Monday, April 26, 2010
At our semi-annual Southeast UU Ministers Retreat at “The Mountain” near Highlands, N.C.; we traditionally have a break from our meetings and workshops on Wednesday afternoon. Some choose to find a good rocking chair on the decks of the lodge or their cabins. Others take hikes to nearby mountain peaks or waterfalls. And some even venture into the nearby community for some recreational shopping in the unique mountain craft shops and second-hand clothing stores.
At our spring retreat, I chose to join the hike to Highland Falls. What a glorious experience! As we entered the area, however, we were faced with some choices. There were multiple paths that would take us to these falls. They provided different levels of climbing difficulty, different lengths, and different views of the falls. Some came together at times then would split again. Our group made our decision for an initial path, then used hardy “scouts” to determine which alternatives might be worthy of our efforts on others. In any case, we made it to a point in the falls where we could relax on the large stones, be cooled by the slight spray, and meditate in the beauty of the moment in that wondrous place! We chose an alternate path on the return trip and assisted one another to make sure we all reached that higher level where our cars were parked.
Our little adventure with the different paths to the waterfall reminded me of that old religious metaphor regarding different spiritual paths to the mountaintop. And, of course, we Unitarian Universalists are strongly supportive of this concept. Included in our principles are the declarations that we covenant to affirm and promote “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations,” and “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”
How can we do this with all our diversity? When we meet together as a congregation, we can enjoy our differences as we sing songs, worship with rituals, hear informative and inspirational messages, and participate in talkback. These activities, as well as many of our social and religious education activities, provide some broad support for all of us. But sometimes we feel the need to travel on our own theological path more deliberately with other like-minded members and friends. Our earth-centered spirituality group (a.k.a. the pagan group) has provided a good model for us in this effort. Although the members of this group participate regularly in our larger congregational worship and religious education activities, they also meet separately for study, ritual, and support of one another.
In recent weeks, I have heard others express the desire to more formally associate. Three possible “pathway” groups for our congregation are Buddhist, Christian, and Freethinkers (which may include agnostics, atheists, humanists, and others with more naturalistic theologies or cosmologies). Our association provides many resources for these pathways and there are organizations at the associational level that can be supportive of our congregational efforts. If you are interested in participating in one of these groups, please email me at email@example.com or give me a call. I will assist in connecting folks and help in scheduling or coordinating some organizational meetings. Then group members can decide on how they want to move forward together. Hopefully this will allow us all to travel more deeply on our paths with the support of others in the UU community. And we can all delight in the waterfalls and mountain peaks that we encounter.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Easter Sunday Homily and Flower Communion
I was having a discussion with one of you last Sunday about depression – which seems to have increased among many folks lately. Now, of course, many of us have had events in our lives that provide good reasons for depression. But I think this long winter may have played a part as well. When we were having this discussion, I told this parishioner – if these trees and bushes would just burst forth with their flowers, I believe it would lift a lot of spirits. We need the blossoms! We need the flowers! What is it about flowers that can shift our attitude so?
One of the most obvious reasons is their beauty and their fragrance. They are beautiful and fragrant to attract the birds and the bees, but we human creatures are charmed by them as well.
And perhaps they also lift our spirits because they signal the end of winter. And maybe because they symbolize for us renewal – new growth – the plant has survived and is blooming. Yes, we will have fruit and seeds for the future!
The title of this little homily today is “The Blooming of UUFS.” And today we are blooming in honor of this special month when we are celebrating 25 years as a congregation and 20 years in affiliation with UUA. And our wonderful fellowship does seem to be blooming beautifully, doesn’t it? We have so many more young tender blossoms among us – many of them now out searching for Easter Eggs. What a joy to have these young ones and their parents or other caregivers here! And the birds of paradise have dropped seeds for new flowers from other regions and from right here in Statesboro to be among us and grow their faith. We welcome those of you who have come to us in recent months and years. And then there are those faithful perennials who have remained with us – for five years, ten years, some for a quarter of a century – and we do appreciate the beauty that you have shared with us for many years in our lovely garden. We celebrate the Blooming of our congregation and commit ourselves to tending this garden of faith with utmost care and love.
