One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Celebrate the Caterpillar



I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation, and not just because it’s the theme for May.  Not just because our chalice circles will grapple with this topic or because I will be preaching on it.  I’ve been thinking about transformation because of a furry little friend, “Emerson.”

Nearly a year ago, our congregation decided to start having a little caterpillar puppet tell the Story for All Ages.  We had a naming contest. “Emerson” is a regular in our pulpit, telling us of his adventures and friends, including soon the appearance of “Fuller” the Flamingo.  Every time I look at Emerson, I think of what an incredible symbol of transformation he is for our congregation; that we are all in this ongoing, exhausting and brilliant process of change. 

And while Unitarian Universalists don’t generally believe in that instantaneous change by the light, we do have our fair share of transformation.  After all, Most of us weren’t raised in this faith.  Many of us have undergone some major changes just to gather on Sundays.  Think about for a moment the religious home of your childhood.  Perhaps, you were like me and raised without a particular tradition, “unchurched” as they say.  Yes, we know something about the exploring journey; what it is to discover home. I couldn’t imagine as a child being a part of such a radically inclusive faith, let alone serving as a minister!  Transformed?  I’d say “yes” and continue to say “yes.”

Inch by inch, we know the crawl to the tree, the long, hard effort of the forming chrysalis, the invisible change beneath the murky sheen of heart and soul, and then the slow push free as a new way of being breaks forth in beauty.  Inch by inch, we know the transformation of a lifetime of learning and evolving even in our own lives. Inch by inch, we know what it is to be transformed not in an instant, but rather as the long journey toward our deepest potential, toward the calling of our spiritual DNA.  Not changed because what came before was bad or needed discarding, but transformed into the beauty that was beneath the surface. Transformed toward ourselves, rather than from ourselves.

Some faiths celebrate the butterfly.  We celebrate the caterpillar.

The bravery and tenacity of living our lives, no matter how seemingly ordinary they appear. We celebrate the great changes that are beneath the surface, lived out in our values rather than proclaimed loudly in flutters of beauty.  We celebrate the tough crawl, the messiness of being, and the beauty from our brokenness.  We celebrate the brave little worm who would believe enough in himself to see that something impossible can break forth from the smallest cocoons.

We celebrate the caterpillar; knowing we’ll discover home—the soul’s rest and rejoice—together, inch by inch.

Yes, inch by inch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sirens and the Sacred

As each one passed when I was a little girl, I would say a Hail Mary.

"Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with Thee
Blessed art Thou amongst women and
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus."

Sirens blaring, approaching now.  I can see the lights.  It's a racing ambulance.  I pull over.

"Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death."

Ambulance passed.

"Amen."

By the age of twelve, I could speed pray this, reaching "death" before seeing the ambulance lights.  The irony was not lost on me as an adult.

I still utter these words if an ambulance should catch me off-guard and unawares in traffic.

Twenty years between today and when I first learned that prayer.  Twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary, one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry.  Much theology, reflection and development has happened between today and that day I first sat in my 1st grade Catholic school classroom and learned the Hail Mary.  Memorized it by writing it out 30 times. Learned to pray at sight or sound of every ambulance.  Twenty years and I still do it.

Why?

I used to feel embarrassed about it. One time on a plane in severe turbulence I literally put my hand over my mouth because while I couldn't stop the prayer rolling off my lips, I was determined to not be seen being spiritually inconsistent!  I also still pray to St. Anthony when I lose something REALLY important, like the T.V. remote.  It's like auto-pilot.

Now, I don't believe in intercessory prayer personally.  I don't have any trouble with folks that do, but I used to feel embarrassed in my rational religion to be caught dead (again irony not lost on me) praying to anyone as an intercession let alone a saint!  But here is what I've come to know after the last twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary and one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry-- I've come to learn the world is a lot more complicated than I can ever understand. I've learned that the earliest things we experience about religion and spirituality can create grooves of sort in our minds and even bodies.  Auto-pilot indeed, for the spirit.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The grooves can help us keep balance, and embracing the limitations of our minds for the comfort of memory and grace.  Calling on the saints can actually lead me farther along my paths.  Really?

I think so.

I've learned to not be ashamed that I might say prayers inconsistent with my exact beliefs, or that I might have beliefs inconsistent with the norms of my communities (yes even UU congregations have norms).  In truth, we, humans, tend to be consistently inconsistent creatures.  Come to think of it, life tends to be consistently inconsistent.  And maybe we are all somewhere in between the worn paths in our spirit and the new ones of our chosen communities, trying to find our way home in whatever way we can.

So you are likely to see me praying a Hail Mary on I-85 right before preaching a sermon about the Transcendentalists and a human Jesus.  Yup, consistently inconsistent, but still moved by sirens to offer what grace lips can speak and hands can hold.  Still moved to pull over and pray for healing on behalf of a stranger.  Calling on the saints and whoever else might pitch in to help.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Broken, But Beautiful: The Gift of Being Human

Broken up.  Broken hearted.  Broken: out of order.  Broken arm. Just plain broke.

Brokenness does not have a good reputation in our culture.  Some of us come from religious traditions that preached the fallen, broken nature of humanity.  We were constantly told we were in need of redemption and forgiveness, facilitated perhaps by a grace we could never earn.  Eek! This is tough stuff to absorb, especially at five or six years old.

We Unitarian Universalists are different, well sort of…Unitarian Universalism doesn’t espouse a theology of salvation that includes the concupiscence, or inclination to sin.  We don’t hold that we are inherently sinful beings in need of a regular dose of forgiveness.  We hold up the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  We hold up the beauty of this earth and her people.  And yes, we hold up the imperfections, the brokenness and the not-quite-done.  Yes, we too are just plain broke sometimes.

It is our brokenness, we Unitarian Universalists believe, which saves us.

Unitarians believed there was a great oneness of divinity, which connected us beyond any brokenness. The Universalists held we shared a common loving destiny.  We are yes, broken at times and certainly imperfect, but it is not the imperfections that keep us from being saved, but rather the imperfection and brokenness that saves us.  We can consider our future story, offer compassion in the midst of our own pain, and extend mercy because of our imperfections.

Thus, it is we enter a month that will be filled with images of how our world is still broken, yet beautiful.  

Wars continue as spring blooms.  New babies will be dedicated to our congregation and we to their spiritual journeys as we see a world still struggling to live in harmony.  Members will be welcomed to our congregation, in the midst of a state that would amend its constitution to put some citizens outside of its borders.

Yes, we live in a world of beauty and brokenness, but the goal is not to be perfected by some light or deity.  Rather, we Unitarian Universalists know what it is to be broken and beautiful; to discover our salvation through what could, but will never, separate us. 

Yes the circle is open, but unbroken.