Hope and Despair”

Worship Script 3


 Worship Script (3 of 4)

“Hope is Just the Ticket You Need”

 

OPENING WORDS

By Richard S. Gilbert, #442  in Singing the Living Tradition

We bid you welcome, who come with weary spirit seeking rest.

Who come with troubles that are too much with you.

Who come hurt and afraid.

We bid you welcome, who come with hope in our heart.

Who come with anticipation in your step,

Who come proud and joyous.

We bid you welcome, who are seekers of a new faith.

Who come to probe and explorer.

Who come to learn.

We bid you welcome, who enter this hall as a homecoming.

Who have found here room for your spirit.

Who find in this people a family.

Whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are on your journey,

We bid you welcome.

  

HYMN #1059 May Your Life Be As a Song

 

FIRST READING

Hope is the thing with feathers (254) by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
And never stops at all, 
  
And sweetest in the gale is heard;         
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 
  
I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea;        
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

  

SECOND READING

by Langston Hughes, #488 in Singing the Living Tradition

 Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly

 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

  

HYMN #123 Spirit of Life

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Hope and Imagination by Martha Dallas

 I’m going to talk about something really powerful today: HOPE. And first, I have a question. Have you ever hoped for something? … and did the thing you hoped for happen? [Take responses.] I think that hope is kinda like these: [Pass around basket of acorns and invite children to take one to hold during the rest of the reflection. If you have enough, you can let them keep them.] Acorns. What do you think this acorn hopes to be some day? [an oak tree.] Here’s why acorns remind me of hope. Now, if I just dropped this acorn on the floor and walked away, would it have any hope of becoming an oak tree? [No!] What does it need? [Soil, water, air, sunshine.]

Like acorns, our hope needs other things to come to life. First, we start with our imaginations. We imagine that thing we’re hoping for. Take a moment to close your eyes and imagine something you hope for. [pause…] Your hopes are like acorns. They just need a little work, care, action, help, and luck(!) to ever really come to life, like an acorn becomes an oak tree.

And one important question: Could you ever have an oak tree without FIRST having an acorn? [No!] The same way, every great thing anyone’s ever done began with hope, with someone’s imagination of what could be, plus action to help it grow to life. That’s the power of hope!

 

MEDITATION

“For Those Who Pray and For Those Who Don’t” by Susan Manker-Seale, from Voices on the Margins.

 

For those who pray and those who don’t,

For those who believe there is some ultimate power that listens and can affect the world.

And for those who believe that it is only through the power and love of our own hearts that we can make a difference.

 

We pray to ourselves, to each other, to God Goddess, Spirit, the Great Mystery of the Universe that is beyond our understanding as well as our namin,

 

Within each of our hearts is a yearning, a yearning for something better for ourselves, for each other, for the world.

 

That is our prayer.

 

Beyond the personal prayers of our hearts, we share the collective prayers of humanity, prayers for love and justice, mercy and solace, respect, compassion and peace. Universal prayers manifest in the values we cherish.

 

Prayer is the seed, the guide, the vision, the direction. But our hands must work to build a better world and our feet must walk the paths that lead to a universal, loving, respectful human community.

 

Let us pray, then, let us being the work, once again.

 

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

What’s Your Ticket?, by Susan LaMar, Minister of Channing Memorial Church

 

Nasrudin rode the train to work every day. One day, as usual, the train conductor came and asked him for his ticket. He began fumbling around in his coat pockets, and his pant pockets, and then in other people’s pockets. He looked in his briefcase, in his bags, and then in other people’s bags.

Finally the train conductor said, “Nasrudin, I’m sure you have a ticket. Why don’t you look for it in your breast pocket? That is where most men keep it.”
Oh no,” said Nasrudin.  “I can’t look there. Why, if it wasn’t there, I would have no hope.”

I love Nasrudin. He is my favorite trickster, my favorite wise fool.

