Prelude: Come from the Heart
– Susanna Clark, sung by Kathy Mattea
Look to this day:
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty
Are but experiences of time.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived, makes
Yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.
The words of Charles Eddis offered to us by the Canadian Unitarian Council, the global chalice lighting for April
May the world that is one in its life, a rich blue top spinning in the endless night of space, a world that is one in its interdependence and fragility, be one in our hearts and minds and deeds also.
Song: Come, Come, Whoever Your Are (3 times)
Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again, come
Principles of Unitarian Universalism:
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Story: a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.
My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Offering and Response
For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.
Song: Pura Vida – Don Omar
Lesson: Pura Vida!
To translate, in case you, like me, don’t speak Spanish:
You have to start living
Enjoying and feeling
Everything bad remains behind
Decide not to suffer
Think of being happy
And just dance
Forget about the sorrows and the pain
Come and sweat
Life is just one
And it’s better
To dance with the moon and the sun
Life, pure life
Life is a glass
And it is drunk drop by drop until the end
Life, pure life
Life is a glass
And it is drunk drop by drop until the end
You are a candle
And you carry the flame within you
Let it out
Live the moment
And what comes tomorrow
Let it come
But just think about living good
And about laughing
We all bet on you
Which is what I think Jesus was saying in this passage from Matthew
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
When we decided to take a guided tour, Robert and I weren’t sure we would like it. All of our traveling, even in foreign countries, has been road trips, usually without reservations or more than a general plan about where we were going when. We like to feel free to skip something that doesn’t seem wonderful once we have gotten there, or stop for things we discover on the way. How would we do spending a week with 20 strangers, on a schedule where everything we did, everywhere we stayed, and even everything we ate would be decided in advance by someone else? On the other hand, we wanted to go somewhere different from the North American and northern European places we had been. We wanted to see different landscapes and a different culture, and once we had decided on Costa Rica, we wanted to see the real country, to visit the small towns and to hike in the tropical forests, and planning that and navigating back roads in a country where we didn’t speak the language seemed fraught. So we booked the tour.
It was wonderful. All we had to do was show up – for breakfast, for the van to the forest preserve, to the rafting, to the pineapple farm, the coffee plantation, the bat museum, the butterfly garden, for the bird walks, for dinner. Like life, to get the most out of it, we had to be prepared – with long pants or bathing suits, walking shoes or river sandals, binoculars, water bottles, hats, sunglasses – and to be curious, appreciative, and kind to our guide and our fellow travelers. We didn’t have to worry about how to find the preserves or the trails, where we were going to eat or even what to choose from the menu, or where we were going to spend the night.
And when the tree was across the highway on our first morning, almost in sight of the restaurant for lunch, and we were stuck for an hour, our guide said “Pura vida!” ‘Pura vida’ translates ‘pure life’ but means something like what our Tai Chi instructor means when he says “It’s all Tai Chi” to reassure us when we aren’t perfect. Showing up, paying attention, doing your best are enough. God, or the universe, is like the travel agency – we have been provided with all of what we truly need. I think that, when Jesus said “Take no thought” that he didn’t mean we should not think at all about what we are doing, or not be prepared – I think he meant “Don’t worry” – just as the Buddha, centuries before, taught that the causes of suffering are craving and ignorance – desire for all of the things – fine clothes and food and drink as Jesus says, and fear caused by ignorance, by not seeing things as they are, that we are in danger of not getting them.
When we were on our trip, we didn’t worry. We trusted that the travel planners would make sure we were provided with what we needed each day.
Some religions go to the other extreme and interpret the command to take no thought, that God will provide, as an assurance that they don’t need to do anything for themselves, that God will take care of them no matter what. We wouldn’t have had the wonderful experiences we did on our trip if we had done nothing. The trip plan didn’t include getting us up, dressed, and prepared, spoon-feeding us, taking us along the trails in pedicabs. And of course, we had to sign up for the trip in the first place.
The purpose of life is life. We saw a lot of nature on our trip. We watch birds every day, garden and walk in the woods a lot. But most of the time we spent in Costa Rica was spent in seeing plants and animals new to us – for instance the strangler fig, which is seeded into the tops of the rainforest trees and sends its roots a hundred feet down to the ground, eventually killing the tree it grows on, but leaving a huge condominium for many other plants, birds and animals to live in. We saw bats and frogs, iguana and caimans, exotic birds and butterflies, trees festooned with many other plants. And as Jesus said, none of them were taking any thought for tomorrow, and they were all glorious, growing and multiplying. We have been out in our own woods, which are just as beautiful in their own way, since we have been back. They are full of flowers and butterflies just now, blooming and recreating. They are not taking thought for tomorrow. And – and – nothing living is here on earth that the universe has not provided for. How could it be otherwise? Species evolved to take advantage of the resources available. Everything is here because, as the Buddha said, of causes and conditions. Everything arises because of causes and conditions, and so what is here is both necessary and sufficient. Only people seem to have the capacity for the illusion that they are not part of nature and the interdependent web, and that they have to worry constantly.
And so we come to my current insight on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. We are here to live, and to perpetuate life. Every living thing, in what we call the interdependent web, is here because its ancestors perpetuated life. Any creature who didn’t have that as its major guiding purpose died and left few or no descendants.
Last night, after I had written this, I saw the latest blog post from Andrew Brown, the minister of the Unitarian church in Cambridge, England, who usually has something to say that resonates with me. He quoted the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger on his vision –
That each of us will not die many small deaths and squander our supreme good life with its characteristic attributes of surfeit, spontaneity and surprise; that each of us will come into the fuller possession of life and conduct ourselves and arrange society in such a way that we can die only once.
[I]t makes no sense to suppose that our commanding objective is to achieve a rigid equality of outcome or of circumstance. The real objective is a larger life – a life of greater intensity, of greater scope, and of greater capability for the ordinary man and woman; and the struggle against entrenched inequality is subsidiary to that more inclusive objective.
I’m going to end with a Zen story from China.
THE NUN Chiyono studied for years but was unable to find enlightenment. One moonlight night she was carrying an old pail, filled with water. She was watching the full moon reflected in this water, when the bamboo strip that held the pailstaves broke. The pail fell all apart; the water rushed out; the moon’s reflection disappeared. And Chiyono found enlightenment. She wrote this verse:
This way and that way
I tried to keep the pail together
Hoping the weak bamboo
Would never break.
Suddenly the bottom fell out:
No more water:
No more moon in the water:
Emptiness in my hand!
Let’s just sit with that for a few minutes.
Song: Earth Is Enough
Here on the paths of everyday, here on the common human way,
Is all the stuff the gods would take to build a heaven, to mould and make
New Edens: Ours the gift sublime to build eternity in time.
We need no other stone to build our temple of the unfulfilled,
No other ivory for the doors, no other marble for the floors,
No other cedar for the beam and dome of our immortal dream.
Joys and Sorrows
If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;
or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.
Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go
For our closing, three Zen sayings to remember:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
“When hungry, eat your rice; when tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.”
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself.”
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.