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Sermons

I’ve been a part of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Auburn, Maine for quite a number of years, and one of the ways I’ve been able to Serve my UU community is by sharing sermons I’ve written. I’d like to share them with you here.

 

Please note that, unless otherwise stated or an attribution to another writer is given, these are my own words, my own creations. Please do not use them without permission or at the least, proper attribution. Thank you.

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Courage

Ann Landers, that famous advice columnist, once wrote “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

We find courage in many places – in the fierce protectiveness of a mother for her child, in taking a chance like asking someone for a date or their hand in marriage, the first time we rode bike without help, having and raising a child, starting a new job, moving to a new location, being in performing arts or speaking in public, getting back on that horse when we fall off, admitting a problem and wanting to fix it, and the brave step that many of us take in asking for help at all.

Many refugees from foreign lands have resettled here in our community having faced unspeakable horrors in their native country. They come here to a new land, adjusting to a new life, having to learn a new language and vastly different customs while struggling to maintain the beauty and tradition of their own ways. They also sometimes face the negativity and pushback of residents who, for their own reasons, don’t want these foreigners in their midst. These refugees, these new members of Maine, face challenges that we cannot truly understand. That takes a lot of bravery.

I was once told, when facing the fear of doing something whose outcome was uncertain, that if I didn’t take the chance, then the answer would always be no. Although we take the plunge with a lump in our throats, we find that answer, and it’s usually better than wading in dread and uncertainty. Once we have our answer, we can then choose how to respond and take action.

Three weeks ago, in preparation for today, I had been writing a sermon whose topic was the Greek Goddess Hestia, the Goddess of home and hearth and of Sacred Service… but I got stuck. Since we’re trying out the Theme-Based Ministry and this month’s topic for sermon is “Courage,” I pondered the word. It brought to mind part of a poem I wrote years ago at this same time of year. I was sitting on the edge of a waterfall, watching autumn leaves let go of their branches, landing in the water and swirling away. Part of that poem read, “And where then the courage to fall?”

As an Earth-spiritualist, I find myself very often writing about the change of seasons, transformations, and cycles. As I sat on the edge of that waterfall, it was autumn, a time where we watch the glorious foliage fade to brown and the trees succumb to earth’s changes.

We see the leaves all spring and summer in their verdant green, but did you know that they’re only green because of the chlorophyl? The leaves’ true colors only appear in fall when the chlorophyl fades away. Autumn can teach us that it is a time of letting go, of removing what no longer serves us, and that takes a measure of courage.

At the end of October, many Pagans and earth-centered folk celebrate a holiday called Samhain, a Gaelic word meaning “Summer’s end.” At that time, we sometimes partake in a ritual of releasing where we each write down something we wish to remove from our lives, and then feed the paper to a fire. Using this symbolic act, we deliberately burn away that which holds us back.This is not a magic pill, however – there is still the work of maintaining that determination to change.

When winter arrives, we need the courage to withstanding the cold, to stand in the storm while it rages around us, and to move forward in the face of adversity. But progress is not always a smooth road. In a state of wanting to move forward and being unable, to wait with questions unanswered, is frustrating. This is a time of standstill where we may find ourselves, like the winter waters and land, frozen and immobile.

A halting like this can be beneficial, however. We can challenge ourselves to view winter as a time of restful healing, a time to reflect and examine ourselves and our lives to see what fits and what doesn’t, and to make plans for the renewal of spring. When obstacles come, we can use them as a point of seeing where we came from and what got us here, and then fund the courage to go on.

Spring returns once more, and it is a time to rise, grow, and change. It takes courage to break free from the seed that encased us, leaving what was known and comfortable. In order for seeds to grow, they must split their shells, and like them, to obtain our own growth, we must crack the shell that encases us. The heart breaks like the hull of a seed, but it engenders growth which in turn allows for bigger and deeper loving.

Summer comes soon after spring – so what do we have to be courageous about in summer? It’s warm, it’s nice, the sun is shining… I pose this to you – one favorite summertime activity is swimming. Get out far enough and you can no longer see the bottom and what lies beneath you. In those hidden depths, are there sea monsters? Water weeds that tickle us? Marauding snails? Not being able to see is frightening, and things that are unknown have caused fear in the hearts of all beings from the dawn of time.

I challenge you to dive deeply into your life, into something that scares you. When we lose sight of the shore, we are like sailors, charting unknown waters, weathering storms, and ultimately discovering new routes and brand new worlds.

Another act of courage is echoed in the brightly-shining summer sun – to be a source of light and hope for those who may be living without those essential elements. Letting your spirit glow and act as a beacon on the rocky shoals of life paves the way for others and brings them to a safe harbor. In this, we take the chance of our efforts being rejected, or of those we try to assist coming to wreckage upon the rocks regardless of our actions. Then it takes bravery to pick up those pieces, or to choose to let them lie.

When we’re standing up for a cause we believe in, like racial or gender equality, a certain amount of pushback and negativity is, sadly, an expected reaction. As in some cases we’ve seen in recent months, those encounters can also be physically harmful to the ones defending our very precious human rights.

During the recent white supremacist rallies in Boston, a dear friend of mine chose to travel there to be part of the anti-racism cause. He purchased a cheap cell phone from Walmart so that, in the case of violence, his personal information on his own phone would not be compromised. He told us on Facebook that he was prepared to have harm done to him, and he willingly faced that possibility in the name of what was right. Thankfully, no harm came to him, but his bravery, like that of so many others, shone brightly.

It takes courage to draw aside the cloak of “the expected and known” to show the truth. Those who have come out and spoken of their sexual orientation, expression of gender identity, or choice of religion may not be understood or accepted. But is their courage that kindles the flame in like hearts to come forth and stand together.

Upon discussing this particular situation a few days ago, my husband Travis made a simile regarding human rights movements and rain. He said that, meteorologically speaking, rain doesn’t start all at once – it starts with a single drop, and then the rest follow. One person with the determination and courage to be heard and seen starts the movement, allowing those with similar beliefs to join their voices and energies to the cause.

Erma Bombeck  once wrote, “All of us have moments in out lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.” That is indeed an act of bravery.

So where do we find courage? We can look to the love and support of our family, friends, and community, and from those of like minds and hearts. We can share our experiences or find information from those enduring the same issues and overcoming the same struggles. In the stories we share we find the inspiration to take the chance and to speak aloud so that others might also find the courage they need.

And what do we do if we can’t find courage? What if our fear of rejection or retaliation overcomes us, bringing us to a state of inaction? Sometimes taking a deep breath and stepping out over that edge is enough. There’s no shame in needing a safety net, and no judgment in pulling back to wait for a more fortuitous moment. In the very contemplation of moving beyond our fears and uncertainty, to begin pondering the possibility of change or action… that, my dear ones, is the spark that lights the way through the darkness. Amen. Blessed be.

 

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John Barleycorn

In two days on the first of August comes the Pagan celebration of Lughnasadh, which celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. It is a Gaelic festival that is widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.

Lughnasadh is also sometimes called Lammas or Loaf-Mass, indicating a celebration of the grain harvest and the bread made from it. The bread was baked of the newly-harvested grain in thanksgiving for the Gods’ generosity and care. Pagans sacrificed these fruits of the soil to the sun god, Lugh, for which Lughnasadh is named, while in early Christian times that bread was used for the eucharist, the blessed cakes used for communion.

These two things celebrate transformation – for Pagans it is the changing earth and the creation of bread from grains. For Christians, especially those who are Catholic, it is the transformation of the communion wafer as the body of Christ, also known as transubstantiation.

Our beloved earth is transforming once again as it does every year. From the dead-seeming depths of winter, the rains came and as the earth awakened, the gray and dull slowly transformed into green glory. The seeds that slept have shed their skins and reached for the sun, changing and growing moment by moment. Flowers became fruit, transforming once again, until ready for picking.

From the verdant and lush land comes the bounty of garden and field, harvested, sorted, and placed in containers that are then transported all over the world. From there, we gather our desired foodstuffs, bringing them home whole. The process of transformation continues as we chop and cook vegetables and meats so that we may more easily digest their goodness, and that nourishment is transformed once again into bodily material and energy.

Even from there, the ends and trimmings from the food we consume are composted (we hope) and transform into new soil in which future generations of food then takes root.

As we come into the last days of summer, the grains have ripened on the stalks – barley, rye, wheat, corn, oats. In days of old, farmers would bring their threshed grains to the local gristmill where the miller would grind the wheat to flour and corn to meal, taking a portion of the grain as payment. That portion would either feed the miller and his family, or he might sell the whole grains or the flour they became.

Wheat mostly became flour for bread and cakes; some corn and oats were kept whole for feeding to cattle, horses, pigs, and fowl. And the barley, oh the barley – a goodly lot of that was used by friar and farmer alike to make beer. Barley, of course, is also used in soups and bread.

John Barleycorn is a British folksong, the first rendering of which may have come as early as 1568. It details the suffering, death, and resurrection of Barleycorn. The character of John Barleycorn is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John is represented as suffering attacks, death, and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting. Barley is used to produce malt, the source of most British alcoholic drink, and the name “John” has been commonly used as a general name for men in many folksongs.

Let me sing for you The Tale of John Barleycorn (adapted from J. Mark Sugars and Robert Burns)

There were three men come from the west, their fortunes for to try,

And these three men made a solemn vow, “John Barleycorn must die.”

They took a plow and plowed him down, put clods upon his head,

And there they swore a solemn oath, John Barleycorn was dead.

