"Vulnerability”

Worship Script 5


Worship Script (5 of 5)

A Theology of Vulnerability

OPENING WORDS

All We Share Is Sacred By Andre Mol
This blessing was originally written in honor of two Unitarians, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who during WWII dared to risk their own comfort in order to help save the lives of those in desperate need.

As we gather together,
May we remember
When you share with me what is most important to you,
That is where listening begins.
When I show you that I hear you,
When I say your life matters,
That is where compassion begins.
When I open the door to greet you,
That is where hospitality begins.
When I venture out to bring you to shelter,
That is where love begins.
When I risk my comfort to ease your suffering,
When I act against hatred, violence, and injustice,
That is where courage begins.
When we experience the full presence of each other,
Because of our shared humanity,
Because of our differences,
That is where holy gratitude begins.

May this space be a table
that is not complete
until all are welcome.
May this table be a space of beauty
where together
we create a series of miracles, and
where all that we share is sacred.

May it be so.

 

HYMN #347 Gather the Spirit

 

FIRST READING 

“Evasive Maneuvers” by Poet Billy Collins
 


I grew up hiding from the other children.
I would break off from the pack
On its patrol of the streets every Saturday
And end up alone behind a hedge
Or down a dim hallway in a strange basement.
No one ever came looking for me,
Which only added to the excitement.
I used to hide from adults, too,
Mostly behind my mother’s long coat
Or her floral dress depending on the season.
I tried to learn how to walk
Between my father’s steps while he walked
Like the trick poodle I had seen on television.
And I hid behind books,
Usually one of the volumes of the encyclopedia
That was kept behind glass in a bookcase,
The letters of the alphabet in gold.
Before I knew how to read,
I sat in an armchair in the living room
And turned the pages, without a clue
About the world that were pressed
Between D and F, M and O, W and Z.
Maybe this explains why
I looked out of the bedroom window
First thing this morning
At the heavy trees, low gray clouds,
And said the word gastropod out loud,
And having no idea what it meant
Went downstairs and looked it up
Then hid in the woods from my wife and our dog.
 

 

SECOND READING

Do Not Be Ashamed by Theresa Ines Soto

 

Do not be ashamed of your broken heart. It broke
because you dared to use it. Dared to stretch its shape
to hold more love. Because you used its beats to keep
time to a song that only you can hear. And you, the
owner of a well-used heart, are also loved. Come close.
Let the love flow from our heart to yours, pouring into
mend the cracks, sliding in between the rusty gears until
they tick again. Let your heart come back to life, broken,
and now broken open, which both may hurt, and which
can lead to room for much more love.
 

HYMN #18 What Wondrous Love Is This

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
A Meditation from “Acts of Faith: Meditations for People of Color” by Iyania Vanzant

Vulnerability is the gift I give to those I trust when I trust myself
Terry Kellogg and Marvel Harrison

Just because people are nice to us and don’t ask anything in return, does not mean there is something wrong with them. It is often hard for us to believe people can like is simply for who we are. Benny, a White Man, was willing to give Frank, a Black man, a kidney. Frank wouldn’t accept it. He had known Benny for three short weeks. Frank knew very little about Benny. But he knew Benny must have a hidden agenda. Nobody gives a kidney away for nothing. Frank confronted Benny with his anger, suspicion, and fear. Quietly Benny replied, “I know you like to go fishing. I know you are a good father and a loving husband. I know because that’s what you’ve shown me. Based on what I’ve seen, I know you don’t deserve to die.” Frank accepted the kidney. Benny moved to Arizona and never saw Frank again.
 

 

MEDITATION

Prayer for Compassion by Elizabeth Tarbox

Spirit of Life, I give thanks for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life.

Where the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, where hands are held and there are moments without words, let us be present then, and alive to the possibility of changing. Let us seek to make another’s well-being the object of our concern. Let us seek to be present to another’s pain, to bathe another’s wounds, hear another’s sadness, celebrate another’s success, and allow the other’s story to change our own.

Let us stand in the morning on damp grass, hear the syllables of bird song, and fill up on sweet air that rolls over oceans and continents. Let us look up at the stars and the planets that fill the night sky with majesty. Let us witness the first fresh buds of spring amid the brown sticks of winter. And for all this, let us be grateful.

Let us not defend ourselves against the discomfort of unruly emotion, nor seek to close down our hearts for fear a new love will come to shake our foundations. Let us instead be open to discovering a new way of seeing an old problem, or appreciating the perfection of a seashell, or the possibility of friendship. For in giving ourselves to what we do not understand, we receive life’s blessings, and in taking care of another, we are cared for.
 

