Worship Script 2
Worship Script (2 of 5)
Our Responsibility for Good and Evil
Fetters, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer, by Orlanda Brugnola
We are both wise and foolish,
both fettered and free.
We are fettered by our ignorance
Or by our old assumptions
Or by our self centeredness,
and at the same time we deeply no
that these things deny
the possibility of a real and full response to a real present.
May we acknowledge our fetters,
may we begin to cast them off
And be taught by our children,
by our friends,
by those we know
And those who are still strangers.
And may we be willing to share
Not just facts and conclusions
But the openness
that encourages others
To choose for themselves.
HYMN #300 With Heart and Mind
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
By Alice Walker
Love is not concerned
With whom you pray
Or where you slept
The night you ran away
Love is concerned
That the beating of your heart
Should kill no one.
HYMN #207 Earth was Given as a Garden
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Excerpts from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling
Suddenly, something that was nagging at Harry came tumbling out of his mouth.
“Professor Dumbledore... Riddle said I'm like him. Strange likenesses, he said…”
“Did he, now?” said Dumbledore. looking thoughtfully at Harry from under his thick silver eyebrows. “And what do you think, Harry?”
“I don't think I'm like him!” said Harry more loudly than he’d intend. “I mean, I'm - I'm in Gryffindor, I’m …”
But he fell silent, a lurking doubt resurfacing in his mind.
“Professor,” he started again after a moment. “The Sorting Hat told me I'd I'd have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin’s heir for a while because I can speak Parseltongue. . . ”
“You can speak Parseltongue, Harry,” said Dumbledore calmly, “because Lord Voldemort who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin can speak Parseltongue. Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure . . .”
“Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Harry said, thunderstruck.
“It certainly seems so.”
“So I should be in Slytherin,” Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. “The Sorting Hat could see Slytherins power in me and it -”
“Put you in Gryffindor,” said Dumbledore calmly. “Listen to me Harry. You happen to have many qualities Salazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift Parseltongue -- resourcefulness -- determination -- a certain disregard for the rules,” he added, his mustache quivering again. “Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think.”
“It only put me in Gryffindor,” said Harry in a defeated voice, :because I asked not to go in Slytherin…”
“Exactly”, said Dumbledore, beaming once more. “Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Prayer from India, #523 Singing the Living Traditon
Thou art the path
and the goal that paths never reach.
Thou feedest and sustainest
All that one sees, or seems.
Thou art the trembling grass
and the tiger that creeps under it.
Thou art the light in sun and moon,
the sounds fading Into silence,
and the sanctity of sacred books.
Thou art the good that destroys evil.
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.
BY SARAH RICHARDS, CARBONDALE UNITARIAN FELLOWSHIP
What is the object of your desire? What is the “diamond” in your life? What is your heart’s own song? Maybe nothing springs to mind at this moment, but there’s something or someone in your past for which or whom you craved. What does it feel like to be in the thrall of desire? Is the unfulfilled “wanting” exciting, agonizing, or both at the same time? Or something else? Has it fueled creativity, exhaustion, or both? Or something else? The experience of desire, in all of its baseness and complexity, is universal and life-long.
We have desires because we have needs, some are basic to our survival, some are necessary for us to thrive, and of course, we desire things that are neither: for example, a donut, or world peace. And we desire things—like world peace, or winning the lottery—that we know are extremely unlikely to happen. “The goal may ever shine afar—the will to win it makes us free” as we sang a few minutes ago. Desires, themselves, apart from their fulfillment are important motivating emotions.
You may be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model, which categorizes needs into lower and higher orders, from the basic physiological and safety to love, belonging and esteem to the pinnacle, “self actualization.” The hierarchical aspect is not as relevant to us this morning as just the different types of needs, and their corresponding desires. “I need water, I want water.” “I need praise, I want praise.” “I need status, I want a diamond.” “I need knowledge. I want wifi.” “I need peace of mind, I want enlightenment.” “I need my life to have meaning, I want to make a difference.”
It’s no wonder desires (and needs) is a topic of much theological conjecture over time and across cultures. St. Augustine’s Confessions, written in the 5th century, famously recount his battles to control and extinguish “worldly desires.” They started as an adolescent: “For as I grew to manhood I was inflamed with desire for a surfeit of hell’s pleasures. Foolhardy as I was, I ran wild with lust that was manifold and rank. In your eyes my beauty vanished and I was foul to the core, yet I was pleased with my own condition and anxious to be pleasing in the eyes of men.[i]” But his adult conversion to Christianity doesn’t mean the end of yearning for something he doesn’t have. After becoming Christian, he has “otherworldly desires” of eternal life:
O Lord, have mercy on me and grant what I desire. For, as I believe, this longing of mine does not come from a desire for earthly things, for gold and silver, precious stones and fine garments, worldly honours and power, sensual pleasures or the things which are needed for my body and for my pilgrimage through life. If we make it our first care to find the kingdom of God, and his approval, all these things shall be ours without the asking.[ii]”
I’m struck by the similarity to the sentiments expressed by the 13th century Islamic scholar and Sufi poet Rumi, writing about the desire of relationship with God, “the beloved”:
in every breath
if you’re the center
of your own desires
you’ll lose the grace
of your beloved
but if in every breath
you blow away
your self claim
the ecstasy of love
will soon arrive
all your impatience
comes from the push
for gain of patience
let go of the effort
and peace will arrive
all your unfulfilled desires
are from your greed
for gain of fulfillments
let go of them all
and they will be sent as gifts
fall in love with
the agony of love
not the ecstasy
then the beloved
will fall in love with you[iii]
“all your unfulfilled desires/are from your greed/for gain of fulfillments/let go of them all/and they will be sent as gifts” This seems a lot different from Maslow’s motivation for self-actualization…but a lot like some Buddhist teachings. In the Buddhist tradition, desires are not motivations but obstacles to the goal of mindfulness. Contemporary American Buddhist teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:
Letting go means just what it says. It’s an invitation to cease clinging to anything—whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire. It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of present moments as they are unfolding. To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them, in the intrinsic stickiness of wanting, of liking and disliking. It’s akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to.[iv]
Letting go of desire in order to have something “more powerful and wholesome,” in a way, reminds me of Augustine exchanging the worldly desires for a Godly life. Very different perceptions and approaches to dealing with desires—Augustine’s sinful desires that will lead him to eternal hell contrasted with Kabat-Zinn’s “stickiness” leading to distraction from the present moment. But I find a common thread in recognition of importance, and strength of desire, and the importance of reflection on one’s desires, whether that reflection be for the purpose of salvation or enlightenment.