But the cheerful suns of Summer came, and showers began to fall;

John Barleycorn got up again, and sore surprised them all.

They let him stand til Lammas day when he looked pale and wan;

Then little Sir John grew a long, long beard, and so became a man.

They hired threshers, strong and hale, to work out in the field,

And to their scythes and sickles sharp, John Barleycorn did yield.

They used their weapons, bright and long, to cut him off at the knee;

They rolled and tied him ‘round the waist and served him barbarously.

They hired men with pitchforks sharp to pierce him at the heart,

But the loader served him worse than that, for he bound him to a cart.

They hired men with crab-tree sticks to split him skin from bone,

But the miller served him worse than that, for he ground him between two stones.

And then they took his hero blood and passed it round and round,

And still the more and more they drank, the more did joy abound.

So Sir John in the nut-brown bowl and brandy in the glass,

But little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl proved strongest man at last.

The huntsman cannot hunt the fox, nor loudly blow his horn,

And the tinker cannot mend his pots without a little Barleycorn.

This song indicates a time of transformation. The barley is planted, grows, ripens; then it is cut and bound in stalks, brought to the threshing room where flails separate the stalk from the seedheads. Then the grains went to the miller where he ground them to flour, but some remained whole and were fermented into beer and whiskey.

Our own personal transformations may seem to undergo a similar process. We find the seed of something new that we wish to grow in our lives. We plant it, water and fertilize it, and the light of our anticipation and joy bring it nourishment. When our plans have come to fruition, we harvest and utilize them.

But not all crops bear fruit. As we are experiencing here in the US, the drought conditions of the west are seriously hampering the growth of wheat and other grains, and prices are steadily rising due to the scarcity.

The price we may pay for our own growth and transformation is usually worth it. The value of the potential hardship and suffering becomes validated upon achieving a goal or completing a process.

We are planted in good soil, nourished by rains and sunshine, and rest in the dark night. Interestingly, science has found that most animal and plant growth happens at night, in the dark. So by a direct metaphor, when we’re in the darker times of our lives, that is when we grow and oftentimes flourish. If we are able to find the lessons within hardship, we can grow and use the learning as a tool for ourselves and others.

Sometimes this transformative process is not without some form of pain. When we are brought to the threshing floor, we may take a beating. It is there, through our own actions or those of others, including Fate, that the dead stalks that no longer nourish us are separated from the viable and valuable seedheads. The stalks are representative of the growing we did, the experiences that brought forth these kernels of nourishment and future potential growth.

Some may see the separation as a daunting task, sometimes painful or frightening. There may be a time of mourning for those things lost – for relationships ended, for leaving homes and towns in which we found refuge, for losing items that brought us joy and comfort. When through choice or circumstance we leave behind those things we know, those places where we are comfortable, we embark on a journey into the unknown and unfamiliar.

But familiarity does not necessarily equal a healthy relationship. Stasis can become stagnation, and as in stagnant waters, there is no forward movement, no fresh influx of healthy energies. Stagnation is continuance without change, a failure to develop, progress, or advance.

Others see this time of separation as a freedom, as a relief to leave or be removed from situations and circumstances where growth and desires are curtailed or outright denied. The lifting of particular burdens can remove the obstacles that hindered forward motion. When we embrace or enact the changes, we can relieve ourselves from unhealthy habits, outmoded thinking, relationships that are corrosive, and situations that have become obsolete.

Transformation can be a glorious thing. We have seen the transformation of people whose preferences were once considered out of the norm come into their own by steadily fighting, educating, and overcoming the prejudice and fear of those who did not understand. We have seen the transformation of those who were born into a gender unsuited to their spirit blossom as they found their true selves. We have witnessed the everyday transformations of our ever-changing planet that are miracles still, regardless of their familiarity. We have witnessed the transformations of our children as they grow and change through every experience that life brings to them. And we have seen our own personal transformations, those seen and unseen by others.

The story of John Barleycorn is one of the process of life itself, of the trials we endure, the triumphs, the changes and transformations that bring us to who we are and lead us to who we may become. It is a story of strength – the men from the west thought they had defeated their foe by burying him. John made use of that good soil in which he found himself and took root and flourished. When the men returned and found him hale and hearty, they again attempted to defeat him by cutting, beating, and grinding. But instead, they freed him. And as is the case in many situations of abuse and attempts at domination and control, Barleycorn turned the tables on them once more, becoming a source of nourishment, sustenance… and inebriation.

When circumstances throw clods of dirt upon us, causing us to have our potential buried, when we hide and deny fears and valid emotions, remaining in situations from which escape may seem daunting or impossible, we must take a page from the story of John Barleycorn. We must do the inner and outer work to find the growth and advantages of the situation in which we find ourselves. We must fund the habits and processes necessary to separate the chaff and dead stalks, from which the healthy and nourishing kernels of can be liberated.

No, it’s not always easy. The way will not always be clear, nor the pathway well lit. But in the process of transforming, use those blocks in the road as opportunities to rest and reflect, to see just how far you’ve already come. And when you’re ready, set your foot upon the road once again.

John Barleycorn persevered. His cycle is one of repetition and growth, gains and losses, sacrifice and salvation. And ultimately, of transformation. Amen. Blessed Be.

 

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Rain

I have learned to love the rain. In the past few weeks, I have been caught in the rain twice – once while walking home from a friend’s house half a mile away and once during a shopping trip. In both cases, I lifted my face to the sky, threw out my arms, and rejoiced.

Have you seen how a lot of people react to the rain? They hunch up, scrunch their necks down between their shoulders, and usually scowl. They look defensive, as if they’re waiting for blows. It’s as though this natural process of the clouds offends them personally.

Now certainly, rain can be inconvenient, at the very least. It can bollix outdoor plans, trips, and sporting events, and it can be uncomfortable to be caught in a cold rain or a downpour. Sometimes we are caught out with no raincoat, and we’ve surely all experienced a time when our umbrellas turned inside out and became only so much useless cloth and wire. Suits are soaked and silk tops are ruined. Footwear leaks, and squishy socks are not pleasant. Chilled bodies and drenched hair and water droplets on your eyeglasses obscuring your vision and a cold river flowing down your spine into your underwear…

OK, you get the idea. Rain can be inconvenient. But the rain is a natural and unstoppable event, a necessary element to all living things. Rain cleanses the air, brings nourishment to the roots of plants which other living things consume.

There is not a day that goes by without rain somewhere in the world. The storm clouds gather, graying the skies. Thunder may roll and lightning may flash, or there may be just a gentle, refreshing rain. And then of course, there may be rainbows.

As any child knows, and I include myself in this, puddles are fun. A few days ago when I came in from enjoying the rain, I happened to glance out the window and saw the young teenage girls from the next house over stomping their hearts out in the puddles, faces raised to the rainfall, grinning madly as they danced.

Have you ever inhaled the delicious scent of the earth soaking in the rain? There’s a word for that – Petrichor. The term was coined in 1964 by two Australian scientists studying the smells of wet weather. This enjoyable wonder has roots in neolithic man. Science believes that people inherited their affection for the scent of rain from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.

Speaking of survival, rain is crucial. Not only does the life-giving liquid benefit all animal and plant life, it oxygenates bodies of water, allowing aquatic creatures to breathe. Spring rainfall creates vernal pools where amphibians congregate to create more amphibians. In the words of 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson, “Rain is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals.” Rain washes the accumulated dust and dirt from plant leaves, and clean leaves are better able to absorb sunlight, and that in turn lets the plant release more oxygen which benefits all life. Dusty leaves are sad leaves, so look to your houseplants and give ‘em a wash.

It is said that April showers bring May flowers, and we have found that to be true. Maine’s own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tells us that into each life some rain must fall. Children sing, “Rain rain go away.” Phil Collins sings a song that includes, “Let it rain down, let it rain down, let it rain down.” One peppy song glories in the fact that it is “Raining Men.” The Eurythmics claim “Here comes the rain again.” And of course, the song we knew from the 70s that tells us that “Raindrops keep fallin on my head.”

We often save for a rainy day, and are sometimes surprised at how often that day appears. A quote I read, and believe in, says that God made rainy days so gardeners could get the housework done. Tom Barrett, the current democratic mayor of Wisconsin, says, “If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer’s crop, who are we to say it shouldn’t rain?“ And third century monk Saint Basil wrote, “Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger.” The book of Isaiah in the Christian scriptures similarly reads, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”

Want to make it rain? Go ahead, wash your car. Hang out the laundry. Plan a picnic. Then fuss away as the shine leaves your vehicle and the laundry must be hung all over the living room instead of in the fresh air and sunshine. And you were so looking forward to that picnic, weren’t you?

But also consider those who are living in drought conditions, such as we saw here in Maine in the summer of 2016. The presence of water for drinking, cooking, and washing that we have in great abundance here in this state through lakes and underwater springs, rivers, and the ocean Herself… that simple liquid that flows out any time we turn a handle… that water was suddenly unavailable to many people. I decided, after that hot summer, that I wouldn’t actually begrudge the shoveling headed my way in the upcoming winter.

We are truly blessed with clean, pure water in Maine. In some “civilized” areas of the world, the water runs the gamut between the simply unpalatable and deathly poisonous. In other regions, water is frighteningly scarce. Women and men travel for hours on foot every day just to fill a jar with water so questionable that we here in America would rather go thirsty. But for those living in such areas, that water is all there is. It’s hard to have an attitude of entitlement when your tongue is thick in your mouth and cleanliness of the body is seen as unimportant.

