Thursday, April 30, 2020

Abundance in difficult times

Scarcity is in the news every day. A scarcity of masks. A scarcity of ventilators. A scarcity of small business loans, of toilet paper…

A few weeks back a fellow UU wrote on Facebook that she was down to hear last roll of toilet paper, and she was at loose ends. Within 10 minutes one of her friends said “I’m going your house later today, I’ll drop some off.” I’ve seen this time and time again since the pandemic began, when there is a need, some kind and creative person rushes to fill it. A small high end furniture company my brother worked for turned their production completely to 3d printing of PPE, and donated all of it to the local hospital. My neighbor is not just making cloth masks from fabric scraps, but is working with a local nonprofit “Reuse” to create a system of volunteers making masks from all the donated fabric and sheets and tshirts, to clean and sanitize them and distribute them to healthcare workers in our county.

I don’t say this to minimize the very real tragedies and shortages and systemic failures we are seeing on the news, but the spirit gets discouraged when we begin to believe that that is the whole story. When systems break down, when times get tough, we are called to tap into the abundance that is part of the nature of being alive on this earth. this morning, we take up together the spiritual practice of noticing abundance wherever we find it.

Like the animals in Mushrooms in the Rain we forget that there are sources of abundance outside our own resources. We forget that mushrooms grow in the rain. In fact, nature is the perfect model for abundance. Says green designer William McDonough:
“Nature is nothing if not extravagant. Four billion years of natural design, forged in the cradle of evolution, has yielded such a profusion of forms we can barely grasp the vigor and diversity of life on earth. Responding to unique local conditions, ants have evolved into nearly ten thousand species, several hundred of which can be found in the crown of a single Amazonian tree. Fruit trees produce thousands of blossoms – an astonishing abundance of blossoms – so that another tree might germinate, take root, and grow. Birds, too, seem to have a taste for the extravagant; who could say the wood duck’s plumage is restrained?” (Sustainable Planet p. 13)

We forget the abundance of fresh water that falls from the sky here in the northeast. We forget that right now there are dandelions and other edible nutritious greens growing furiously all around us. We forget that we don’t each have to have a 36 pack of toilet paper and our own personal ventilator, if we remember the special kind of abundance that comes from sharing. When New York said it was afraid of a shortage of ventilators, California donated 500 machines to the national stockpile to help states in need.

Even during tight times, we can find wonderful examples of abundance and generosity if we are looking.

In the first days of the pandemic coming into our area, you told me that already you were making donations to organizations in need. Already you were calling folks who lived alone to make sure they were okay. I love the abundance of friendly faces as we gather 3 congregations together for Sunday worship- it would have taken a lot of energy and volunteer hours to put on 3 separate online worships each week, but we came together sharing worship leader, zoom rooms, technical support, music, ideas, and most importantly caring.

I believe that when we turn our attention towards abundance, it warms our hearts and lifts our spirits. It reminds us that each of us has something to share, scraps of time and t-shirts that maybe didn’t seem like much of anything at all until we saw how needed it was. Paying attention to abundance challenges and empowers us to increase our capacity to share. Like the critters in our story, it helps us find room to shelter together during this storm.

Questions for reflection:
· Where have you noticed abundance in your own life or in the larger world?
· Is it sometimes hard to notice abundance? What is that like?
· When have you been surprised by something you were able to share that created abundance for someone else or for a community?
· What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Just Listen...

This is a challenging time to be a human being. We feel anxious, we feel sad, we feel lonely. Wendell Berry's words:
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”
resonates in me in a new way. (If you want to read the whole poem, and hear Berry read it in his own voice click here.)

I have also found that more than once since we started sheltering at home, when I felt worried, and trapped and lonely, I went for a walk and listened to the birds, and watched the trees starting to come back to life, and I felt somehow less lonely, because I could see and hear that I was not, in fact alone. I was surrounded by the birds making their music. I went to sniff a weeping cherry and heard before I saw that it was filled with bees buzzing in a pollination feast. Whenever I take a moment to pay attention I feel and see and hear the web of life of which we are all a part.

The plants are all blooming early this year, and while that is worrying, I’ve decided to just allow myself to be fed by those purple and yellow blooms -- to be fed by the slowly unfolding drama of bud and leaf -- to be fed by the sound of the wind and the birds.
"I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief."
Before I turn on the news in the morning, I check the window where I can see my new orange tulips getting ready to bloom.As I let my dog out I pause for a moment in the doorway and listen to the morning chorus of birds.

Some of you are already intuitively drawn to this practice of gazing out the window or heading out for a walk when you are troubled. You may not know that studies have shown that bringing your attention into what you see, hear, feel and taste in that moment is good medicine whenever we are worried.

So today in honor of Earth day we gratefully turn our attention to our senses. And since many of us are spending so much time staring at a screen, we will give our eyes a rest and see what our ears can hear.

So I invite you into a time of listening meditation. If you have headphones this is a great time to put them on. You may want to close your eyes, or even lay down.

For this meditation I chose recordings by Lang Elliott, a professional nature recordist who made a lot of recordings in our bioregion. His recordings can be found Here

He writes:
“Behold the music of the birds, living proof that nature is healthy and productive, that earth is overflowing with goodness, and that all is well in the world. Who is not uplifted by the twittering of the birds at dawn, by nature showering us with sweet notes that celebrate the coming of the day?”
I like  "Beaver Pond at Dawn" and "Foggy Bottom" because they were recorded near me. Chose one that appeals to you and notice all the different sounds you can hear. Notice familiar sounds. Notice unfamiliar sounds....