Today is Easter Sunday – and we share flowers in our Easter celebrations because they remind us of the spirit of this season. That’s the Hallelujah spirit of resurrection, renewal, and rebirth. It’s that springtime spirit that gives us an appreciation of life itself and a hope for the future. And flowers often represent the spirit of love, especially as they are given in love.
The flower can convey what words cannot. I think that’s why folks give flowers when they are in the dog house. The Buddha certainly understood something special about the flower’s message. You all may remember the old story that is especially meaningful to Zen Buddhists, for whom an experience often conveys more wisdom than words. Here is one version of that old story about Buddha’s Flower Sermon.
Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching.
But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water.
The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbolized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching.
When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak.
“What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”
Mahakashyapa became Buddha’s successor from that day forward.
So I’m going to follow the Buddha’s teaching and not SAY as much to you today as I usually do. Instead, we are going to “experience” our flower communion.
The Unitarian Universalist Flower Communion service which we are about to celebrate was originated in 1923 by Dr. Norbert Capek [Chah-Peck], founder of the modem Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. On the last Sunday before the summer recess of the Unitarian church in Prague, all the children and adults participated in this colorful ritual, which gives concrete expression to the humanity-affirming principles of our liberal faith. When the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek's gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be-as Nazi court records show– "...too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live." Dr. Capek was sent to Dachau, where he was killed the next year during a Nazi "medical experiment." This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion, which is widely celebrated today. It is a noble and meaning-filled ritual we are about to recreate.
Consecrating the Flowers
(Will the hosts please bring forth the flowers for the consecration.)
Whenever Dr. Capek conducted his Flower Communion in Prague, he would say this prayer as he "consecrated" the flowers:
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these (flowers), thy messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another's talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.
Partaking of the Communion
In most of the UU flower communion services, the congregants just come and choose a take one of these consecrated flowers. But for the last few years, we’ve made our flower communion a little more communal by sharing flowers with our neighbors in the congregation – and we’ll do the same today. I ask as the music plays for each of you to come forward beginning with the front row on my right – your left – and accept a flower or piece of greenery. Now the one you get is not going to be the one you keep. Then carry that flower or green peace back to your place and you may be seated. As the music continues to play, focus on that little piece of nature’s beauty and the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. After everyone has a flower or green peace, I’ll tell you what we will do next.
Now we are going to stand in body or spirit and sing a song together as we give and receive flowers from each other. And that song is a simple one that you may be familiar with. It goes like this.
From you I receive; to you I give, together we share, and from this we live.
Sing that together with me.
Now find a partner seated near you. If you don’t have one – raise your hand and folks can regroup in that area or form a group of three perhaps. Now you’ll take the flower in your right hand – and share it with your partner’s left hand and look into their eyes while we sing and share. Ready? Sing…..
Now find another person nearby to share with. Put the flower in your right hand, and receive a flower in your left hand.
And one more time……..
Now you may be seated. When the service ends today, you may take that flower or piece of greenery home with you as a remembrance of the sharing we’ve done today, or you may place it in one of the vases in the front and we will deliver them to others who may find joy in their beauty and fragrance.
Listen now to Dr. Capek's Flower Communion prayer:
In the name of Providence, which implants in the seed the future of the tree and in the hearts of men [and women] the longing for people living in [human] love; in the name of the highest. in whom we move and who makes the mother [and father], the brother and sister what they are; in the name of sages and great religious leaders, who sacrificed their lives to hasten the coming of [peace and justice]--let us renew our resolution--sincerely to be real brothers and sisters regardless of any kind of bar which estranges [one from another]. In this holy resolution may we be strengthened, knowing that we are (one) family, that one spirit, the spirit of love, unites us, and [may we] endeavor for a more perfect and more joyful life.