By average annual rainfall, the wettest place in the world is Meghalaya, India, with 467 inches of rain in an average year. In extreme contrast, the three driest places in the world are Chile South America, Sudan Africa, and Batagues Mexico, averaging an inch or less rain a year. Maine gets an average of 46 inches of rain a year.

Rain has another connotation, in that certain situations can pour down upon us during our lifetime – we may be deluged by troubles, or showered with blessings. There is beauty in rain when we look for it, and from the seeming flood of misfortune, lessons may be learned and strength earned. We also find that not every rainy day holds within it the promise of a rainbow. But as the inimitable Eeyore says, “The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”

Far from our beautiful, lush home, in the desert realms, very little rain ever falls, and what does fall disappears underground soon after. Only very hardy creatures can survive in the desert, and the plants dig deep. Those barren wastes, those massive mountains of ever-shifting sands are so very dry. There is little nourishment to be found. Finding one’s way through the desert is fraught with thirst, exposure to the scorching sun, sandstorms, and simple unending labor.

However, things do survive, and in some cases, flourish in this rainless land. Those beings are tenacious, creative, and strong beyond our ken. Our own stormy times bring us to levels of strength and endurance to which we may not have grown without such testing. Modern Florida author Jonathan Lockwood Huie said it this way: “Give thanks for the rain in your life which waters the flowers of your soul.”

So can we find gratitude in those times of storm? Can we turn our energy and passions to other things when rain changes our plans? Can we, with grace and acceptance, weather these trying times and come out the other side all the stronger? I believe… no, I know it to be so. Storms pass, and there is always a calm after the storm. Amen. Blessed be.

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A Season of Light

The summer is very much over, taking with it the warmth and length of sun-filled days, leaving us with colder, longer nights. Harvest is done and over, the bounty of the earth counted and labeled and stored against the winter months ahead. In modern times in which we live, we have the great fortune to have nearly all foods available to us at any time for the mere exchanging of money at a grocery store. We can have lettuce in winter, fresh fruit in January, a miracle of science and ingenuity. In older times, what you had was what you grew, and the transition from winter into spring was often a lean and dangerous time. 

The harvest has been a bountiful one; our storehouses and larders overflow with the gracious giving of our Mother Earth. She now turns to a well-deserved rest as we ourselves prepare for our Wintertime activities. Snow is already flying in some areas of the country and the leaves are gone from the trees leaving us with a stark and grey landscape after the vibrant colors of Fall. The temperature calls for warm sweatshirts, long trousers and woolly socks with cocoa by the fire. As cozy as it is cold, Autumn is a precious time of year.

To some, this is a grey time, a time of barren soil and shorn fields, of shoveling and slipping on icy streets, of depression because of the short daylight hours and lack of natural sunlight. We cannot wait for the darkness to turn to light once again, for the grey trees to wear their bright green dresses. To others, this is a restful time, where the growing dark is filled with calm and quiet and a peaceful waiting. The absence of light does not bother us; instead, we find that the sweet fall of night is welcome as a soulful song, singing to us of the quiet world.

It is a season of light, from the candled evergreen crown of Saint Lucia to the Pagan sun festival of Yule. At this darkest time of year, the sun returns from its autumn course, slowly bringing us longer days.

The return of light has been celebrated since ancient times. Practically every religion has a festival of light at this time of year, such as Chanukah, Yule, and Christmas. This goes to show once more that religious arguments are silly, and that we have much in common.

Don’t let this scare you, but I’m a Pagan.  :o)  This basically means that I respect and revere the natural world and everything on Her, with the possible exception of slugs which make me scream like a little girl. Paganism is an umbrella term which includes such spiritualities as Wicca and Buddhism, and people like Witches and Earth Spiritualists. All of these groups have an ongoing relationship with the Earth, a spiritual harmony that flows through their bodies and spirits like water in a stream. We celebrate the cycle of the Earth’s seasons, the turning of the Wheel that moves us from day to day, year to year. This current turning is bringing us around to Winter, the darker time of the year, thought by some Pagans to be ruled by the male godforce known as the Holly King. His brother, the Oak King, takes over at the Winter Solstice which is called Yule, ruling the lighter, growing part of the year. It’s a sweet mythology, giving an anthropomorphic resonance to the natural cycle of the seasons. The Oak King and the Holly King are brothers, meeting only at Yule and at the Summer Solstice where they exchange crowns and duties for half of the year. In a more physical, scientific sense, the earth begins to move back closer to the sun, lengthening the days and awakening our fair planet to the new life of spring. We don’t really begin to notice the longer days until around Groundhog Day, which is also coincidentally the Pagan celebration of Imbolc, a festival of life and renewal and the coming of Spring. But here at Yule, we light fires and hang shiny ornaments to entice the sun to return, just in case he had other plans. Yule is the Winter Solstice, the longest night, celebrated around December 21st. Traditionally new fires were laid and candles lit to attract the sun, and shiny baubles were hung from evergreen boughs that symbolize that even in the deadness of Winter, life goes on.

Another Solstice tradition is Hogmanay, celebrated in Scotland. A local Hogmanay custom is the fireball swinging that takes place in north-east Scotland. This involves people making up balls of chicken wire filled with old news paper, dried sticks, old cotton rags, and other dry flammable material with 2 yards of wire, chain or nonflammable rope attached. As the Old Town House bell sounds to mark the new year, the swingers set off up the street, swinging their burning ball around their head as they go for as many times as they and their fireball last. At the end of the ceremony any fireballs that are still burning are cast into the harbour.

Christmas is one of the larger holidays celebrated in America at this time of year. Jesus’s actual birthday is unknown, but it is thought that December 25 was chosen to correspond with the Winter Solstice. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti is Latin for “the birthday of the unconquered Sun.” The use of the title Sol Invictus allowed several solar deities to be worshipped collectively, including Elah-Gabal, a Syrian sun god; Sol, the god of Emperor Aurelian; and Mithras, a soldiers’ god of Persian origin. Christmas is the celebration of the light of the baby Jesus and the star that proclaimed His birth. Shepherds and wisemen alike followed that star to a lowly manger where the savior in His humble status awaited them. Jesus has been called the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace. The light of His spirit was a beacon of hope to those who followed His teachings, teachings of peace and brotherhood, of kindness to one another and love for all. He taught his followers to love one another, regardless of differences, so I’m sure Jesus would have voted No on One.

A Scandanavian holiday, St. Lucia day, is coming right up, celebrated on December 13. St. Lucy was an Italian saint who suffered a martyr’s death under a Roman Emperor in Syracuse, Sicily around 300 AD. In one of the stories associated with her, she was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. In traditional celebrations, Saint Lucy comes as a young woman with lights and sweets. In some forms, a procession is headed by one girl wearing a crown of candles or lights, while others in the procession hold a single candle each. The candles also symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucia’s life when she was sentenced to be burned. The current tradition of having a white-dressed woman with candles in her hair appearing on the morning of the Lucia day started in the late1700s. In Denmark, the Day of Lucia was first celebrated on December 13, 1944. The tradition was directly imported from Sweden by initiative of Franz Wend as an attempt “to bring light in a time of darkness”. Implicitly it was meant as a passive protest against German occupation during the Second World War but it has been a tradition ever since. St. Lucia is one of the few saints celebrated by the overwhelmingly Lutheran Scandinavian peoples. The St. Lucy’s Day celebrations retain many indigenous Germanic pagan, pre-Christian midwinter elements, and the practices associated with the day, predate the adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia, and like much of Scandinavian folklore, it is based on the annual struggle between light and darkness.

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of light. In 175 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended to the Seleucid throne, where he eventually had the Temple in Jerusalem looted, had Jews massacred, and effectively outlawed Judaism. In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. As was the normal practice of the Hellenic religion when sacrificing to the Greek gods, pigs were sacrificed on the altar to Zeus. Antiochus’s actions proved to be a major miscalculation as they provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his five sons led a rebellion against Antiochus. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful and the Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted by Judah Maccabee and his brothers to celebrate this event. After recovering Jerusalem and the Temple, Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. But there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare and sanctify a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle, and one of the eight candles is lit on each day of celebration.

Diwali is one of the biggest festivals of Hindus, celebrated with great enthusiasm and happiness in India. The celebration means as much to Hindus as Christmas does to Christians. Diwali, which means “rows of lighted lamps”, is celebrated for five continuous days, where the third days is celebrated as the main Diwali festival or ‘Festival of lights’. Different colorful varieties of fireworks are always associated with this festival. During this time, homes are thoroughly cleaned and windows are opened to welcome Laksmi, the goddess of wealth, and candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Her. Gifts are exchanged and festive meals are prepared during Diwali. Because there is no one universally accepted Hindu calendar, this holiday may be celebrated on a different date in some parts of India, but it always falls in the months of October or November, close enough to the Winter celebrations in my book to count in this sermon.

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies at California State University, an author and scholar-activist who stressed the indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture. Kwanzaa is a harvest celebration that was established in 1966 in the midst of the Black Freedom movement, and is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. It is important to note that Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, which is the most widely spoken African language. The candle holder, which rather resembles a Menorah, is called a Kinara, which symbolizes the roots and parent-people, the continental Africans. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Therefore there is one black candle, three red and three green candles. The black candle is lit first on the first day of the celebration, and the remaining candles are lit afterwards from left to right on the following days. This procedure is to indicate that the people come first, then the struggle and then the hope that comes from the struggle.