We begin our April theme of Hope today. It is a logical progression from the theme of repentance last month. We explored repentance as a change in our minds, hearts, and souls, a reorientation away from ways of being that might not be working for us, toward that which will work for us and for our world. Repentance offers us opportunity to do things differently, an opportunity to paint a different picture. An opportunity to wake up and be transformed.

Hope offers a reason to wake up and be transformed. As spring approaches, and the Easter promise of resurrection – a promise of resurfacing from our darkest hours --  it is a time to bring our attention to this crazy, indefinable, delicate thing called hope. As Emily Dickinson wrote:

            Hope is the thing with feathers –
            That perches in the soul –
            And sings the tune without the words –
            And never stops – at all –

            And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
            And sore must be the storm –
            That could abash the little Bird
            That kept so many warm –

            I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
            And on the strangest Sea –
            Yet, never, in Extremity,
            It asked a crumb – of Me.

            Perhaps that is a poem that Nasrudin should learn.

But what is Hope? Is it something you have – like Nasrudin’s ticket, and therefore something you can lose? Is it something you are – hopeful? Is it something like a thing with feathers that flits around? Does it ever fly away? Or does it perch permanently in the soul?

We are talking here about spiritual Hope – the one with a capital H. We are not talking about lower case hope – I hope I get that job, I hope I get a pair of ice skates for Christmas, I hope Jimmy asks me to the prom. Those are wishes, desires, that will or will not be fulfilled. It is fine to use the word hope for them, as long as we don’t get them mixed up with our spirituality, with our way of being in the world.

Capital H hope is something else entirely. It has to do with our relationship to that Creative Energy that empowers us as members of and actors in a complex universe. That thing with feathers that perches in every soul, singing. In your soul.

            Note my language: It has to do with . . .  Or – It is kind of like . . .  Or --  It feels . . .

            We can’t quite get hold of it . . . .

In Christianity, Hope is considered a virtue, along with two others – faith and love. A few years ago we spent a whole year here figuring out what virtue is. Our working definition for virtue was “a disposition that creates habits or passions that incline us to do the right thing.” So Hope might be some kind of a disposition, that orientation,  that inclines us to do what is right . . .  but how? That doesn’t quite get me there . . . 

Last December we explored Faith. And I suggested that Faith has to do with the ultimate values that we set our hearts on, that we trust, and that we are loyal to. Guide us toward something good, or goodness itself.  Perhaps Hope is a general sense that those ultimate values will guide us toward a better world. So Faith is the loyalty to a value, and Hope is the conviction that our work will move the world toward that value, even if only just slightly. This is the sense that Vaclav Havel uses the word in the reading this morning: It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed . . . [boy that’s different from everyday hope isn’t it . . . hope for success, or to get what we want . . .]It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of  how it turns out.

An ability to work . . . that feels like energy at play within us . . . for something because it is good . . . the “good,” the ultimate value that we are loyal to, that we have faith in, no matter what. Hope holds us in relationship with the good, even if it appears we cannot succeed.

The Zen teacher Bernie Glassman, founder of Zen Peacemakers, has a similar approach to Hope. Like Havel, he makes a distinction between upper case Hope and “expectation.” He gives as an example a group in Yonkers, NY, which set as its hope the elimination of homelessness there. But they had absolutely no expectation that they would succeed. Hope is what allows us to work for the good, for the value, without any expectation. If our work succeeds, that is wonderful. But if it does not, it doesn’t mean that what we are doing is not still “for the good.” It doesn’t mean that our faith – our loyalty to the ultimate value is misplaced.

We really are in spiritual territory here, not in the territory of goals and objectives. With Hope we are talking about Creative Energy playing in and through humanity. Using our creative energy toward the good of eliminating homelessness is good whether we succeed or not. And so we set our hearts on that. In Yonkers, Zen Peacemakers did, in fact, reduce homelessness by 75% -- but it was the Hope and the work that did it, not the expectation.

See the difference? It’s a very fine, almost gossamer different. A very Zen difference!

