Worship Script (5 of 5)

 OPENING WORDS

Quote by Alan Watts

This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.

 

HYMN #12 “O Life That Maketh All Things New”

 

FIRST READING

From All Work and No Play Is No Way to Live Well by Rev. Alison W. Eskildsen

Psychologists confirm that playful imaginations contribute to innovation and creativity in the workplace. Whatever we do — as a worker, student, or volunteer — the work improves when balanced with play. True play brings great joy, fun, happiness, and even healthier, loving relationships.

 

SECOND READING

Quote by Br. David Steindl-Rast

Play needs no purpose. That is why play can go on and on as long as players find it meaningful. After all, we do not dance in order to get somewhere. We need this kind of experience to correct our worldview.

We are so caught up in purpose that we would feel more comfortable if God shared our preoccupation with work. But God plays. The birds in a single tree are sufficient proof that God did not set out with a divine no-nonsense attitude to make a creature that would perfectly achieve the purpose of a bird. What could that purpose be I wonder? There are titmice, juncos, and chickadees; woodpeckers, gold finches, starlings, and crows. The only bird God never created is the no-nonsense bird.

HYMN #86 “Blessed Spirit of My Life”

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

From “The wisdom of play” by Rev. Anthony Makar

The other day I was in Marshall’s looking for silly socks to wear on a Sunday morning, because I want to be playful with my congregation. Some kids were playing chase and laughing and carrying on, and it was the sound of fun (loud), and I just wanted them to shut up, it had been a long day, I was upset about things. There I was—being contrary to the nature that surges within me and within you and wants playfulness, wants us to be alive and vital, wants us to feel charged up with the electrical charge of the soul.

Did I think I could solve things by being a Grinch? I think I did. But again and again, the playful approach is the powerful one. Maybe the playful approach can release us to work past whatever is hard for us.

If playfulness involves freedom to enter into and to leave, think of all the ways in which you might be tied to a position you can’t afford to leave, or to a marriage, or to something else.

If playfulness involves the ability to choose exactly how you will play, think of all the ways in which people of all ages are micromanaged—at school, at work, at home. In some schools, children come home every day with a color that indicates what their behavior has been like that day. Every day they are judged. Parents, every day, have to deal with it.

If playfulness involves doing something just for fun, think of all the messages you receive about getting on track, growing up, getting a life. Don’t get a degree in philosophy or studio art! How are you going to make any money with a degree like that?

If playfulness involves full absorption in what you are doing without any distress or pressure, just watch the evening news and allow the pain of the world to pour in and that will make you feel plenty distracted and distressed.

If playfulness involves imagination, just think of all the ways in which the world wants you to be serious and literal. All the literalism and conservatism out there that makes religion, for example, shallow and uncreative and violent.

If we could just flip the joylessness script for a moment.

Muslims say, “Take one step towards God and God takes seven steps towards you; walk to God and God comes running to you.” If playfulness is anything, it is God energy stirring in us!

We want to take that one step, we want to start walking. Just taking that one step, just starting to walk, can feel so hard. Maybe the playful approach really can release us to work past whatever is hard for us. A little bit of playfulness can go a long way.

 

MEDITATION

Quote by Gerald May 

The difference between work and play is only a matter of attitude. Work, fully done, is play. 

(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

The Faith of a Trapeze Artist

by Neal Jones

The word “faith” doesn’t occupy the same place of prominence in Unitarian Universalism that it does is some religious traditions. For many of us, faith has become synonymous with blind acceptance of particular religious beliefs, as in: Jesus died for my sins; God created the world in six days; Noah survived a flood in an ark; a talking snake hoodwinked Adam and Eve. For most Unitarians, indeed for most people who live in the modern world and think with modern understandings, such beliefs are neither intellectually tenable nor morally acceptable. Faith defined as religious belief is what Mark Twain was getting at when he said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

We UUs feel more comfortable talking about reason and experience than faith, but I want to point out that faith doesn’t have to be contrary to reason and experience. It can be an extension of what we know is so. I think of reason and experience as shining a light on our path. We walk as far as our logic, common sense, and past lessons take us, and then we take a step of faith into the darkness.

I am suggesting that faith involves our will and imagination more than our minds. It’s imagining a future that’s different from the past and then living as if that future is possible. By living in the possibilities, faith enables that future to come true. Faith is not believing the unbelievable, it’s trying the untried. I think this understanding of faith accords with the Biblical definition of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam refer to Abraham as the “father of faith.” He became Father Abraham because God told him to leave his home behind and travel to an unknown land where he would become the father of a great nation. With nothing more than the clothes on his back and a promise, Abraham went despite the fact that he was 75 and that his wife Sarah’s biological clock had long stopped ticking. Yet, lo and behold, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, they cashed in their Social Security checks for a stroller and a playpen. If you or I became first-time parents between the ages of 90 and 100, we probably wouldn’t think that was a laughing matter. But Abraham and Sarah thought it was so funny that they named their son “Isaac,” which in Hebrew means “laughter.”

I think of Abraham and Sarah as trapeze artists, because living with faith is being willing and able to let go of the old and grab hold of the new. Most fairy tales conclude with “…and they lived happily ever after,” where “happily ever after” implies that you have arrived. But real life is a journey without destinations.