Now I’d like to give you the chance to meditate on the sounds in your own ecosystem. Take off your headphones. Allow the sounds of your own space to just float through you. We often try to ignore the unpleasant sounds and focus on the pleasant sounds, but today I invite you to just notice whatever is there, to let it pass through you and then let it go....

 What was that like for you?
  • What was it like to just focus on listening?
  • Did you hear or feel anything that surprised you?
  • What are the sounds like in your neighborhood?
  • Has there ever been a time when the sounds of nature renewed or restored you?
  • If nature sounds are not your thing, what kinds of experiences do renew or restore you?
Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed in the days ahead, the invitation is there...
"come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief...
come into the presence of still water...
rest in the grace of the world, and [be] free."

Where does music come from?

This is a true story told by composer Bernie Krauss. 
To hear him tell the story in his own words click here.

Where does music come from? Who made the first music?

One time a composer called Bernie Krauss went to visit an elder of the Nez Perce tribe to gather songs and stories for a piece he was writing.

The Elder, Angus, said “you white people don’t know anything about music.”

Bernie was very confused because he went to music school, and music was his job. But he wanted to understand so he said “please show me what you mean”

The Elder took him out early in the morning to lake Wallowa in western Oregon, They came to the place where the stream entered the lake, and they sat shivering in the cold and waited. [pause]

Soon the wind came down the valley and a beautiful sound like an organ came swooping up from the valley. Bernie wondered where it was coming from, but when he walked closer to the creek he realized- it was the reeds! When the wind blew over the reeds it excited them into sound.

The elder took a reed and cut holes in it and began to play the reed flute he had just made.

The elder said “This is how we got our music and this is how you got yours.”

Music was already happening in nature even before there were humans, the sounds of nature taught us to make music.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Where are you in the story?

Unitarian Universalists are very diverse in what we believe. Some of us are Christian, some are Jewish; we are atheist and earth centered. I grew up UU, in a humanist congregation, so I knew about Easter baskets and egg hunts, but I had never heard about the pascal mystery. I didn’t know that if you grew up in the Christian tradition, churches start telling the story of Easter 40 days ago, all the way back on Ash Wednesday, and all through Lent.

For Christians, this week, Holy week, began with the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, surrounded by a procession of followers laying palm branches across his path.

On Thursday evening they remember the story of the last supper with Jesus and his disciples, the washing of his disciples feet, the first communion ritual. On Thursday we remember Jesus waiting in the garden of Gethsemane, when he is the only one who knows what is coming, and he prays from his heart to “take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." That is the night of the betrayal by his friend Judas, and the night of Jesus’ arrest.

On Friday, A lot of sad and scary things happen. As the apostles creed says: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

Saturday of holy week, is a time of sadness and waiting. All the people who loved Jesus as a friend, a son, a teacher were broken-hearted and discouraged.

And so on Easter Sunday, when they rolled the stone away from the tomb, and found the tomb empty, they were afraid, but when Jesus appeared and spoke, there was a profound joy and amazement. (The kind of Joy that you feel only when your heart is already broken open by hard and sad things.) The celebration of Easter is not just the story of Jesus, but is also a hopeful message for all people that even after betrayal, and suffering, and death, resurrection is possible.

And so on a normal year, observant Christians follow that journey all the way through the month of lent, they celebrate the people coming together on Palm Sunday, the bitter sweetness of the last supper of Jesus with his Disciples, the anxious moments of Jesus in the garden. They retell the Good Friday Journey by following the stations of the cross. On Holy Saturday, they remember Jesus laying in his tomb, and on Easter the joyful resurrection, That whole story, taken together is called the pascal mystery- the mystery of suffering and hope, the mystery of death and rebirth.

But today we are all living inside of another story, and we don’t know how the story goes because we’ve never lived through a pandemic before. Maybe you don’t feel like a butterfly emerging from her cocoon this morning. But remember the Easter story actually has all the feelings inside it- not only the joy and hope of resurrection, but all the feelings that lead up to that day. My friend Rev. Jennifer said she felt like for her it is holy Saturday, like we were still waiting quietly in the dark tomb for rebirth, or maybe we are like Jesus friends feeling sad outside the tomb.

Where are you in the story this morning? I bet for some people this feels like Good Friday, because they feel hurt and weary right now, because the cross they are carrying feels too heavy. Maybe when you saw crowds cheering those buses of medical workers headed off to NYC it felt like Palm Sunday. I think for me it feels like Maundy Thursday. Here I am in my home with my family, cooking together and feeding each other, worried about what might happen next. Where are you in the story? … Remember, whether today feels like Thursday or Friday or Saturday, Easter is coming. Hope still exists even if you can’t feel it right now.

For those of us that aren’t Christian, we can just look out our window to see the same story unfolding. This was a hard winter for lots of plants, but still the green is returning, Where I live in Ithaca, some of the trees are starting to bud, the daffodils are blooming. I have a plant called a Lenten rose, and this winter a chimney fell on it. Then the masons who took down the chimney piled bricks on it and dragged the heavy bricks away. This poor plant had literally one stem and half a leaf remaining by the time the ground froze in December. In those first warm days of spring, it shot up a new start, and then we had a hard freeze and it died back. I watched all this drama out the window all winter, and was powerless to do anything but hope. Today it has 3 big stems with leafs, that are a bit bedraggled, but it keeps sending up new growth. I go to my window each day- “you can do it!” I think to my little plant friend. So whether today you feel like you have a pile of bricks on you, or you are in the dark of winter, we take a moment to share “what hope looks like”. Thanks to everyone who took the time to send in their photos of hope- click here to see what brings us hope.