(The driveway has been sanded and the service will happen as planned.)
Continuing with this month’s theme of “Attention” and “Prayer,” we will look at both the inadvertent foci we are unconsciously drawn back to over and over again and the hope beyond this tired old pattern of living!
The Eyes Have It!
A Sermon Offered to All Souls Church; Unitarian Universalist
November 24, 2019
Rev. Shayna Appel
Welcome & Announcements
Chalice Lighting By Lisa Doege
“Why a flaming chalice?” the question comes.
It’s the cup of life, we answer.
A cup of blessings overflowing.
A cup of water to quench our spirits’ thirst.
A cup of wine for celebration and dedication.
The flame of truth.
The fire of purification.
Oil for anointing, healing.
Out of chaos, fear, and horror,
thus was the symbol crafted, a generation ago.
So may it be for us,
in these days of uncertainty, sorrow, and rage.
And a light to warm our souls and guide us home.
Hymn: #26 Holy, Holy, Holy
Opening Words by Rev. Victoria Safford
“Pay attention, say the mystics and the poets, and the little kids tugging on our legs. Pay attention, says the sunset and the ice-cold morning, and the person telling you their story. Pay attention, say the good friends at the barbecue, and the good food, and the voices in [our] head[s] and [in our] heart[s]. Only that day dawns to which we are awake.” [Come, let us worship together.”]
Time for All Ages
#1: Frederick Buechner
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the super-ego, or self-interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
#2: From “Creating Joy” A Sermon by Rev. Maureen Frescott;
Congregational Church of Amherst, NH. November 17, 2019
Have you ever wished you would wake up one morning and feel as if God had created you anew? With a new body – a new sense of purpose – with a new joy and new love of life and the world?
In some ways we are created anew – every day. The human body is made up of trillions of cells that are constantly regenerating. Every minute, 300 million of our cells die off and 300 million new cells take their place. So, by the end of this sermon, you’ll have 3.6 billion new cells in your body that weren’t there when we started.
You might say the longer the sermon is the newer you’ll be!
You may have heard it said that the human body regenerates itself at the cellular level every 7 years. So every 7 years there is literally an entirely new you. But that’s not entirely true.
While some of our cells are consistently replacing themselves, others take much longer and still others never regenerate at all. It depends on the type of cell and how hard we make it work. The cells in our digestive tract exist in a pretty harsh environment and collectively only live 2-5 days on average. The outer layer of our skin, which serves as a protective barrier against the world, is completely replaced every 2-3 weeks.
Red blood cells live for about 4 months, which is not bad considering they travel about 60,000 miles every time they make the journey around our circulatory system.
Our liver renews itself every 2-3 years, as long as we don’t overtax it, or over-tox it.
We even have special cells that break down and build up our bones, giving us an entirely new skeleton every 10 years. Fat cells take about 20 years to be replaced. (Of course they do!) You’d think all the expanding we make them do would wear them out a little sooner…
…If only seeing the world anew was as easy as letting the building blocks of our bodies do what comes naturally to them – regenerating as we work, play, and sleep –
allowing us to wake up one day and feel completely rejuvenated – as if every physical pain, every heartache, every regret and fear we once had has been magically whisked away.
Sermon “The Eyes Have It”
“The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein is a story about racing cars…and about life. Narrated by Enzo, the mixed breed dog of the stories protagonist Denny Swift, the book is rich with a thousand pearls for living. One of them is this: “Your car goes where your eyes go.”
As it turns out, where your eyes go, so goes your horse, your motorcycle, your golf balls, and maybe even your life. This is a lesson I seem to learn over and over and over again. Maybe some of you have learned it as well?
Taken literally, the statement “Your car goes where your eyes go” seems rather obvious, especially if one is racing in the rain. Take your eyes off the track and you could very quickly find yourself kissing the wall. But taken in the context of Denny’s life, the statement blossoms into so much more, particularly as it pertains to the notion of “attention,” which is our Soul Matters theme for the month of November.
In the story, Enzo is a pretty enlightened dog. Denny, a bit less enlightened. In fact, Denny is probably a good deal like you and me. He’s a good person with hopes and dreams who is weighed down by the trials and difficulties of life – the things we all have to deal with. Things that make it difficult to keep the faith, stay the course, tow the line, insert your favorite cliche here for ‘Achieving Your Goals’!