Through the light of courage, the light of compassion, the light of hope and the light of strength, we can see our interconnectedness. Throughout all these different cultures and indeed throughout the world, light and hope are the reigning themes of this time of year. Hope for the future, for surviving the Winter, hopes for the well-being of friends and family… hoping for Santa to bring everything on our list. The lights of hope are lit, the flames illuminating our way through dark times and dim passages, bringing strength and good feelings to all those who are afflicted.

Deep in the belly of Winter, the quiet earth waits in the restful dark. It’s a time to reflect, to mend and make plans; a time for the soil to rest from the years’ growing, readying itself again for the renewal of Spring, The weeping skies press upon us with a fall of rain or snow as we sit cozily in our houses of wood and brick, before brightly lit fireplaces and candle flame. We make our interiors cheerful against the drab world outside, bringing in evergreens and holly, lighting candles and twinkle lights and playing sweet music. The sound of laughter and genial conversation fills our ears as friends and family surround us.

And for those who are alone at this season of peace, may they take comfort in the hands of the Gods who are ever watching and listening, For all who grieve this holiday season, may they find peace in their hearts and hope for the future. Amen, and Blessed Be.

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Imbolc Sermon

Blow, fair winds, and sing to us the song of Springtime’s coming. The howling gales of Winter will soon be past, and the air will once again fill with the scent of flowers and sounds of birds chirping.

Shine, dear growing Sun, and glow more heartily with each passing day as your strength grows. Winter will soon be past, and your heat will once again cause seeds to split and plants to sprout.

Wait, o frozen waters, for the warmer weather will be here soon and unlock your icy currents. Winter will soon be past, and your tides and tumblings will be set free once more.

Sleep, sweet earth, and rest from your year’s growing. The seeds slumber in your quiet depths and dream of growth and life. Winter will soon be past, and the cycle of life will once more burst into reality.

The four elements make up our world, each one working with the other to combine and create everything in the universe. Animal, vegetable, mineral, chemical… only the elements remain pure and complete unto themselves. All else is a composite of two or more items, mixing to form both simple and complex beings.

Air is invisible, and only its passage may be witnessed as it shakes the branches and flows through the fields of grass and grain. Howling winds can be heard through the trees and over the hills, and sounds and scents are carried on it invisibly. Clouds shapeshift constantly in the ever-changing currents, and our imaginations find within them castles and faces and mythological beasties.

Fire cannot be held in the hand, cannot be touched without injury, and fire has no physical weight. We can feel the heat given off by the flames, but fire itself is untouchable, though it transforms everything with which it comes into contact. Fire needs the balance of the remaining three elements to exist – the food of earth to burn, the winds of air to breathe, and the temperance of water by which it is extinguished. Fire has no static form, but shifts and changes with each moment as the burning progresses.

Water flows and fills each crack and crevice in its vessel, and takes on its shape. Liquids have no shape of their own but that which is described by the container. You cannot separate joined water into its former parts. Our bodies are made up of a great percentage of water, and without it we cannot long survive. Water has been subjected to many tests, including responses to different emotions, and it shows an amazing effect. Crystals of frozen water infused with positive emotions show beautiful patterns when photographed, while those given negative emotions are marred and deformed. If water responds so readily to such stimuli, then are we not also affected similarly by each emotion and experience?

Earth is the only element with no singular description. It takes so many forms – stones and mountains and grains of sand, soil and plants and our own animal bodies.  Of the four elements, it is the most tangible by every sense – we can see the hills and plains, smell the deep rich soil, taste of bread and meat, touch the smoothness of a water-tumbled stone, and hear the calls of each creature that dwells upon her. Earth is a place and a thing, a planet and each substance extant.

Spirit cannot be seen by the naked eye; it cannot be heard. It has no taste, no smell, no texture disernable by any of our senses, yet we know it is there. There is a link between each of us and every living thing on this planet, though that cannot be scientifically proven thus far. And yet laughter has been proven to have healing powers, love has conquered amazing obstacles, the power of fear has caused great changes, and the intangible connections between human beings has been documented but cannot be physically dissected. There is something within us, within each living being in the plant and animal kingdom that reacts and intuits and lives in unexplainable ways. Intuition is unmeasureable, unplottable on any scientific table, and yet it exists as the basest of animal responses. A baby trusts without deciding; we cancel journeys without reason and avoid disaster; a friend you have just been thinking about calls. Spirit links us together, even if we do not love everyone. The connection between souls is unexplainable. If we are open and aware, we can feel if a particular person is one we should avoid, and we are drawn inexplicably to others. Is it mere animal intuition or a touching of souls that gives us this internal knowledge? We may never have a conclusive answer, but we trust that it is there.

Imbolc is a Gaelic word which means “in the belly,” indicating the time when sheep were pregnant with new life. February was close to the end of Winter in Celtic lands, but it’s not so in many areas of the world. It’s a time of continued bad weather, including snow and cold rains. But for some, there is beauty in the fresh snow covering the rolling hillsides, in frost-lined grasses and ice-covered trees. For others, the land remains green and the weather comparatively warm, though it is thought to be cold by those inhabitants of southern lands. But for all of us, Winter is a time to slow down, to ponder and consider. We’re itching for Spring, but we are held back. We should try to enjoy the moment – Winter is not simply a passage into Spring, but a season unto itself. Rest in this slow time, and reflect in the silence. This is the pause before new beginnings.

In moments such as these, the writer stares at a blank page, the artist’s brush pauses over empty canvas, the sculptor places her hands on a blob of clay and waits for inspiration, the carver looks to the wood to find the shape within. This is the pause before creativity, the resting period before new life can begin.  It is a balance to the busyness of harvest and the activity of the warmer months, a complimentary time that is calming to some and frustrating to others. When the blank page won’t fill, when the shape won’t speak, we sigh in exasperation and annoyance. We long for those bursts of inspiration, that magickal moment when ideas gel and take form in reality. This can be a period of delicious anticipation, a sweet yearning for that connection… and then it comes, springing out of our souls onto the page, into the clay, whatever medium we use to create and manifest our dreams. So, too, does the earth wait, not in exasperation but in restfulness and calm sleep, waiting for those moments when new life will spring from soil and womb.

The breeze turns suddenly warm, a change from the cold winds of Winter. Then not long after, the cold creeps back into the air, bringing with it the return of the bite of chill temperatures.

For a few days, it is warm enough to put aside the warmest of jackets and to wear a lighter coat or to be out in our shirtsleeves… and then the temperatures plummet once more, and fire feels good again.

Snow turns to rain for a week, melting the Winter’s accumulation of snow and ice. But then Winter returns, freezing the puddles and snowbanks back into chunks of ice once more.

It seems as though the earth will wake, here in February, that it will come to life early this year, taking away the cold gray ground and bringing back the greens of life. But Winter’s time is not yet over, and we must wait.

February is a tease, bringing with it warmer breezes and nicer days for about a week, tempting us to go out of doors with lighter clothing and leaving all but our boots behind. This is the Trickster month, the fickle month, where the lure of Spring vexes us in its untruth, for it is not quite Winter’s time, but not yet Spring’s moment. It is not yet time for Nature to perform Her hat trick and turn the icy gales of Winter into the temperate breezes of Spring for any length. It is a time of false starts, of frustration and unrealized hopes, and it teaches us patience and calm.

This is surely the time of year where we must keep our sense of humor, for the moments of Spring-like weather that plague our senses likewise nettle our souls. We yearn for the days of warmth and clear weather; for the sun to beat down upon our bodies with its gentle rays; for the air to be filled with birdsong and the buzzing of bees; for the varied tones of green instead of brown and gray. Our pores widen with hope and find instead that there is nothing to fill them… nothing yet.

The Trickster is at work here, gleefully capering about our spirits with a stick and a balloon, prodding and poking us like the Fools of old, bopping us over the head and running off laughing. A carefree sprite is he, full of mirth and mischief, though he’s never malicious. We may find him tiresome at times as he flits about, waving the tools of his office, and yet there is some fun within our own spirits that wishes to follow him, dancing over the dreary Winter fields with a joyful abandon like puppies at play.

Through lessons of pain and patience, the Trickster shows us the way through the dark forest of our lives, symbolized by Coyote and Crow. These creatures teach us oftentimes at the expense of themselves, especially Coyote as he dies or is injured or gets into trouble over and again, that we might not imitate his ways but learn from his mistakes and folly.

He wants us to learn to laugh at ourselves, to not take ourselves too seriously all the time, for we are creatures of mirth and glee. For those times where you are overburdened with life and its chores, take up the balloon of the Trickster and bop yourself over the head a few times. Find the humor in a lost situation and find the joy within the pain. At the very least, be kind to yourself and to others in your life during these difficult moments and trying times, for such is the way of Springtime and the lessons of spirit. If you cannot willingly wear the cap of the fool, at least jingle the bells on your way past.

Sacred Trickster, we thank you for your lessons of mirth and humility, and ask that we have the grace and humor to face our lives in strength.

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Ostara Sermon

Next Saturday is the Pagan celebration of Ostara, of the Spring Equinox. Equinox means equal night, and it is a time when daylight is balanced. Those who revere the earth will celebrate alone or in groups the emergence from Winter, the awakening of our Mother earth from her time of cold sleep. All things must rest after activity, and our earth is a prime example. Fields must revive from planting and harvesting; the world must slow after the busyness of Summer. Some Pagans or earth spiritualists will celebrate by planting seeds and energizing them with their hopes and desires, the things they wish to see flourish in their lives.