Even without specific expectations, though, Hope is more than just work, I think.

Hope contains a disposition, an orientation, toward the future. Somehow Hope includes a vision of something that is possible, that is not here right now. Nasrudin’s lost ticket is a symbol of all the losses that follow us through life. I would suggest that even if the ticket was found in his breast pocket, it might represent a loss of Hope. For it would keep him on the same journey, the same train ride that he takes every day. Nasrudin – meet Emily Dickinson. The little bird is unabashed. Look in your breast pocket. But find Hope elsewhere.

[Pause]

I have been thinking about this kind of Hope as I have been watching my mother’s health decline rapidly over the past few months. Her cognition has deteriorated markedly, and last week she lost the use of her motorized wheelchair for safety reasons – her own and that of others. This represents an enormous loss – that chair was her last ticket to independence.

The whole idea of “future” takes on a completely different meaning now. When we think about the stages of life, we can think of our early years as a time of learning, when we gain knowledge, habits and character – a time of preparation for the future. Then we reach a time of building family, vocation, and community – a focus on the future of that family and community. Then a time of retirement, when we do deep, spiritual inquiry, making meaning of what went before, and developing (we hope!) wisdom that can be transmitted to those who follow.

But my mother is in a stage beyond that. It is as though life has renounced her – she is precisely and only in the present moment, where she can neither remember the past nor envision a future.

What, I have been wondering, is the ticket within that very end stage? What is the thing with feathers there?

Where this has taken me, spiritually, is a realization that my mother is in a very Zen place. She has neither Hope nor Not Hope. She certainly has no expectations. She is not optimistic, but neither is she pessimistic. Some of that is just her personality, I suppose. She is on the train of life, with the conductors and passengers surrounding her, pulling for her – family and friends and even her caretakers in the facility where she resides. We hold the Hope. We hold her in Hope. Especially family and friends. She can no longer make meaning of her life, but we can – and do. There is a transfer taking place that is different from the transfer of knowledge that she offered over the past few decades, or the transfer of wisdom,  different even from the grief of watching her own past disappear.

It seems to be a transfer of the meaning-making. It is up to us to make meaning of her life, as well as our own. In that relationship resides Hope. This has startled me, though somehow in the grand scheme of things it makes sense. I receive her life in a very different way. It feels kind of feathery! In a way it is a ticket to a place I didn’t even know existed. Despite the loss, there is Creative Energy at work.

Every stage of life has its own form of ticket, it’s own form of Hope, where we feel we have lost something – indeed have lost something.

The question for each of us is: Right now in your life, what is the ticket that you think is lost? 

Because, though you think your ticket is lost, there may be a feathery bird fluttering around, trying to get your attention.  It happens all along the train ride, doesn’t it? You grow and change, you lose your ticket.

You think you want to be out from under your parents’ control, and then you are off at college, or in your first apartment, and you feel a little lost – what’s your ticket?

One that surprised me, maybe because I never had children, was young mothers, after they have their last child – what’s their next ticket?

 When the last child leaves home . . . what’s your ticket?

Losing a job you love . . . what’s your ticket?

Retirement – what’s your ticket?

Grieving the death of someone close to you – what’s your ticket?

What is your ticket, right now? What makes sense for you, right now, regardless of how it turns out?

Nasrudin was wrong. Even if his ticket is lost, anchored beyond his horizon is Hope. I mean, look around. There are lots of lost tickets, but there is also plenty of Hope. Hope is in the Creative Energy, in that chip of divinity that each of you carries. It is always there anyway, but it is especially there when all the chips are brought together in spiritual community.

So think about your ticket and cast your eyes toward the horizon, and beyond. That is where we will continue our journey toward Hope next Sunday.
 

HYMN #391 Voice Still and Small

 

BENEDICTION
By May Sarton, #691 in Singing the Living Tradition

 

Help us to be the always hopeful gardeners of the spirit

Who know that without darkness

Nothing comes to birth

As without light

Nothing flowers.