“I Used to be Different, But Now I’m the Same”
A Sermon Offered at All Souls Church, UU
January 12, 2020
Rev. Shayna Appel
What does it mean to be a people of integrity? Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than a doing, a freeing ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves to know who we genuinely are.” This Sunday we will begin the ‘undoing’ in order to do as the old Quaker hymn beckons, and “come down where we ought to be.”
Welcome & Announcements
-My leaving at years end
-Table with candles for Joys and Sorrows
Soul Matters Chalice Lighting
May the light we now kindle
and the time we share together,
anchor us to that inner flame,
that sacred center,
which helps us remember who we were
before the world told us who it wanted us to be. May our time together clear the way
for those memories
that help lead us back home.
Hymn #207 Earth Was Given as a Garden
Opening Words “Bless Our Contradictions” by Michael Leunig
God bless our contradictions,
those parts of us which seem out of character.
Let us be boldly and gladly out of character.
Let us be creatures of paradox and variety:
creatures of contrast; of light and shade; creatures of faith.
God be our constant. Let us step out of character into the unknown, to struggle and love and do what we will.
Time for All Ages
Reading ‘The Journey’ By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.
Sermon “I Used to be Different, But Now I’m the Same”
This month, our Soul Matters theme is ‘integrity,’ and the spiritual aspect of ‘integrity’ the curriculums co-creators chose to lift up is ‘soul.’ I don’t know about you, but I found that pairing more than a bit challenging. And if the pairing of ‘integrity’ and ‘soul’ have been more than a bit challenging, the internal work I’ve had to do that is always a part of sermon writing has been staggering…but in a clarifying and transformational way.
In short, it’s been a potent week. A week in which the heavy hitters of ‘integrity’ and ‘soul’ seem to have aligned to stir things up! I’m no astrologer but I have tremendous respect for things that are bigger and older than I am. Stars and planets fall into that category. So when I stumbled across this piece of wisdom written by astrologer Virginia Bell and posted by Sherry Bronson back in June of 2014, I stopped in my tracks and paid close attention. Bell was writing about a particularly pungent arrangement in the heavens but she could just as easily have been writing about the stellar intersection of ‘integrity’ and ‘soul.’
Here’s what she wrote: This aspect is like a mini-workshop; it’s an opportunity to break through old patterns and limiting beliefs, to deepen a relationship or finally release it, to recognize your shadow, to call back your soul. Like any recovery work,” writes Bell, “it is painful, humbling and potentially life changing.
If you’re feeling a bit confused, welcome to my world! What does breaking through old patterns and limiting beliefs have to do with integrity? Rachel Naomi Remen, writing on integrity, puts it this way. She writes: Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than a doing, a freeing ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves… Often in reclaiming the freedom to be who we are, we remember some basic human quality, what we find is almost always a surprise but it is also familiar; like something we have put in the back of a drawer long ago…
Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than a doing…
This notion of integrity being reached by undoing, as opposed to doing, or perhaps reaching, caught me by surprise and I had to do a great deal of thinking about it. Because, and maybe this is just me, but when I think about the word ‘integrity’ I think about a ‘to do’ list containing such items as building character, getting better at being honest with myself and others, becoming more, better, clearer. But ‘integrity,’ says Remen, is more complicated than that. Integrity requires some subtraction, some removal. In other words, it already exists within us, and the trick to locating it – to finding a path in – is to clear learned debris from the path that is already there.
What is at the end of that path? Our true selves. Our whole, entire, true, authentic selves. The selves we were before the world told us who we should be. The selves we were before we began hiding the parts of us we thought were imperfect, outside societies norms or the norms of our families, schools or workplaces. Integrity…is a freeing [of] ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves…
What is at the end of that path? The realization that I used to be different, but now I’m the same! A coming home to self.