Ostara was also a time where handfastings or trial marriages were performed. Young couples were able to be bonded spiritually for a year and a day, until the next Vernal Equinox, and at that time could renew their vows or part with no hard feelings. Any children conceived during this trial year were considered to be especially sacred.

Spring means many things to many people. To me, it means that the Earth is awakening at last! The air will soon come alive with the buzzing of bees, flitting birds, and the scents of Spring breezes and budding flowers. The very pores of our bodies open wide to accept the joyful exuberance of Spring, shaking off the doldrums of Winter. Like the waiting seeds, stirring from their slumber deep within the earth, we break from our shells and reach toward the light. The monochrome monotony of gray will transform into a riot of color, a veritable explosion of green that seems to come so gradually but suddenly paints the land with the colors of life. There will be a flurry of activity and creation in each being as Spring progresses, and the snow and ice will melt to fill the reservoirs. In protest, Old Man Winter may still hurl a few more snowstorms, but he has acknowledged his defeat, however grudgingly.

For all the anticipation of growth and new life, this can be a frustrating time of year. We are so ready for something new in our lives, for changes of scenery and direction, but things are not yet ready. We plant and fertilize carefully, but for all our coaxing and care, we cannot rush the growth or hasten the harvest. Sometimes the things we have planted do not come to fruition. Small, careful steps are the best way to progress, and we must remember to temper our longing and hopes with patience and flexibility.

During times of growth, we are afflicted also with growing pains, for the shell must split, the skin must shed and all we knew, all that once sheltered us is gone. The well-known walls and rules must be left behind. Growth creates discomfort and discomfort necessitates further growth. The formerly familiar walls were shelters but also boundaries. We stretch and reach once the shell is shed, and each new maturation has its price.

But there is sweetness with the pain, the sweetness of new discoveries, and the more physical delights of maple syrup and honey… not to mention chocolate eggs! The trees bear forth their life-giving sap that we then turn into syrup. The bees wake from their Winter hibernation and move joyfully from flower to flower, beginning the new year’s harvest of honey. And then, of course, there is the chocolate. Might the gifts of sweets be linked to the sweetness of Spring flowers?

Let’s get back to the chocolate now. There is truly an abundance of that at this time of year, mostly in the form of rabbits and eggs. One might branch out into ducks and chicks made of marshmallow, too. But whatever your preference, be it white, milk, or dark, plain or with nuts and fillings, the sweetness (not mentioning the calories, notice that?) is a blessed treat after the famine of Winter.

The rebirth from the death of Winter allows us to grow in unexpected ways. As Mercury is often retrograde at this time (see, now I can mention the calories), new beginnings can be difficult, so it’s often best to take things slowly. The early plants have started to rise from the ground, and new life and vitality flow into us even as the sap rises in the trees. As sweetness is shared, so shall we share among ourselves.

Even before new greens have sprouted, one of the traditional first foods of Springtime is the egg. Birds lay fewer eggs in the cold dark of Wintertime or stop laying altogether. Since the food from the previous year’s harvest was getting low by this time and new crops were not yet ready, people would forage for wild bird eggs.

The Egg is potential. It contains every possibility. It is seamless and its contents are unknown. Eggs are the ultimate mystery… they could contain nourishment, could have new life growing inside, could be spoiled and rotten or empty. Seeds are also mystery… some fail to sprout, some grow as we expect and bear typical fruit, some realize amazing growth, and some flower into things we could never have imagined. Eggs and seeds teach us to release expectations, but not let go of hope. And when you despair, look to the acorn and understand that the towering trees surrounding you once were hidden inside something the size of a grape.

Everything we experience in the world plants seeds inside us, mostly without our knowing… these things grow within us and incite change or stir the imagination. A snippet of melody can become a symphony; just the right phrase can hold the key to healing.

In the gardens of your life, and in the gardens of the earth, seeds are planted by chance and by purpose. Their growth is affected by your actions and attentions, and by the influences of the world. Even your best work does not assure rapid blossoming or abundant harvests. Eggs break, rodents dig the roots, birds eat the seeds, and the earth is at the whim of the weather. You can keep the deer from your potatoes by laying chicken wire over the beds, but if you leave it too long you’ll have to dig up the entire field as a single unit. You cannot stand guard by young vegetables day and night because, trust me, squirrels are far better organized than they dare let us know.

As much as harvest time, this is a season of thanks and hope. Though the dark times can seem eternal, the Wheel turns forever onward, and Spring always comes. Let us speak our thanks from deep within our hearts, with earnest gratitude. I am grateful for my community and my family, whom I love deeply. (EVERYONE ELSE TAKES A TURN)

Blessed Earth Mother, we joyously welcome You back from Your deep sleep; all things live because of You, and so, too, do they die by Your hand. This is the cycle of life, though it is sometimes difficult to accept. The new growing things feed on the bodies of what has fallen, and those new things themselves will fall and nourish the coming seeds.

Blessed Father Sun, happily we hail Your return as our bodies and minds shake off the dulling darkness of Winter. The never-ending turn of the days seeks to remind us that all things shall pass, both good and bad; and that there is always light, though we cannot see it. We know that all must rest in order to grow again, and that the light will always return.

We give thanks for the blowing winds, the spark of life, the flowing waters and the budding trees that all herald the Springtime. Blessed be!

 

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I Will Hold on to Hope

“I will hold on to Hope.” I overheard these words spoken at the gym when one person mentioned how the impending snowstorm may pass us by. Such a simple phrase, but it struck me as being significant.

I will hold on to Hope.

When I was in the 4th or 5th grade, a bunch of us girls played together, and one of our games was to tease one another. One day, we chose to tease Michelle, and every time she came over to us, we would loudly hold our breath. After a few rounds of this, she exclaimed, “It’s because I’m black, isn’t it?” At the age of 10 or 11, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. At the age of 10 or 11, she was already impacted by the color of her skin.

I will hold on to hope that, in the passage of time, such simple things will cease to divide us. We are all the same in our humanity; only the outer trappings are different. Some are light and some are dark and some are in-between. Some wear bright feathers while others choose earth tones. Some sing loudly while others try to blend in or hold their song within. Some are hale and hearty while others have difficulties with the simplest of tasks. For all of these things, there is purpose and reason. In all of these things is power and strength.

I will hold on to Hope.

I firmly believe that the majority of humankind is essentially good; that negativity and poor choices can be rectified with love and understanding. But in the daily course of television and news sources, we are bombarded with quite the opposite view. We are told, in dramatic tones, of bombings and slayings, of crime and punishments, retribution for political deeds and other deeds done in return. In the midst of such turmoil, how can we find peace? Where is our solace?

Peace is not only the lack of strife, but being able to find the calm inside the storm while it rages about us. Discovering places of solace and joy amidst the chaos can be a challenge. I will hold on to hope that our work here at this sacred place will spread like waves and smooth the rough stones of life’s many challenges.

I will hold on to Hope.

Each and every day, this country wastes food and resources, far more than enough to give to everyone in need. We’re all guilty of it at some level, though most of us do our best to conserve and share. Corporate greed is at an all-time high, keeping the vast profits for a very few individuals. While CEOs decide which yacht to buy this year, average American families decide between food and medicine on a daily basis. Trickle-down economics has failed to produce the sharing power that it claims, and yet it is still touted as an effective measure. “By the People, for the People” has evolved to mean the very few people who hold wealth and power.

So where is the hope found? It is found in people like those who founded Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, Texas, who are creating villages of tiny houses for the homeless. It is organizations like Tree Street Youth and the Trinity Jubilee Center who are providing for disadvantaged teens and families right here in our own community. It is Jimmy Carter, fighting cancer and still building homes for Habitat for Humanity in his 90s. It is me and you, living our lives as best we can, following the heart of the Unitarian Universalist way, helping where and as we are able.

I will hold on to Hope.

In this important year of political decision, we are hearing words of hate and division. The very fabric of our lives is being frayed with the continual barrage of abusive language and fear mongering. Empty promises are being strewn about like candy at a parade from an evil clown, never delivering anything but stomach ache and cavities. History lays dying at our feet, ignored and abandoned, calling with its last breath for us to listen, to learn. And many of us do heed that fading call, repeating it loudly and long. But will it be enough?

I will hold on to hope that the leaders of all nations will lead with the most human of hearts, speaking and acting from the depths of the goodness within them.

I will hold on to Hope.

There is a series on Netflix that I enjoy, but I feel conflicted. Within the story, there are many instances of poignancy and moral lessons that tug at the heart in the midst of the amusing patter and circumstances that the characters portray. But at the same time, one character’s words and actions are fraught with misogyny and homophobia. Over time, it has bothered me more and more. Sometimes he is called to task about his negativity, but he doesn’t change. On the other side of his particular coin, he is a deeply caring individual, doing his job in the very best way that he can, saving and improving lives every day. It’s just a TV show, but we learn from other people… what are we learning from him?

In the news, we hear of the violence toward women and those of alternative sexual orientations. In politics, decisions are made weekly that impact the safety and health of our nation’s people, and it is a daily fight to better ourselves and bring the light of knowledge and compassion to decision-makers who would otherwise trample us under their callous hooves. Bullies are not only found in the schoolyard.