I won’t tell you what happens to Denny. You’ll have to read the book for that! But the bottom line is that “your car goes where your eyes go” is about so much more than racing in the rain. It actually points towards a spiritual practice that is invaluable in the art of paying attention, or focusing attention. If it was as simple and as easy as setting a goal, working towards that goal and not quitting, I think a lot more of us would be able to attain success, however we defined that.
But not all goals are equal. Writing for her blog, Tracy Gardner sums it up thusly:
…There are short term goals (pass that test) and long term goals (get your degree). Life goals (become a doctor / lawyer / author / teacher, etc. Travel Europe. Sail the seas.). Generalized, ambiguous goals (have a happy marriage / be a good parent). We get the payoff when we are able to focus and strive and achieve the goals that are attainable and concrete. Harder are those goals that are more difficult to define; the secret, unspoken things we wish and hope for ourselves and the kind of person we want to be.
Apart from the difficulties brought about by the complexity of our goals, there are also a multitude of ways that we undermine ourselves with false narratives, half-truths, wishful thinking, and negative self-images. (O.K. Maybe this is just me!) A great example of this undermining of self plays out in a new series on Netflix called “Living With Yourself.” It’s about a man named Miles Elliot, who is feeling burned out in his work, in his marriage, in his life.
In a moment of desperation, he goes to a seedy looking spa located in a strip mall and undergoes a mysterious treatment that promises to make him a “new man.” Miles hesitates to go in until he sees Tom Brady coming out…Brady says to Miles: “First time?”Miles replies: “Yes, and you?”Brady responds: “Six times.”
We know something has gone horribly wrong for Miles when he wakes up wrapped in a plastic bag and buried in a field. He manages to extract himself from the makeshift grave and find his way home, but he soon discovers that there is another Miles living in his house and working at his job. He has been replaced by a clone – who looks just like him but who is a drastically better version of himself. The old Miles needs glasses to see; the new Miles does not. At a diner, the old Miles orders a burger and a coke the new Miles orders tea and a fruit cup. The old Miles is unreliable, indecisive, and is distant and curt with his wife; the new Miles is attentive and kind, and surprises his wife by cooking her favorite meal. The old Miles is disengaged at work and moves through the world in a funk; the new Miles is not afraid to express his creativity with his coworkers and reacts to every sight, smell, and sensation with glee.
The show is essentially about the old Miles coming to the realization that the new Miles has more love and more joy in his life, so the old Miles begins to make changes in himself to be more like the new Miles so he can experience that love and joy as well.
If we had the opportunity to observe a better version of ourselves would it change us for the better as well? Put another way, have you ever wished you would wake up one morning and feel as if God had created you anew? With a new body – a new sense of purpose – with a new joy and new love of life and the world?
Maybe what we need to do is pay better attention to what we pay attention to. Maybe we need to pay the kind of attention the mystics and the poets call us to. Perhaps we would be well served by learning to let go of whatever we thought was the agenda and pay some heed to the little kids tugging on our legs. Pay attention, says the sunset and the ice-cold morning, and the person telling you their story. Pay attention, say the good friends at the barbecue, and the good food, writes the Rev. Victoria Safford in our opening words…Only that day dawns to which we are awake.”
Of course, in Safford’s ‘Opening Words’, she also encourages us to pay attention to the voices in our heads and in our hearts. On a good day, that might not be a bad idea. But I am painfully aware of the fact that we are not living in exceptionally good days…or are we?
On the one hand, the very earth on which we live is in peril, fascist leaders seem to be gaining power all over the world, our nation is wracked with violence and a poverty of good will towards others. I have spent a good deal of time watching the impeachment proceedings over the past two weeks and the extent to which reality seems to have completely lost its grip on a segment of humanity is quite terrifying. Too many of us are struggling under the weight of a terribly uneven economy, or losing our health trying to wrestle with Health Insurance Companies.
On the other hand, we are entering a season of long nights made festive by the candles we light, the trees we decorate, the friends we entertain, the hearths in which we burn. Later this week many of us will gather around tables that call us to give thanks, and in the process, give some thought to all the things we are thankful for.
