Wonder”

Worship Script 3


 Worship Script (3 of 4)

 Wondrous Creatures

 

OPENING WORDS

 From The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us…. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

 

HYMN #21 “For the Beauty of the Earth”

 

FIRST READING

“A Bird, came down the Walk” by Emily Dickinson 

A Bird, came down the Walk - 

He did not know I saw -

He bit an Angle Worm in halves 

And ate the fellow, raw, 

 

And then, he drank a Dew

From a convenient Grass -

And then hopped sidewise to the Wall 

To let a Beetle pass -

 

He glanced with rapid eyes,

That hurried all abroad -

They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,

He stirred his Velvet Head. - 

 

Like one in danger, Cautious,

I offered him a Crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers, 

And rowed him softer Home -

 

Than Oars divide the Ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, 

Leap, plashless as they swim. 

 

SECOND READING

From a interview with by Carl Safina, ecologist and author 

It’s important to know who we are here on Earth with. We talk about conservation of animals by numbers, but those are just numbers. Watching animals my whole life I’ve always been struck by how similar to us they are. I’ve always been touched by their bonds and been impressed—occasionally frightened—by their emotions. 

Life is very vivid to animals. In many cases they know who they are. They know who their friends are and who their rivals are. They have ambitions for higher status.  They compete. Their lives follow the arc of a career, like ours do. We both try to stay alive, get food and shelter, and raise some young for the next generation. Animals are no different from us in that regard and I think that their presence here on Earth is tremendously enriching. 

It is incredible to me there is still a debate over whether animals are conscious and even a debate over whether human beings can know animals are conscious. If you watch mammals or even birds, you will see how they respond to the world. They play. They act frightened when there’s danger. They relax when things are good. It seems illogical for us to think that animals might not be having a conscious mental experience of play, sleep, fear or love.   

Many people think that empathy is a special emotion only humans show. But many animals express empathy for each other. There are documented stories of elephants finding people who were lost. In one case, an old woman who couldn’t see well, got lost and was found the next day with elephants guarding her. They had encased her in sort of a cage of branches to protect her from hyenas. That’s seems extraordinary to us but it comes naturally to elephants.

 

HYMN #391 Voice, Still and Small

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

“Imagination and the wild” by Ellen Meloy 

Wherever you are, wherever you go, there are untamed creatures nearby that need your attention. Unplug your modem. Slam shut your self-help books. Quit standing around like a wall trout. Get to work. 

Invite warblers to your neighborhood with shaggy plots of greenery. Learn everything you can about the bandit-eyed raccoon that stares at you through your sliding glass door, demanding enchiladas. 

Lie on your back on a breezy sweep of beach and stare at the undersides of magnificent frigate birds. Master a hyena’s laugh and use it when in the presence of politicians. 

Admire the male midwife toad, who carries fertilized eggs on his back for a month. Understand that certain species of mollusk can change their gender. Know that from a ball afloat on tiny filaments inside its fanned shell, a sea scallop can tell which way is up. 

Crane your neck. Worm your way. Wolf it down. Monkey with things. Outfox your foe. Quit badgering your tax attorney. 

Take notes on the deafness of coral, the pea-size heart of a bat. Be meticulous. We will need these things so that we may speak. 

The human mind is the child of primate evolution and our complex fluid interactions with environment and one another. Animals have enriched this social intelligence. They give concrete expression to thoughts and images. They carry the outside world to our inner one and back again. They helped language flower into metaphor, symbol, and ritual. We once sang and danced them, made music from their skin, sinew, and bone. Their stories came off our tongues. We ate them. They ate us. 

Close attention to mollusks and frigate birds and wolves makes us aware not only of our own human identity but also of how much more there is, an assertion of our imperfect hunger for mystery. “Without mystery life shrinks,” wrote biologist Edward O. Wilson. “The completely known is a numbing void to all active minds.”

 

MEDITATION

From “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour 

(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

Remembering the Mystery and Wonder

by Lindy Gifford

My first memory of what the first our UU Sources calls “transcending mystery and wonder” is an experience I had when I was quite little, maybe five or six years old. Every summer, my family and I sailed the coast of Maine in our wooden sailboat. Our boat had a nice fat bowsprit (the mast-like thing that sticks out in front of the bow). My two sisters and I thought it was just made for riding on like a horse and we did—as much as our parents would let us.

That day, the surface of the water was very smooth and clear, but there were big, rolling waves—my Dad called them swells—made by a storm way out at sea somewhere. We sat astride the bowsprit, hanging out in front of the bow of the boat, as it glided up one side of a smooth, clear, green hill of water, over the top and whooshed down the other side, over and over again. It felt as if I was flying or riding a sea serpent. It felt as if I was part of the boat and the boat was part of the water and everything was part of everything. It was as if I—the me I thought I was, did not exist anymore, except as part of the boat and the green-blue waves, and the whole universe.

Then I noticed an amazing thing. I looked at the shadow of my own head in the water and I saw that I had a halo! All around my shadow, there was a ring of golden wavy light. I thought to myself, “That’s why I feel so magical. I am magical! I have a halo!” I looked at my sister’s shadows and did not see any halos. I was the only one with a halo! As you can imagine, I thought I was pretty special.

Of course, my halo was simply an effect of the sun behind me. A total solar eclipse of the head. So it turns out I was wrong when I thought I was the only one with a halo. It must have seemed to my sisters that each of them was the only one with a halo. But in fact of us was part of the mystery, part of the wonder.

I was raised Unitarian Universalist in the 1960s. I did not learn to pray or really to think or talk about God at all. In Sunday school I enjoyed the lessons about other people’s gods, and they may have had something to do with my becoming an archeologist, but church was not where I connected with the mystery. For me, that happened in nature. Sailing, on long hikes, keeping a nature journal with my Dad, and lots of free-range exploring and playing outside: these were the times I felt most myself and most connected to life.

