect Chaos” from her book, This Piece of Eden. She says, “Perhaps change is life. Frustrations and snags are life. Maybe instead of being taught to expect stability and predictability, we should have been taught to expect chaos, or at least constant transitions.”
Change alone is unchanging. As long as I’m alive—and conscious of my living—I can expect to experience change. Certainly there will be changes in the wider world around me: nations and governments change; cultures and social norms change; human knowledge and technology change; ecology and climate change; the seasons and the positions of the stars in the night sky change. Certainly there will be changes in the more immediate patterns of my life: My children will grow older and my role in their life will change. My parents will grow older and my role in their lives will change. My wife will grow older; I will grow older.
I can reasonably expect changes in my work life. I can reasonably expect changes in where I live. People will come in and out of my life—friends, parishioners, colleagues, peers, activists. I can expect the changes retirement brings. I can expect the changes illness brings. I can expect the changes loss brings, and the changes that come when a loved one dies.
And as a result of all these changes and transitions I can also expect my inner life to change in response: what I believe, what matters to me, the things to which I feel called to dedicate time and energy, my understanding of the sacred. All of it has already changed through the course of my life. I can only conclude more change lies ahead.
Change alone is unchanging. I suspect this is not news to you. At some place deep in our bones we sense this idea is true. It speaks directly to Unitarian Universalists’ common yearning for a religious life not bound by doctrines, creeds and revelations presented to us as the one, eternal truth, as the final word revealed once long ago and sealed forever. We long for spiritual openness. We are comfortable, even, with spiritual open-endedness.
We long for a spiritual community that asks us not to submit to one truth, but rather to explore truth from many perspectives and construct meaning from many sources. We long for a faith informed as much by scientific discovery and changes in human knowledge as it is by ancient wisdom.
We certainly don’t long for chaos, and we want our children to experience stability and predictability, but when we encounter this idea that “change alone is unchanging” something may stir in us. Often our gut response is “yes.” We want to hear more because we experience our lives, all life, the earth, the universe not as static, but as dynamic. Change is life.
But let’s be honest: as a concept, as a starting place for deeper theological reflection, okay, this idea is fabulous. Change alone is unchanging, yes. But as a practical matter, when it comes to dealing with day-to-day life, it’s not so great. It doesn’t matter what height of spiritual discipline you’ve achieved, the unexpected can really mess up your day. Even Jesus lost it from time to time. For human beings (and I’m sure for other creatures as well) change is hard.
As spiritually and intellectually exhilarating as the idea of change is, the physical and emotional experience can be a real drag. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is why the ancient Greeks referred to Heraklietos as the weeping philosopher.
I think back to the summer of 1999 when my wife and I first moved to Connecticut. Over the previous ten years I had grown deeply accustomed to my life in Boston. I was grounded in the student culture in Cambridge. I was grounded in the local rock music scene. I was grounded in my ties to the Unitarian Universalist Association, which is headquartered in Boston. My twin brother and some of my best friends lived there. I was embedded in a rich network of peers, clergy, UUs, musicians, activists and Ultimate (Frisbee) players. I knew all the running routes along the Charles River. I knew my way around by car and public transportation. My life had a certain stability and predictability to it.
We moved to Connecticut that summer and I became ill. I was chronically dizzy and nauseated. I lacked appetite. I lost weight. I drank ginger tea all the time, hoping it would settle my stomach. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. It took many medical tests to prove to me there was nothing physically wrong with me, and two or three years of therapy to convince me that what had caused these symptoms was anxiety brought on by a major life transition.
As much as I was genuinely excited to begin my professional career in a new location with new people, when I allowed myself to look closely at the life I had left behind in Boston and get in touch with what leaving meant to me, I realized I was sad. I was grieving my younger Boston self and really didn’t know who my new, professional minister self was. Move to a suburb? What? Buy a house? What? Have children? What?
I’m not suggesting my experience of a big life transition is somehow a universal experience, but I do suspect that at the heart of our major life transitions there is always some amount of grief, some sadness at the loss of what came before, and it stays with us.