Life is continually challenging us to let go—let go of childhood naiveté, let go of your parents’ way of thinking or your own way of thinking, let go of single life or married life, let go of a job or a vocation, of outdated dreams or outgrown frustrations, of special possessions or special people, and eventually, to let go of life itself. Sometimes we freely and deliberately let go; sometimes life forces us against our will to let go. But let go we must in order to grab hold of greater life.

The scary part, of course, is when you let go of the old and are in the process of grabbing the new—that in-between state of suspension, that “up-in-the-air” feeling of not having anything secure to hold to. This is the test of faith—not believing something you know ain’t so, but being willing to live with uncertainty and insecurity until you get to where you’re going.

I don’t have to tell you that any up-in-the-air time between trapeze bars is scary. In response, some hang onto the old bar too long. They avoid the anxiety of the unknown by clinging to the known. They don’t take chances. They play it safe. They do the same thing the same old way it’s always been done. “Better safe than sorry” is their motto.

Poet Janet Rand reminds us, however, of the unavoidable risks inherent in living a full life:

To laugh is to risk appearing foolish.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose your feelings is to risk exposing your true self.

To place your idea, your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

He or she may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he or she simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love – live.

Only a person who risks is free.

At the other extreme are people who are too quick to grab the next new thing. They try to avoid the pain of grieving what they have lost by rushing to the new. They only look forward, they don’t look back, and the future is always brighter than today. But unless we allow ourselves to grieve what is left behind, a part of us is left behind. We get stuck in unfinished business. We cannot fully embrace new life until we fully mourn what has died.

There are some things we can do to bolster our faith while moving from the old to the new. One is to nudge ourselves to take reasonable risks. Life is not a smoothly paved, well-marked interstate. It is a winding trail with many curves, potholes, and roadblocks.

To successfully navigate life’s journey, you have to be willing to take detours off the familiar, well-worn path and try a new way. Whenever you do anything new, from learning to ride a bicycle to having a baby, it’s disorienting and scary. You will not have a map or an owner’s manual. You will not know exactly where you’re going or what you’re doing. There are no guaranteed outcomes. You will not have all the answers. You will not feel good for a while. You will feel vulnerable and lost and anxious before you feel better. You have to be willing to put yourself in that suspended state before you grab the next trapeze bar. It is an unavoidable part of change.

Another thing we can do to bolster our faith between the bars is to keep before us a dream, a vision of where we’re going, a promise of what can be. Victor Frankl, a psychotherapist who was condemned to Auschwitz by the Nazis, writes in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, of the daily deprivation and degradation that marked his existence there. Frankl makes the observation that once a prisoner lost his faith in the future, he was doomed. A hopeless prisoner would either commit suicide or become subject to mental and physical decline and die of “natural causes.”

Frankl tells of a friend who dreamed that the camp would be liberated on March 30, 1945. The dream filled him with hope until the day drew near and it became apparent that the camp would not be freed. His healthy, hopeful friend suddenly became ill on March 29, became delirious and lost consciousness on March 30, then died on March 31. Frankl also reports that the death rate at Auschwitz was the highest each year between Christmas and New Year’s, despite the fact that there was no significant change in the weather, their food supply, or their work conditions. Frankl believed that many prisoners lived in the hope that they would be home for Christmas, and that once they lost that hope, they lost their will to live.

Through his observations at Auschwitz, Frankl became convinced that a person’s chances for survival were not the result of environmental conditions alone but of an inner decision, a fundamental choice between life and death. Frankl came to understand intimately the truth of Nietzsche’s statement: “A person who has a why to live for can endure almost any how.” Frankl’s reasons for surviving Auschwitz were his longing to be reunited with his wife and his desire to publish a manuscript that the Nazis had destroyed, one which he constantly rewrote in his mind. A vision of the promised land can sustain you while struggling through the wilderness.

One more thing that can bolster your faith when you’re suspended between old and new is depending on your friends. When you’re going through a transition, don’t go it alone. You don’t have to. Don’t hesitate to lean on your friends. A friend reminds you that you are special: “You are strong enough to get through this”; “You have what it takes”; “You are doing the right thing.” A friend also reminds you that you are no different from others: “There’s nothing wrong with you”; “Everyone goes through this at some time”; “You are not crazy for feeling this way.”

Friends have faith in us when we have lost faith in ourselves. This is where the trapeze metaphor may break down, because I’m not sure you can take a friend with you as you swing from one trapeze bar to the next. But you can have friends in the stands to cheer you on. To depend on your friends doesn’t mean that you’re weak or needy. It means you’re a human being and you’re a part of a nurturing, sustaining human community.

There are ways to make those times in the air feel less treacherous, but no way to avoid the swing. Security and risk—the firm grip on the trapeze and the terror and exhilaration of letting go—are formed by memory telling us  that life will hold us, mingled with imagination assuring us that something new is possible. It is faith that allows us to enjoy the ride. 

 

HYMN #116 “I’m On My Way”

 

BENEDICTION by Rev. Thomas Schade
My friends,
There is a power at work in the universe.
It works through human hands,
but it was not made by human hands.
It is a creative, sustaining, and transforming power
and we can trust that power with our lives
[and with our ministries].
It will sustain us whenever we take a stand on the side of love;
whenever we take a stand for peace and justice;
whenever we take a risk.

Trust in that power.
We are, together, held by that power.