I used to try too hard
I used to deny myself my dreams
I used to live someone else’s life
I used to ignore my intuition
I used to wear a disguise
I used to lack confidence
I used to hide my truth
I used to pretend to be happy
I used to pretend to be happy
I used to pretend…
I used to be different…
But then, as is so often the case, in-breaking moments of transformation happen. Seemingly random events, collide in a wild and unpredictable universe, creating a crucible of extraordinary opportunity. Like the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust that move mere inches in a year holding back the bubbling turbulence below, the conditions which precede an explosion into consciousness, [or a return to integrity], most often ride in to our lives on the back of pent up truth.
But truth, notes Bronson, is a slippery devil. If it’s something we don’t want to look at we create a version of the story, a half-truth or truth-and-a-half. Whatever it is, it avoids the bare brown kernel at the core. It enables us to exist without showing up. It allows us to remain in the magical version of our imagined reality. The gritty, glorious being inside is denied life.
The journey back to authentic self is a journey back into integrity. It is a journey back to our authentic truths…a journey back to the heart of our souls. In a sermon offered back in October, I shared with you a definition of ‘soul’ offered by Rev. Victoria Safford. Soul, Safford proposed, “is the part of you that is most uniquely you, deeper than mind, more durable even than your will — and holy, if you like that word, or sacred. It is the essence of identity, radiant with dignity and worth. Even when [we] feel unworthy and undignified, it’s there, and has been since the moment of [our births]…”.
Integrity rarely means that we need to add something to ourselves: it is more an undoing than a doing, a freeing ourselves from beliefs we have about who we are and ways we have been persuaded to “fix” ourselves…I used to be different, but now I’m the same. Now I have returned to the me that is most uniquely me…the me radiant with dignity and worth…the me that is there and has been there since the moment of my birth…the me freed from beliefs about who I am…the me freed to experience the whole of who I am. I used to be different, but now I’m the same.
If I haven’t lost you yet in this crucible of extraordinary possibility – and believe me, I completely understand if I have – then perhaps this process I am describing is resonating somewhere deep within you. Perhaps it is resonating deep within you because you have either intentionally taken a journey down this road to integrity, to the heart of your soul, or because you have experienced the sudden and radical in-breaking of some deep truth that grabbed hold of you and would not let go until you reorganized your life in such a way as to make room for it.
The point is, if you have had any experience in which you re-claimed some personal truth, you know it is not a ‘one-and-done’ endeavor. Because the discovery of our deepest truths, our selves, our souls, locates us at the sweet spot of our lives. The journey to integrity brings us back to our true selves – our holy or sacred selves – selves that are authentic, alive, fully self-expressed and capable of authentic and lasting relationship.
And, once we find that sweet-spot, we want to stay there. Which, of course, is impossible because we live in the world and we interact with so much on any given day. Getting pulled off center is to be expected. Engaging in the struggle to get back to center, back to truth, back to integrity and the whole of the soul is our work as people of faith. It is spiritual work and it must be engaged over and over and over again. And it must be engaged, at least in part, within community.
Over the course of the last month or so, it occurred to me that I have been on a journey back to a place of integrity that, in all likelihood, began when I got my call to the ministry. I had been through some things by then; PTSD, addiction and recovery, losses of people I loved. But the gift of recovery is a gift of a journey back into integrity and when I got my call to ministry I was in a pretty good place with myself. I knew who I was, and who I was not, and it was a pretty sweet and settled place to be.
And then…came the call; an inner nudge I couldn’t get away from. But I was so sure that I was not minister material I assumed for a time that the call was simply a wrong number…or a cosmic butt-dial intended more to amuse than to lead. Long story short, I went to seminary, and loved it. But I wasn’t minister material so I decided to be a prison chaplain, figuring I could comfortably hang out with the riffraff in prison and minister to them. Certainly no proper church filled with proper people would ever consider hiring me as their minister. I’m not minister material.
You’ve all heard the old saying, “How do you make God laugh? Tell Her your plans!”
Long story short, I graduated seminary and went straight into the parish, and the parish is where I have been for the last twenty years!