A book called A General Theory of Love, published in 2000 by the psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, describes the way our relationships, particularly our very close, intimate relationships, shape us—not only our emotions and our outlook on life, but also our body chemistry, our physiology, the development of our neural pathways. When two people live together in a long-term, intimate relationship, when they share meals, leisure time, vacations, chores, money, a bed, child-rearing, etc., over time their bodies become deeply intertwined. Here’s a quote:
The human body constantly fine-tunes many thousands of physiologic parameters—heart rate and blood pressure, body temperature, immune function, oxygen saturation, levels of sugars, hormones, salts, ions, metabolites… [But] an individual does not direct all of his own functions. [An intimate partner] transmits regulatory information that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular function, sleep rhythms, immune function and more… The reciprocal process occurs simultaneously: the first person regulates the physiology of the second, even as he himself is regulated.”
This is why living when a loved-one has died isn’t just emotionally painful; it physically hurts. This other body that has been regulating aspects of our physiology, this other body to which we have become deeply accustomed—to which we have become habituated—is no longer present, no longer close by.
I assume it’s not just intimate loved ones who regulate our bodies in this way, although they may have the most impact. I assume where we live—the place we call home, our neighborhood—regulates our bodies to some degree. Where we work regulates our bodies to some degree. Our daily routine regulates our bodies to some degree. We become habituated in all sorts of ways. We become grounded in all sorts of ways.
Thus, any transition, any change that requires us to break out of our habits will bring some pain, even if it’s a change we want. I was ready to leave Boston in 1999. It was the right time for a life transition. But I see it so clearly now: despite how right it seemed, my body was still wired for its patterns of life in Boston. And because I didn’t know I was grieving that life, I became ill.
I assume something like this happens with any life transition. A new school means different teachers, different peers, a different pattern to the day—the old ways have to shift. You or your partner receive a life-threatening diagnosis and in the blink of an eye all routine becomes geared towards treatment; life’s daily familiarities and pleasures become elusive such that even food tastes differently. You lose a job—especially one that really matched your identity and sense of calling—and you must break with the habits of that job. You have a baby, and you must break with old habits. You retire, and you must break with old habits.
Aging at any time in our lives, but certainly as our bodies and our minds begin to decline, requires that we break with old habits. Or consider becoming sober: for addicts the body is utterly enmeshed with a substance, completely regulated by the need to have that substance. Getting sober is a grief-ridden process. In her book, Drinking: A Love Story, Caroline Knapp says of her addiction to alcohol, “This is a love story. It’s about passion, sensual pleasure, deep pulls, lust, fears, yearning hungers. It’s about needs so strong they’re crippling. It’s about saying good-bye to something you can’t fathom living without.”
Change alone is unchanging, said the weeping philosopher. But it’s also really, really hard. Even if we’ve moved on in our minds, our bodies long for the way life was.
In the midst of the grief that comes with life transitions we have spiritual resources available to us. Perhaps most importantly we have our own capacity for quieting down, becoming still, being peaceful, paying attention, breathing. When I open worship I ask my congregants to “find that place inside, that place where you may go when you long for comfort and solace, when you yearn for peace.” We don’t typically go there when confronted with a major life transition. We don’t typically go there when the going gets tough, when we’re in pain, when we’ve just lost our job, when we’ve just received the diagnosis, when the funeral director is talking to us about arrangements for a deceased loved one.
We’re just as likely to be screaming or panicking, passing out or curled up on the floor in the fetal position. It takes real discipline to find a place of strength and grounding inside when your sources of strength and grounding outside have just disappeared.
In moments of life transition we need to stop and grieve for the life that is, for better or for worse, slipping away. We need times of quiet and stillness to say, think and feel whatever it is we need to say, think and feel about our old life before we can fully embrace the new. We need times of peacefulness and paying attention in order to break well with old habits.
Caroline Knapp writes about her experience of finding that place of silence and stillness in community—in AA meetings: “When people talk about their deepest pain, a stillness often falls over the room, a hush so deep and so deeply shared it feels like reverence. That stillness keeps me coming, and it helps keep me sober, reminding me what it means to be alive…what it means to be human.”
Perhaps we can expect tears. Because in those silent, still places, where we find comfort and solace, and even joy— there we can grieve, and in grieving well we can make ourselves ready for whatever new life awaits.
HYMN #22 Sound Over All Waters
Blessing on you,
Those who venture forth
Into an uncertain world,
Open to how it will change you
Go in peace.