Pay attention says the sunset and the ice-cold morning.
Upon what are our eyes gazing? Because where our eyes go, so do we. And here we have a choice. Here we have some agency. The Buddhists say that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, because the Buddhists know that where our eyes go, so do we. And when hardship befalls us we can allow it to simply be what it is, or we can make it into a whole lot that it is not. Our choice. [STORY OF THE WEEK?)
Of course, bringing any sort of discipline to where we pay attention – upon what we pay attention – is not a simple thing. It requires practice. And the practice itself is not always easy.
As Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology Shauna Shapiro puts it;
If, in rush-hour traffic, you can remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can love everyone around you unconditionally, and if you can always find contentment just where you are, than you’re probably a dog!
What most often makes the practice so difficult is that we hold ourselves to ridiculous standards of perfection, and then beat ourselves up when we don’t attain that perfection. Spoiler alert! Perfection is not possible. But transformation is. All of us have the potential to change, to learn, to grow, no matter what our circumstances.
Learning to be mindful of what we pay attention to is hard. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to meditate. It all sounds simple enough. Sit still and pay attention to your breath. In…out…don’t forget to pick up some salad greens at the grocery store…in…out…I wonder what Patti was really getting at during yesterdays work meeting…in…out…oh my God, why did I allow myself to get so upset over…
Learning to be mindful of what we pay attention to IS hard. Bringing any sort of discipline to the practice of paying attention IS difficult. But it is not impossible.
In our second reading for this morning Rev. Frescott wrote: …If only seeing the world anew was as easy as letting the building blocks of our bodies do what comes naturally to them – regenerating as we work, play, and sleep – allowing us to wake up one day and feel completely rejuvenated – as if every physical pain, every heartache, every regret and fear we once had has been magically whisked away.
IF only it were that easy. It is not. But, neither is it impossible. Just remember, where your eyes go, so goes you car.
Blessed be & Amen.
Hymn #126 Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing
Offering: The problem with independence!
We live in a self-care society. This is probably not news to you—every day, we are told, and sold–that the key to peace, to fulfillment, to mental health and wellbeing, is to take care of ourselves. All you have to do is log into Instagram to find lifestyle bloggers insisting to hundreds of thousands of followers that freedom looks like a woman practicing yoga alone on a beach. There are self-care journals and smoothies and apps and even—and this is true—self-care temporary tattoos ready to remind you that “you are enough” and to “love yourself.”
And yet, loneliness and anxiety are on the rise—it seems that our obsessive ritualization of self-care comes at a cost—and that cost is isolation.
The truth is, we can’t meet our needs by ourselves. We can’t find true peace and happiness without recognizing and cultivating the architecture of our interdependence.
As it turns out, part of caring for ourselves is taking care of others, and allowing others to take care of us. This is one of the things we learn in communities of faith, where we intentionally gather into places of community, care and mutual love every week. None of us is an island. We need one another.
Your offerings to this congregation and the community organizations we support is one way we take part in the web of life, which binds each to each and each to all.
With that in mind, the morning’s offering will be given and received.
Blessing Candles of Joy & Sorrow
Source of all blessings,
and all life itself,
We gather with hearts grateful for the gift of life:
for the breath that sustains life,
for the food of this earth that nurtures life,
for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life.
We offer our thanksgiving for mystery of creation:
for the beauty that the eye can see,
for the joy that the ear may hear,
for the unknown that we cannot behold filling the universe with wonder,
for the expanse of space that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.
We give thanks for being set in communities:
for families who nurture our becoming,
for friends who love us by choice,
for companions at work, who share our burdens and daily tasks,
for strangers who welcome us into their midst,
for people from other lands who call us to grow in understanding,
for children who lighten our moments with delight,
for the unborn, who offer us hope for the future.
We thank you for this day: for life and one more day to love,
for opportunity and one more day to work for justice and peace,
for neighbors and one more person to love and by whom be loved,
For these, and all blessings, we give thanks.
And in gratitude for the blessing of this community, we lift together our affirmation of faith, saying…
Hymn #145 As Tranquil Streams
Extinguish the Chalice