I will hold on to hope that people who honestly follow such negative ways in their own lives are also taken to task for their words and actions, and that their hearts and minds are able to be open and receptive to better ways.

I will hold on to Hope.

Every day, I see our world with new eyes, seeking out the magick and wonder. There is beauty in the flowers bursting forth from the rich and fertile earth. Tall trees, lush and green, rise above us like majestic beings, providing shade and a home for animals.

I sit and listen by a stony stream, delighting in the music of water over rock, grateful that I have hearing ears. Sunrises and sunsets paint the sky with amazing tones, reminding me that I am grateful to have seeing eyes. The chipmunks that pause in their busyness of collecting food to play and chase remind me to do the same.

I feed the birds that come to my porch (and, too, the unbidden squirrels). Seeing the variety of colors of feathers and hearing their bright songs fills me with a sweet serenity. As much as I feed them, so too do they feed me. The mated pair of Cardinals, one watching while the other eats; the dear little Carolina Wren, the first I’ve ever seen; and the wide variety of finches, gold and otherwise. Always, the darling Chickadees with their delightful antics and music. Nuthatches and titmice and woodpeckers… such happiness I find in their presence.

These birds overwinter with us, bringing with them the message that spring will indeed return and that the cold dark times always pass. They are a sign of hope, and I will hold on to hope.

But is mere hope enough? I feel that it is not. Though powerful, hope is a passive thing. In order to reach fruition, it must be brought to life with action and change. Merely hoping to get a job doesn’t do a thing – handing in a stellar resumé and dressing to the nines is far more effective. Pagans and Wiccans who practice magick know this, as do Christian, Muslim and Jewish folk who put actual work behind their prayers. Hope is an augmentation, a good place to start, and a blooming in the heart. Now let us follow through in word and deed.

And at the same time, I will hold on to Hope.

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Build a Bigger Table

Thanksgiving has just passed. Many of us sat at a table with family and friends, sharing food and stories and companionship. Some of us had nowhere to go and spent the day in our own pursuits. And some of us were depressed.

The holiday season can be difficult – there’s the stress of shopping and gift-giving, food and party preparation, traffic and weather and the coming of snow. For some, there are no presents, no lighted tree or merry tunes. Some of us feel excluded, separated, alone.

Does that cause a wringing of your heart? Does it cause sympathy and caring to rise within you? For most of us, we would answer with a resounding “yes.” And then comes the desire to do something about it.

Within us all lies the power to heal. Don’t let that stress you – it’s easier than you think. In the light of certain recent political events and the repercussions thereof, it is more important than ever that we as UUs support and love our neighbors, and that we show compassion and understanding to all those we encounter.

Last holiday season, our UU youngsters enacted a wonderful play which had the message of inclusion and equity. The theme was, “Build a bigger table, not a higher wall.” A bigger table is more inclusive – there is a place for all. When we build that bigger table, we in essence remove a wall to do it. We tear down those barriers not with sledgehammers but with kind words and loving actions. There is a poster here in the church that says we need not think alike to love alike, and it has never been more true than now.

How can we build that table? And how can we make it bigger when others are tearing it up and making more walls? We can act as a beacon of light, a guiderope to those who may be lost. Without doctrine or separation, we can support those who are different from us, different from our own ways and methods. Deep in the heart of this journey, we explore and discover new and interesting ideas. Much like trying a food from another country or culture, we find things that are strange to us, but more often we find things that are a delight and an inspiration.

When we allow our differences to divide us, a wall goes up. That wall blocks communication other than shouting; it ceases the sharing of ideas and materials, encouraging instead hoarding, selfishness, and theft. Those walls create distrust because we cannot clearly see what is happening on the other side, so our thoughts become full of conjecture and judgement, and our fears speak more loudly than our hearts. Hopes and growth die against those walls.

Part of the healing process can include something that my Pagan Community calls “holding space.” When we hold space for one another, we create a sacred place where we are allowed to simply be. We don’t even have to necessarily do anything but be there, witnessing and honoring the process. Keeping that open-hearted area means that someone has a safe spot for earnest communication and self-work. Those for whom you hold that space will in turn hold it gladly for you.

Should you wish to be more active in assisting people, the safety pin movement that has begun recently is a form of holding that space. When that pin on your jacket or shirt is seen, that indicates that you are willing to stand up and out for someone who may otherwise not feel safe. You are willing to act as a comfort zone for someone who is living in fear or not feeling the ability or freedom to be their authentic selves.

The 20th century was a time of huge changes – the suffrage movement that altered the role of women in America, the 60s and 70s with its wild freedom and wilder music, the civil rights movement that we’re still fighting, the age of computers and lightning-fast communication, and ever so much more. We’ve come through these historical changes with varying degrees of resistance and victory. Some hearts were changed; some were hardened.

The wide diversity of this glorious planet gives scope for the imagination. New and delicious viewpoints have created great works of art in all methodologies and the amazing invention of television and the internet spurs us to even greater heights of development and growth. And part of that growth is the active understanding and discovery of those things that are not our ways.

How can we encourage others to help us build the bigger table? How can we help others who might have opinions opposite to ours turn their thoughts and open their hearts to something so alien to them that they react out of fear of the unknown? How can we remove that fear and bring light into that darkened place?

We can begin with our own selves, by examining our own prejudices and fears that limit us from fully understanding that which is “other.” Once we realize that there is nothing to fear, once those questions have been answered and our minds enlightened, the glow of understanding and acceptance burns away the division between us. The ashes of that fire now can nourish the soil of our spirits where new life will grow. It tears down the walls. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Have that conversation. Take that first and most difficult step into the fire. Ask questions and listen, truly listen, to the answers you receive. Ask the person who differs from you in gender, sexual orientation, color, religion, political stance… ask them about what they believe. You need not agree but I request that you do your best to understand those answers and ways of being. They don’t have to be your ways. Any and every God that exists loves wondrous variety, as is evidenced by the wide bounty of amazing beings and creative ideas on this planet. There is room for us all.

Once you have had those conversations, even though you may not agree with what the other person had to say, you now are alight with new knowledge. This gives you a tool to work with your own prejudices and fears, and allows you to make decisions based on more accurate information instead of hiding in the fog. You can add a board to that table, and perhaps remove a stone from your wall. If that wall happens to fall altogether, more power to you. The process of healing has begun.

Some may ask, “Who belongs at this table? Who is invited?” The simple answer is that every member of humanity is welcome and has a place. If we say, “Well, this person isn’t exactly welcome” or “That person is disagreeable” then we begin building those walls again, and that divides us rather than creating equality. When we are able to look beyond personal foibles and mannerisms and look within to the deep heart inside of us all, we start seeing far more similarities.

We have, all of us, been set apart from that Table at one time or another, been excluded or outright denied. We have also, all of us, found space at that Table, been welcomed and well-received. For all the times that we have lost our seat, remember those who have never even been invited. Let us extend our hand with a shining heart, for we were once ourselves without place.

A bigger table includes us all. It’s a global table, a local table, a table that brings us all together as the extended family of humankind. That wondrous board will include a vast variety of foodstuffs from all corners of the globe, songs of every flavor, skin and hair and clothing in a rainbow of color, and voices speaking with the tongues of the universe.

These are the things of which we are made, and the table is large enough for us all to find just the right seat. We in this Beloved Community are already actively accepting and opening our hearts to those who are without such a group, and for that, I thank and bless you.

May we continue to grow, love, and be open. May we always share what we can with those who have less. May we always know that we ourselves are held, believed, and seen. Amen and Blessed Be.

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Bread

This morning, I would like to bring to you a topic near and dear to my heart – bread! As some of you may know, in the past few years, I have had a small baking business. My experience began over 20 years ago when I was baking bread as a spiritual exercise. During times of fasting, we would only eat bread made by our own hand. After a time, I began to experiment with new recipes and expanded to other baked items, and I’ve had a complete blast.

“Let us break bread together” is a quotation of peace. To share bread is to join together, cooperate, support, and nourish one another. The words “companion” and “company” come from the Latin com “with” and panis “bread.”

Bread is a staple for most of the world’s people, and has featured in many traditions and religions.

In the Jewish tradition, practitioners eat Matzo bread during Passover in celebration and remembrance of their flight from slavery. The Israelites did not have enough time to allow their loaves to rise when they fled Egypt, so they ate unleavened bread. In the Jewish scriptures, it reads, “You are not to eat any chametz (leavened bread); for seven days you are to eat matzo, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste.”

Modern-day Wiccans and Pagans often include a practice called “cakes and ale” in their rituals, a simple shared meal which may consist of bread or cookies and a beverage. It is a moment of community sharing and gratitude.

The Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches use a bread called the wafer or the host for the Eucharist, representing the resurrected body of Christ which is consumed symbolically. In Greek, the wafer is called “antidoron” which means “a gift returned,” as Jesu’s sacrifice was a gift of life returned to His followers. The word Host is from the Latin “hostia” which means a sacrifice, indicative of Jesu’s death upon the cross. The wafer is made of fine white flour, pure water (which is sometimes holy water), yeast, and salt.

Another bread product, arguably originating in Germany, is the pretzel. The shape of the crossed arms is symbolic of a child’s arms folded in prayer, and pretzels were often given by monks to the children for learning their prayers.

Bread also featured in a rather interesting way over 2,000 years ago. In 287 BCE during the siege of the Gauls, the Roman bakers prepared small loaves of bread that they hurled over the walls at their assailants. The Gauls concluded that if the Romans were able to use food as a weapon, then they were very well stocked for a long siege, and thus the Gauls gave up the attack. In gratitude, the Romans built a temple to the God Jupiter, the God of bread.