 

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

A THEOLOGY OF VULNERABILITY
A Sermon by Reverend Lynn Strauss

Religious practice and theological reflection are tools to aid us in our quest to understand what it means to be human. When we ask questions such as, “Who am I?”, “How do I live a meaning-filled life?” We are asking religious questions.

Theologies are systems of thought that help us address these questions. Some theologies give us God-focused answers. Some give us nature-focused answers. Some give us human-focused answers.

Some theologies posit sin and evil as the starting place for understanding what it means to be human. Some theologies posit suffering as the starting place. Some posit relationship to the divine as the starting place.

This morning I invite you to reflect with me on how human vulnerability might be a starting place for thinking about how we can live meaning-filled, compassionate lives.

This is my third sermon in the series on Spiritual Freedom. In my first, I suggested that we celebrate our free faith and take seriously the responsibility of our spiritual freedom. How do we search? What is the thread that leads us to understanding who we are? How do we practice theological and spiritual reflection together? I told the story of Mary and Martha and how Mary sat at the feet of the teacher…and that Jesus said, that was the better part.

Last week, I offered a reflection on Dr. Kings’ question, “Where do we go from here”. I suggested that we had more work to do as a congregation that wants to truly be anti-racist and multicultural. We can live our spiritual freedom fully only if we keep the faith and continue the work of inclusion in all its forms.

This morning I offer a theology of vulnerability as a way toward balancing the two most important aspects of religion; identity and freedom. Last Sunday Dave, attended Sunday worship at All Souls Unitarian in NYC. My colleague Reverend Galen Guengerich had just returned from a trip to Israel with a group of clergy representing a wide religious spectrum. Among his many significant experiences, Galen was most moved by his meeting with Natan Sharansky. Sharansky is the Russian mathematican, chess player, and human rights activist who was refused permission to emigrate from the soviet union to Israel. In 1986, he was released after 9 years in a Siberian prison. During his time in prison, he said, he came to one of the most important realizations of his life.

Sharansky said, “There are two human passions: freedom and identity. The discovery of your identity he said, gives you the strength to fight both for your own freedom and the freedom of others.”

Awakening to our identity and to our freedom – that is our spiritual task, the religious purpose of our life. Knowing our identity, fully acting on our freedom- that is what gives life meaning. We can make progress along these twin paths only if we open our eyes, our ears, our hearts…only through allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to all of the suffering and all of the joy of life.

Simply living, brings us again and again to a place of vulnerability…either through suffering or through love. None of us can avoid being wounded this life. All of us are given opportunities to open to love. But rarely do we meet our vulnerable moments as gift and opportunity. In fact, we are taught to avoid, dismiss, minimize and deny our vulnerable self.

When our knees ache or our allergies bring us low, or we receive a serious diagnosis. When our losses seem insurmountable. When our feelings are hurt and we become resentful or angry. When we make choices from selfishness or laziness or fear, or self-hate. When we cause hurt to another. When we close ourselves off to love. So many moments, so much vulnerability.

To allow a response from vulnerability…we must allow ourselves to feel deeply…we must cross a chasm of fear. Circumstance, life itself, brings us again and again to the opportunity to embrace our vulnerability. It is in this embrace of pain and suffering and yes, of love … that we come to know who we really are, what we humans are capable of, what really matters.

It’s not so surprising that Natan Sharansky gained clarity and wisdom while in prison. Deitrich Bonhoffer, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr. , Aung San Suu Kyi, and many, many others tell a similar story.

In the darkest hour, a spark can grow into a light. When we are most thoroughly tested, we find out who we are…and who we belong to.

We are charged to never forget the Holocaust. Not only so that it might never happen again, but also because we learn what it means to be human from the lives of those who lived and died in those terrible years in Europe.

Etty Hillesum was 27 years old when she began her diary and her letters. She was Dutch and living in Amsterdam. It was 1942. She was Jewish. She was well educated. Her father a scholar, one brother an accomplished musician and the other a doctor.

Etty was interested in psychology, she met and talked with Jung, she read widely, she grew increasingly spiritual in her thought, she fell in love, and she was compassionate- committing the final months of her life to helping others. When Jews from Amsterdam were transported by the Nazis to a camp called Westerbork, she, as a member of the Jewish Council in Amsterdam, traveled with them to ease the transition. She nursed the sick in Westerbork, until she, her parents and one of her brothers were put on a train to Auschwitz where she was killed on November 30, 1943.