Vocational Ministry in a parish setting is an incredibly big job. It’s an extraordinary job! It’s a sacred and holy job. And, while you’ll never get rich doing it, you will grow wise. The churches you serve, the people you grow to know and love…they’ll make you wise…if you let them.
And, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years – getting wise. Or, more to the point, moving towards integrity. Traveling back through all those notions of what I thought a minister was supposed to be in order to figure out who the real, authentic Shayna is as a minister. Letting go of the voices of all my mentors so that I could find my own true voice. Learning to trust, over time, that I am enough, and when I’m not, someone in the congregation will come forward and pick up the slack. You always do!
It’s taken twenty years to get here. Twenty years of undoing, of freeing myself from beliefs I had about who I was and ways I had been persuaded to “fix” myself so that I could fulfill this role of minister. And it wasn’t till I got here, to All Souls Church, that I finally felt at home in the ministry.
So, when I tell you that this is the best shared ministry I have ever experienced, here at All Souls Church, I want you to believe it. But I also want you to believe in yourselves because everything we’ve accomplished here, we have done together. I want you to believe in yourselves…and I want you to ask yourselves what it means to be a people of integrity. What beliefs about yourselves, individually and as a congregation, are no longer serving you or us? What were the stories you were telling about yourselves, individually and as a congregation, that kept you from being the vital, authentic, loving and growing congregation that you are today?
Ask yourselves the question: What does it mean to be a people of integrity? Then ask your siblings in faith the same question. Soon, you will know what you have to do and you will do it. Yes, there will be voices around you shouting bad advice, and yes, it may feel occasionally as if the whole house is beginning to tremble. Yes, other things will vie for a place of importance. But if you know how to get back to center, to truth, to authenticity, and you trust that you are enough, the wind will not move you, the worlds sadness will not stop you, stumbling blocks will turn to stepping stones. Little by little we leave the false voices behind. Little by little stars begin to burn through sheets of clouds. Little by little a new voice emerges and slowly we begin to recognize it as our own….as we stride deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing we can do, determined to save the only life we can save. Until suddenly we realize, we used to be different…but now we’re the same.
May it be so. Blessed be and Amen.
Hymn #34 Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire
Recently, a study was done on the spirit of generosity demonstrated by African Gray Parrots. The parrots were first taught to exchange tokens for tasty walnuts. They learned to pick the tokens up in their beaks and pass them through a little window. When they did this they were given a tasty nut.
Then, scientists put a half dozen tokens into one cage with one bird, and no tokens into the other cage with the other bird. But, the bird who had all the tokens also had a closed exchange window, so they couldn’t exchange any of their tokens for nuts. The bird with no tokens had an open window through which they could have gotten tasty nuts…if only they had some tokens.
Scientists observed that, consistently, the bird with tokens and a closed window would pass the tokens through the bars of the cage to the bird with no tokens and an open window. Thus, the bird with the open window received tasty nuts.
We may surmise what the payoff was for the bird who gave away their tokens. After all, it has been said that it is better to give than it is to receive. But, why wonder? The window in Brattleboro’s 350 is open. I invite you to share your tokens freely as we collect and gratefully receive this mornings offering.
Blessing Candles of Joy & Sorrow
Thank you for your generous hearts and hands. I invite you to join me in the spirit of prayer, meditation, devotion, or simply compassion as we turn our attention to the candles that have been lit this morning for joys or sorrows that also came to church this morning.
Spirit of community, in which we share and find strength and common purpose, we turn our minds and hearts toward one another seeking to bring into our circle of concern all who need our love and support: those who are ill, those who are in pain, either in body or in spirit, those who are lonely, those who have been wronged.
We are part of a web of life that makes us one with all humanity, one with all the universe.
We are grateful for the miracle of consciousness that we share, the consciousness that gives us the power to remember, to love, to care. —Frederick E. Gillis
Hymn #16 Tis a Gift to be Simple
Extinguish the Chalice
Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere;
it’s temple, all space;
it’s shrine, the good heart;
it’s creed, all truth;
it’s ritual, works of love;
it’s profession of faith, divine living. -Theodore Parker