The word Bethlehem, the city where Jesu was born, means “House of bread.” The Biblical phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” is a supplication to the Lord to provide us with sustenance. In fact, bread is such an integral part of many Middle Eastern diets that in some Arabic dialects it is referred to as aysh, meaning life.

There is nothing quite like the aroma of baking bread. For those of you who have traveled down Lisbon Street in Lewiston at certain times of day, you’ve surely been treated to that scent when passing Country Kitchen bakery. And while processed bread has nothing on a home-baked loaf, it is still a tantalizing, homey smell. Perhaps for you it evokes memories of your mother, grandmother, or a favorite aunt who baked bread for family occasions or perhaps even regularly as part of their household routine.

The simplest form of bread is water, flour, salt, and the all-important yeast for leavened loaves. After that, the sky’s the limit! Nearly anything can be added to that simple recipe to create amazing flavors and textures to delight the palate.

Tomorrow is the Pagan celebration of Lughnasadh/Lammas (August 1) which begins the harvest season, and is the festival of bread. The first grains are ripe and ready now, and some of the vegetables and fruits are lush and full. We celebrate a 3-month long time of thankfulness and plenty. The second harvest holiday is Mabon, which is on the Autumn Equinox, “equi” meaning equal and “nox” meaning night, as at this time of year the length of light and darkness are the same. After that day, the balance of light tips toward the coming winter, where the longer nights prevail. The third harvest festival is called Samhain on October 31; Samhain is a Celtic word meaning, “summer’s end.”

There is a Pagan chant about the harvest by Ian Corrigan, a simple song that speaks of the deer that gives its life to the hunter and his family, the grains, and the never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn,

All that dies shall be reborn.

Corn and grain, corn and grain,

All that falls shall rise again.

This is a chant of hope that nothing truly ends or dies. The grain that falls to earth springs up again; leaves fall and nourish the new-growing plants; the animals reproduce young and the cycle continues forever onward.

Another grain besides wheat that is commonly grown is barley. As we all know, we can make bread from those grains, as well as soup, and some of you fondly know that another thing often created with barley is beer. In the Norse tradition, the word “Alu!’ was cheerfully cried at gatherings. Alu means “May you have ale” – it was a blessing that indicated the hope that there would be enough grains left over from the harvest so beer could be made.

May your lives be enriched with a bounteous harvest. May you always have enough. May you always remember to share what you have in spare. And to you, may I say, Alu!

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The Stonecutter

Let me tell you a story. There was once a man in China who was a stonecutter. He carved stone for many different purposes, even made grand statues and amazing works of art, but he wasn’t fully satisfied with his lot in life.

One day, there came by a procession – a grand Lord in his sedan chair flocked by guards and attendants. The stonecutter had to pause in his work and bow low to the ground until the procession passed. Daring a glance up, he thought, “That lord is so powerful. He bows to no one. How wonderful it would be to be the lord.”

And suddenly, he WAS that lord! He rode among his people in his sedan chair, loved by some but hated and feared by most. The stonecutter, now the lord, enjoyed his power as the populace bowed low and his attendants placated his every whim. Life was good.

But as the day wore on and the procession continued throughout the large city, the stonecutter began getting uncomfortable. The cushion under him was growing hard and the sun was beating down on him, making him sweat in the heat. He looked up at the sun and thought, “Now *there* is true power. How I wish I was the sun!”

And POOF! he became the sun. He shone down on the fields and flocks and was loved by most, but when he shone too hot, he was cursed as the fields dried up and crops failed and the wells ran dry. Then one day as he was shining down, he found his light blocked. He wondered how anything could be more powerful than he, the sun! He looked down, and it was a cloud. “How much more power that cloud has than I,” he thought, and Bam! he became the cloud.

As the cloud, he sailed through the skies, blocking that so-thought powerful sun as he pleased and raining down anywhere he wanted, rain rain rain rain. He was hated and cursed by the people below as he poured rain down upon them, causing flooding and washing out the gardens.

Then one day, he found himself being moved, shoved about without care. Angry, the stonecutter, currently the powerful cloud, checked on the situation and discovered the wind. “Now that’s power!” he exclaimed, and just as you might expect by now, he became the wind.

And as the wind he blew and blew, at first gentle breezes that made the grasses wave and cooled the hot people working in the fields. But as he got bolder, he created strong gales, toppling trees in his excitement and was hated and cursed by all below. But he didn’t hearken to their angry words. He was the wind! He was all-powerful!

And then he suddenly came upon something he could not move, not even a tiny bit. “What on earth could it be that I cannot move?” he wondered. And he looked down, and there was a huge stone. “Well now,” he thought, “THAT is surely power, for what is more immovable than stone?”

And as the stone, he stood, immoveable, unchangeable, solid and steady. It was a slow existence, but he enjoyed it. People had to walk around him, and they marveled at his size.

And then one day, somehow, he felt himself being altered. He was aghast. Altered? He, the most powerful being ever???

And he looked down, and far below… he saw the tiny figure of a stonecutter.

What we can take from this story is a very clear example of the thought that the grass is greener on the other side. Everything with which the stonecutter came into contact was more powerful than the one before, only to find that his original station in life was just as powerful as any. He also found that each position of power had its limitations and its drawbacks.

No matter what position we hold in life, there are perceived good points and bad points. The stonecutter may have had to bow to the lord of the city, but he had, in his own right, power. With his own hands, he wrought great works, pieces of value and beauty that would live on for centuries. His name would be remembered for his creations, and his family for ages forward would revel in his accomplishments.

Many of our own issues here in North America are first-world problems – smashing your cell phone or losing your contact list, the grocery store no longer carrying your favorite coffee, the waitress being slow with your order. All these things can surely irk, but what true impact do they have on our lives? We may be as the stonecutter, bemoaning our fate when we actually have far more power than we ever knew. Perspective is an important thing to practice, as is taking a wider view.

That wider view is not always easy. If you were a business person, those cell phone contacts could be the lifeblood of your business. If coffee for you is not merely a recreational device but a medical necessity, surely not having it could cause grouch issues at the very least. And for some, especially people without plentiful financial means, the loss of a winter coat or functioning vehicle could spell disaster for them and possibly their family. Perspective.

Now there are certainly times when our power is taken from us. When we were children, moms and dads told us what to do, what to wear, what we’re having for dinner, and a myriad of other things. Teachers and policemen and bosses have a certain amount of power over us. But we also have power, including the power to control ourselves so as to not incur their wrath, and the ability to decide for ourselves. All religions have commandments that are basically health and safety rules, and how to get along. Don’t lie or steal, and the people around you will be happier. Don’t eat that kind of meat, because without proper preparation, it could make you sick. We can certainly ignore these things and do as we wish. But with power comes responsibility, and with lack of that responsibility come consequences. If we drive 50 in a 35 mile an hour zone, we run the risk of being stopped and fined by an officer. If we disrupt class, the teacher could give us detention. Yes, we have the power to do those things, but also the discernment to choose better actions.

If I have power over you, I can choose to be fair or unfair. As a parent, our kids tell us, sometimes moment to moment, whether we are wielding our power for them or against them. Perspective. Even though we may tell our child to stay close to us in the toy store, but they really really want to go look at the Legos, we seem unfair to them, even though their safety is of utmost importance to us. We must restrict them for their own good, even though they may not fully understand or like it.

The stonecutter sought power, but he abused what he had. As the sun, he used the power of fire to overheat the earth; as water, he poured too much and caused flooding; as air, he blew too hard and created tornadoes and destructive winds; and as earth, he was benign though unmovable, but unmovable equals unchanging, and in that we don’t grow. Solidity and stability are good Earth qualities, but stubbornness to the point of inaction and complacency isn’t healthy. He made his choice of actions, but in each aspect he chose arrogance over kindness and thoughtfulness.

The stonecutter was discontent but he was knee-deep in the river and dying of thirst. He didn’t know what he had, and even as changes happened, he failed to recognize the value of his various positions. His opportunities for discovery and balance were mismanaged at best, and he did not take responsibility. He didn’t grow in knowledge or explore anything but the use and over-use of power. He searched beyond himself for the wrong reasons, for power OVER instead of power OF.

I asked myself this: Where am I powerful? My answer was: In my creativity, my generosity and service to others, in the spoken and written word, and in music (though not recently). I have a great deal of intelligence and knowledge and, I like to think, wisdom. My responsibility in that specifically is to not barge in where it may not be appreciated, and to discern whether my insight is useful and timely.

Then I asked myself: Where am I lacking in power? The answer was: in adequately controlling my spending, paying more attention to things outside my head, motivation in getting to the gym, but not so bad in getting chores done (I’m one of those weirdos who likes chores and no I won’t come to your house). My responsibility there lies in doing my best to form better habits and to use little tricks to get myself going, like setting a daily gym alarm.

As a “Stonecutter” myself, I have certainly been discontent with my place, abused my power to some extent, and strayed off looking for bigger and better by seeking it outside of myself in positions of power. There is a balance to be obtained by seeking beyond our own back doors for bigger and better and learning to recognize the value and beauty of what we already possess. At the same time, there is nothing to be lost by searching and learning in new places. We gain knowledge and experience by expanding our boundaries.