As a thoughtful and religious person strongly connected to her family and friends, Etty searched deeply within herself to understand what it meant to be human. She followed the thread of her own experience…going deep inside herself in her quest to find meaning. Refusing to hide in denial or pretense, She wrote, “we need to strip down to the deepest honesty.”

And by touching this place of deep honest vulnerability within herself, she found the courage to help others. She wrote letters of encouragement to so many. She found ways to distribute food and other necessities to those with nothing. Somehow, she was able to meet each day with a smile for those who suffered.

She wrote; freedom is inexhaustible. The mind is inexhaustible. Beauty is inexhaustible. Love is inexhaustible. Recognizing the vulnerability of all those held in captivity, she called herself “the thinking heart of the barracks.”

Living in circumstances of extremity, without the power to save herself or those she loved, she saw life as something larger and more eternal than her own small life. She wrote:
“I always return to Rilke. Is his life not testimony that life is finely balanced? Evidence that, in peaceful times and under favorable circumstances, sensitive artists may search for the purest and most fitting expression of their deepest insights so that, during more turbulent and debilitating times, others can turn to them for support and a ready response to their bewildered questions?

A response they are unable to formulate for themselves, since all their energies are taken up in looking about the bare necessities? Sadly, in difficult times we tend to shrug off the spiritual heritage of artists from an “easier“ age, with “what use is that sort of thing to us now?” It is an understandable but shortsighted reaction. And utterly impoverishing. We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.”

Thus, her very vulnerability brought Etty to a place of deep humanity. “We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.”

There are a universe of stories and lives that make this very point. We find our identity as human beings in our most vulnerable moments. Be they moments of love or of suffering. And in these moments we are truly free.

Ask Gandhi, ask Mandela, ask Jesus, ask Mother Teresa. Or turn to someone here in this congregation and ask them. When were you most vulnerable? When did life force great woundedness upon you or those you love? And what did you learn while you walked there among the wounded? Did you not become as balm?

It is not only suffering and loss that makes us vulnerable. Sometimes we are made vulnerable by love. In fact, love is more powerful and potentially wounding. And in these moments confronted with love, we learn what it means to be human.

What is more difficult than accepting love? Don’t we guard against opening to love? Don’t we keep escape routes open…one foot out the door? Don’t we spend great energies in avoidance?

Don’t love’s wounds take years, a lifetime, to heal?

There is a significant difference between suffering and love. For suffering cannot be avoided. But love is a choice. Opening to love is a choice.

And we tend to be miserly about how much love we are willing to let in. What are we afraid of?

That we are unworthy of love?
That we will be hurt by love?
That we will be found to be unworthy of love?

All religions address these two vulnerabilities…suffering and love. The thinking heart of Unitarian Universalism teaches us to stay. To stay in this life, to confront reality, to love without ceasing, to be a balm to those in need.

Unitarian Universalism assures us that we are worthy- that we are beloved.

Poet, Sharon Olds has a poem…too complex to read entirely…but these excerpts…hold a truth regarding vulnerability. It’s called The Wedding Vow.

“We stood holding each other by the hand, yet I also stood as if alone, for a moment, just before the vow took. I felt as if I had come to claim a promise…and at the same time that I had come…congenitally unworthy, to beg.

And then it was time to speak- he was offering me, no matter what, his life.

That is all I had to do, that evening, to accept the gift I had longed for- to say I had accepted it, as if being asked if I breathe.
Do I take? I do. I take as he takes- we have been practicing this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.”

To be vulnerable is to bear the suffering and the pleasure. To follow the thread of your own experience and remain open. To love is to bear the humility of being human- both imperfect and beloved.

This is what a theology of vulnerability asks of us. To bear the humility of being human – both imperfect and beloved. And here is religious community is a good place to practice.

Amen/Blessed Be

 

HYMN #127 Can I See Another’s Woe?

 

BENEDICTION

Share Your Light With the World by James Morrison

Within each of our hearts there is a most glorious light.
Go forth, and let its spark help you understand what troubles both you and others;
Go forth, and let its light of reason be a guide in your decisions;
Go forth, and bring its ray of hope to those in need of help in both body and spirit, that they may find healing;
Go forth, and fan the flames of passion to help heal our world;
Go forth, and spread the warm glow of love, pushing back the darkness of the world;
Go forth, and share your glorious light with the world.