By high school I had stopped attending church—in buildings. For many years, nature was my only church, and I found great solace there. But often life seemed overwhelming. I felt and saw the brokenness of the world very deeply, but felt paralyzed. I was lucky to find a similarly disillusioned husband, who also enjoyed being outdoors a lot. We put off having children for a long time, feeling that they would cramp our canoeing and bike-riding style, but it also seemed like madness to bring more children into such a messed up world. Thankfully we eventually came to our senses and had two wonderful daughters

The births of both our daughters were profoundly moving experiences. Suddenly there was a new person who had not been there moments before. Exactly where did she come from? On one level I knew only too well—on another, it was a mystery. I will never forget their soulful eyes regarding us moments after their births. Steve and I coined a phrase for those newborn eyes: we call them whale eyes. They seemed to peer out from the depths, from another realm or dimension. And perhaps they did. Perhaps part of them was still wherever it was they came from, that place I had somehow forgotten and longed to remember.

Having my daughters, watching them grow, and witnessing their unjaded delight in life helped me to begin to do just that—to remember. I still felt worn down and sad for them growing up in a relentlessly materialistic world. But they reminded me of something. Exactly what, I could not say, but I could half feel it, around the next corner, just outside my peripheral vision, a dream? a memory? Like a lost paradise…

But of course having children was not always about close encounters with Mystery. We were working parents raising two small kids, while attempting to renovate an old neglected house with very few skills or resources. Our long hikes, bike rides, and canoes were no more. Meanwhile the world situation appeared to be only worsening with each passing day. This was the time of the first Gulf War, 911, the war in Iraq, an Inconvenient Truth—and I found myself in a kind of numb, helpless despair.

Thankfully, once again help was beamed in from the Mystery. This time it came in the form of Sophie, my dog and guardian angel. I had been working at home as a freelance graphic designer for several years, but I had never allowed myself to do anything but work when the kids were off at school. Suddenly a midday walk in the woods was mandated and Sophie was punctilious and insistent with her reminders.

Together we began to explore the uncharted woods and marshes behind our new home. Walks with my silent spirit guide dog became the center of my spiritual life. And winter, a time when I usual became even more depressed, was the best. That was when we would go on snowshoes deep into the frozen marshes, into a strange, stark landscape much like a desert, and inaccessible at any other time of year. Walking, contemplating, and photographing the same few square miles of Creation, season in and season out, was a truly healing spiritual practice. Gradually I became more connected to the reality that underlies and imbues everything, but that was so hard to remember when I was up to my eyeballs in housework, deadlines, and children’s homework.

Around the same time, I started attending Unitarian Universalist church again (this Fellowship). I found it comforting and familiar and like home, but at first I didn’t find there what I found in the woods. One day our then-minister, Kitsy Winthrop, offered a sermon based on the book Epiphanies, by Ann Jauregui, a practicing therapist with a PhD. As I read it I felt a sudden shock of recognition. The stories in the book seemed hauntingly familiar—stories of people’s nearly forgotten childhood experiences of a transcendent joy and an abiding sense of connection—to something. Something huge. It was through reading the book that I retrieved the lost memory of the bowsprit ride.

Ann Jauregui says in her book:

Shyly, we venture out with our songs and stories into a world still in the thrall of a reluctant science. Yet even now, science is encountering astonishing non sequiturs of its own, surprises that beg us to reinstate all of our stories and include them in our explorations. Above all, these are sacred tales, profoundly healing as they remind us of—and restore us to—our innate all-right-ness.

Sometimes it felt as if I had to dig pretty deep into Unitarian Universalism to find what resonated for me. I did a lot of that digging in small covenant and adult Religious Education groups at Fellowship. But I was still thirsty for more. And then there was that part of the first source about how wonder and mystery is “affirmed in all cultures.” So I started studying at Chime, the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine. Chime is an interfaith wisdom school and is not affiliated with any one denomination. There I am learning to become more comfortable with words and practices that would seem quite out of place in a UU service. Words like mystical, which I now use to describe some of my experiences. I could even imagine calling myself a mystic! And learned that there are mystical traditions in every religion, and that the language used to describe the experiences is amazingly similar across traditions. “The wonder and mystery affirmed by all cultures.” The most important thing I am learning is that I cannot understand everything with intellect. My rational mind can talk me out of believing in my own direct experiences of ultimate reality, but it can’t experience it. That happens with some other part of me. This revelation, this conversion is ongoing. I don’t know where it will lead me, but it appears to be picking up speed.

The last section of that first Source says that the direct experience of the wonder and mystery “moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” The more I pay attention to life and the miracle it truly is, the more I understand that paradise was not in fact lost—just forgotten. It is not around the next corner, but all around us, all the time, right here, right now. Not just in mystical peak experiences, and not just in nature. Not just in a newborn’s eyes, but in everyone’s eyes, could we but see it. Letting this understanding sink deep into my soul is not only my best defense against despair and the resulting paralysis, it is also the only way I can find my true self and my best part to play in life. As I come to feel deeply that I am connected to something bigger than myself, and something essentially good—no miraculous—I find I might just be able to aid and abet that something, work with it instead of against it. Like catching a wave just right. And that’s when I remember that feeling of riding up one rolling green hill of water and down the other side, just in time to catch the next one, my halo shining around me as I go.

 

HYMN #100 “Peace Like a River”

 

BENEDICTION

Remember your nature:

Both animal and divine

Both of this earth and of this cosmos

And go forth out into the week in that spirit.

Go in peace.