I asked myself something more: What is my motivation for seeking power? And from where am I seeking that power? As competitive as we humans can be against one another in all social arenas, I find myself fighting against that which could do me harm. That’s sensible – that’s self-protection. My motivation there is health and safety and the avoidance of suffering. I seek that power of protection from my friends and family, from the makers of laws and policies, and from those in authority. However, because my will was undermined greatly when I was a child, I distrust things that don’t seem safe, that might use their power against me, so I sometimes rebel even against those things that are beneficial to me.

Some of the other power I seek is the power over my own cravings for tasty-but-not-good-for-me food, the power to have more patience with my customers, and the inward-facing power that comes with pleasing and doing for others.

There are few places where I seek power OVER as opposed to the power OF or TO. The Stonecutter sought power over those to whom he felt inferior. My own power OVER might be in my occasional competitiveness where I need to be “better than” in order to feel safe and, perhaps, to bolster my flagging self-esteem. The Stonecutter used his power TO create storms and fear, making him the one most mighty. My own power TO lies in trying to improve myself as opposed to giving away my power (which is still a power, the power of choice). We’ve all seen the power of compassion and caring, the power of laughter, the healing power of love, and the power wrought by hands that are mightier than ours for both good and harm. And sometimes we like power just for the feeling of being powerful.

And considering that, I asked myself one final question: Overall, am I using my power well? I would say, mostly yes. Within the power of speech and personality, I can be really judgmental, such as with other automobile drivers, but since I don’t express it to the ones I am judging, the power of those words and thoughts may not hurt anyone but me. And after I have those uncharitable thoughts, I almost always catch myself and consider that there may be reasons that someone is acting in a way that, to me, is unattractive or undesirable. My responsibility is to reorganize my thoughts and rework my way of perceiving the actions of others.

The Stonecutter did us a favor in his own faltering way – he showed us adversity that we might grow stronger, that we might learn and adapt, that we might create. His power was that of lending us introspection and inspiration. He showed us that the greenest grass grows where you water it, and that the power you seek is already within you.

I ask this of you: Where is your power? Where is your grass greener? Are you seeking something beyond yourself without truly examining what you already have or what you already are, or are you ready to experience further growth and enlightenment? We’ve all had experiences of moving off to that greener grass – sometimes we were disappointed and sometimes we found the riches we sought.

No matter how green, gray, or brown the grass is where you’re standing, the grass always grows for those who bring the water. So cut your stone, bow where you must, shine and pour and blow in the places in your life where those things are necessary and stand firm like the stone… but allow the cutter to do his job. Amen. Blessed Be.

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Never

I SWORE I would never own a black car, a standard car, or a two-door. Now they call them the Laughing Gods for a reason… guess what my first car was? Yup, all three in one. I owned that car for a week before the engine seized.

I’ve said “never” many times in my life, only to have that thing, or something close, happen anyway. I figured I would never own my own home… but we’ve been approved for a moderate sum and we’re house-hunting currently. I said I would never lose weight – I used to be 300 pounds, so I’ll leave that to your comparison of me today. And I told my friends that I would never marry again… and then I found the other half of my soul.

There are some potential absolutes in my life – I may likely never forgive my abusive former partner, not for what he did to me, but the fact that he’s still out there doing the same things to others. I figure that I will never be a size 8 again, but that has some basis in fact – I have far more muscularity now than I ever did at that size, so perhaps it would not be healthy or sensible to try for that body type. I may likely never climb Mt. Everest – I like mountains, I like hiking, but not to that kind of level.

I shared a small story a while back about having to take a detour on a route with which I wasn’t familiar. I got all cranky and fussy because I didn’t know that road and was being told to leave the safety of my known route and drive off on this unfamiliar quest… and instead I found a gorgeous new route with amazing scenery. My resistance was foolish; my ignorance and attitude was… well, not exactly shamed, but shown that beauty and unexpected goodness can come from a route unknown, one I had “never” been on. While I don’t always remember that lesson, I am still all the better for it.

Now it’s true that most people in America will never win the Megabucks… but someone has to occasionally because of the laws of chance and probabilities. We all know that you never stick a metal fork into an electrical outlet. Now somewhere, someday, there may be a perfectly logical and sensible reason to do so, though I cannot imagine what it is. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

And there it is – possibility. Potentiality. That gleam of hope and of promise.

If we cut ourselves off energetically from the possibility by claiming, “Never, not me, no way,” then we diminish the chance of two things – one is the amazing situations that can happen when we allow the unlikely to happen and two, our chances of gracefully accepting and working with the circumstances in which we find ourselves once that impossible thing occurs.

Wikipedia defines potential as “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future; latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.” Isn’t that a lovely message? The capacity to develop into something in the future. A child who plays with an erector set may become an engineer; someone who started playing the piano at age 3 may go on to a lifelong career in music… or not. But the potential was there. Who knows what influences came their way and changed their direction? I’ve seen abused children turn out to be very loving and gentle; I’ve seen kids who were handed every chance in life really blow it. We are the captains of our own ships, but sometimes the seas are fickle.

Latent qualities may indeed lead to future success – Einstein, according to some accounts, was a poor student, but look at what he accomplished. Sammy Davis Jr plays a gorgeous piano, and yet he is blind. Helen Keller, known to us all, became blind and deaf, and yet learned to communicate despite these seemingly insurmountable handicaps and went on to write some beautiful works.

So how do we develop the possibilities? There is a saying among some holistic practitioners that, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” In other words, where you place your time and energy in thought and deed is where the bulk of the energy of the world will go to meet you there. Want some examples?

I know you’ve all had some Negative Nellies in your life, and because, like Eeyore, he bemoans his fate, fate does indeed often give him what he seemingly wants. His energy flowed where his thoughts “goed.” Those who live in perpetual hope, who are Unsinkable Molly Browns in their own way – for those folks, things generally go well.

I admit that none of this is a “never,” that those are not absolutes – the unsinkables sometimes capsize, the Eeyores sometimes get their birthday balloon despite the moping and grousing. I have a friend who is a wonderfully giving woman who tries SO hard to do the right thing, to support her family with employment and creative endeavors. And yet, she daily battles depression, fibromyalgia, severe diabetes, a recent bout with cancer, and an even more recent contraction of Lyme disease. Not to mention she has two special needs children and her husband just lost his job. So what is she doing? She is taking her spare fabric and is making heatable rice socks to **donate** to people at Safe Voices who may have anxiety and migraines. She, who cannot always afford bills and food, who won’t have a Christmas this year, who struggles daily to be positive and do the right thing, who has literally half killed herself trying to go back to work… this woman is a Goddess, and yet the Gods rarely smile upon her. But she doesn’t say Never.

You would think that she, after being fed a plate of yuck at every meal life sends her, would develop an unhealthy attachment to despair. And yet, she perseveres, not always without complaining, but with a constant measure of grace and hope for the future. I have been one of those attached to despair… it becomes comfortable, known, and accepted or at least acceptable. “Never” seems like a reasonable answer.

“Never” can be a source of protection – Never go to this part of town, never trust a dog with orange eyebrows, never eat processed food. It can be an admonition – Never do or say that again! Never can be a vow – I will never date again! Never is a long, long time. Never as long as I live will I, have I, would I. But things change. Circumstances in the extreme make us do or say or be things we wouldn’t otherwise do or say or be. Are we tempting fate? You *never* know. Until you do.

Sometimes never does indeed mean what it says. “I’ll never go back to that restaurant, I got such bad service” could happen, and we may well have said and done that very thing ourselves.

“I’ll never drink that much again in my life” is sometimes followed by, “Dude, same bar tomorrow?” and an eagerly affirmative answer. Never didn’t work that time.

Much of this is a matter of growth and experience – what didn’t work out once or a few times could make us more determined to try harder, try different methods, or decide to change course entirely. But then we have to make a judgement of whether or not something is worth our time and energy. Some things are future-possible, and some things are “never” or “never again.”

“I never thought” or “I never knew” submits to change as life hands us new experiences. Never becomes the possible. How many times has our three-year-old yelled, “I’ll NEVER go to bed” or eat their broccoli or stop running or a thousand other things? There is a possibility that “never” could indeed be, but I feel that it’s a rarity. The child grows tired, learns to accept broccoli, slows their pace. “I never thought” brings new ways of thinking; “I never knew” moves us into a treasure of new knowledge.

“I’ve never done that before” can be said in wonder, awe, horror, amusement, glee, or disgust depending on what action you have wrought. And you can stress any of those five words and change the meaning. I’VE never done that before = you maybe, but surely not I. I’ve NEVER done that before = until now, anyway, dear me. I’ve never DONE that before = opening to new possibilities. I’ve never done THAT before = is an expression of wonder or horror. I’ve never done that BEFORE = but now you have. So now how do you feel? Enlightened? Eager to repeat the experience? Horrified that you have now done it? Tell me! I’d be interested to know.

When deciding between “never” and “maybe,” perspective in an important thing. Ask yourself, “Will this situation matter to me in an hour? Or a day? A month? A year?” In our search for a home, I say YES, it matters in an hour and a day, cuz darnit, I LIKED that house and we can’t have it! Will it matter in a month? Probably not because I am determined to find THE house by then. And a year from now, we will be happily ensconced in said house. And so it goes on.

So choose your Nevers well and carefully. Never cut yourself off from a possibility – you never know where it will lead you… until you find out. And never DON’T cut yourself off from possibility if it’s not right for you. But then again, we never know. Never say Never, because Never often happens.

Will I see you here in this sacred, special place next week? *wink* Never.

 

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