20th Century African American theologian Howard Thurman wrote his reflections about his desires as a prayer:
The concern which I lay bare before God today is my need to be better:
I want to be better than I am in my most ordinary day-by-day contacts:
With my friends—
With my family—
With my casual contacts—
With my business relations—
With my associates in work and play.
I want to be better than I am in the responsibilities that are mine:
I am conscious of many petty resentments.
I am conscious of increasing hostility toward certain people.
I am conscious of the effort to be pleasing for effect, not because it is a genuine feeling on my part.
I am conscious of a tendency to shift to other shoulders burdens that are clearly my own.
I want to be better in the quality of my religious experience:
I want to develop an honest and clear prayer life.
I want to develop a sensitiveness to the will of God in my own life.
I want to develop a charitableness toward my fellows that is greater even than my most exaggerated pretensions.
I want to be better than I am.
I lay bare this need and this desire before God in the quietness of this moment[v]
This is a heart-felt prayer for self-actualization. And it is a humble request for guidance—let go, let God. What do Rev. Dr. Thurman, St. Augustine, Rumi, Jon Kabat-Zinn and the diamond-loving woman[vi] have in common? They have each become very aware of their desires, conscious of the holding and the letting go, the agony and the ecstasy in the experience. It is not the diamond, or the sex or the union with God or the enlightenment, it’s not the object of desire, but the awareness of our desires that matters. Being clear on what we are feeling, can help us be clear on our motivations, it can help us to shift or let go, or even indulge.
But does being aware of feeling desire, or any strong feeling, diminish the experience of it? Is it like explaining a joke, that it drains the pleasure, the passion of feeling? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think that at least Rumi and St. Augustine would say, “heck no!”—the cultivation of self-reflection and awareness, for them, only led to deeper feeling.
And what about we Unitarian Universalists, we spiritual seekers who hold many theologies, and whose greatest desires for spiritual fulfillment may include and differ from enlightenment or salvation?
We can look to our principles and discern desires for truth and meaning, justice, equity, and compassion, connection—with humans, within the interdependent web of all existence, to “transcending mystery and wonder.” How conscious, how aware are we of our Unitarian Universalist desires? How often, how deeply do we reflect on them? Of course meditation, keeping a journal, studying, and other methods of spiritual practice help us to reflect. More generally, we can take a cue from Gary Kowalski’s poem[vii]: “Maybe it means just listening.
….Maybe it means listening to our dreams,
Paying more attention to what we really want from life,
And less attention to all the nagging, scolding voices from our past.”
And what of our corporate desire, our yearnings, hopes and cravings for our living tradition and our beloved Fellowship? There are opportunities for communal reflection, too–conversations within Covenant Groups, within Cottage Meetings, within our upcoming Congregational Retreat—opportunities to reflect with others and discern our common and different desires. Beyond these structured gatherings, we can again apply Kowalski’s suggestions: “maybe it’s all about listening to each other,
Not thinking ahead to how we can answer or rebut or parry or advise or admonish,
But actually being present to each other.”
Friends, whatever our desires, may we make time and space to listen to them, to cultivate awareness of them as sources of motivation, of courage, anguish, direction, despair, hope. May we cultivate awareness of our desires for ourselves as spiritual seekers and for ourselves as community of spiritual seekers. May our desires help us to discover “something more wholesome and powerful” within ourselves and our congregation.
[i] Saint Augustine, 1961. Confessions (Classics). R. S. Pine-Coffin, trans. London: Penguin Books, Book II, p. 43.
[ii] Ibid., Book XI, p. 255.
[iv] Kabat-Zinn, Jon, 1994. Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion, p. 53.
[v] http://www.uua.org/worship/words/prayer-meditation/i-want-be-better accessed 2/6/16.
[vi] Refers to the Time for All Ages story presented earlier in the service. Adapted from http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/1001stories/search.php?keyword=diamond&opt=0
[vii] Refers to the Reading earlier in the service, “Listening With the Heart” http://www.uua.org/worship/words/meditation/listening-heart
HYMN #288 All Are Architects of Fate
Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds