This Sunday I'll be preaching on the First Source of Unitarian Universalism: direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.
I'm working on that sermon this afternoon and, in thinking about how I might illustrate it, found this story from my own life.
It was June, 1994. I’d been driving Interstate 80 since dawn, from Farewell Bend on the Snake River where I’d camped in my van the night before. I was returning to Colorado after burying my mother, crossing the hot dry deserts of southern Idaho and over the border into Utah, pondering the lessons of her life and death and crying as I drove, my tears drying almost as soon as they appeared, in the hot blast coming through the open window. And now I was beyond tiredness, in that late afternoon state of mind where rational thought and fantasy merge, and reality has a fuzzy edge.
I’d been seeing a lot of hawks poised on telephone poles or circling overhead, their broad wings barely flickering to stay afloat. My mother had loved birds and hawks and eagles were interesting to both of us. Each bird felt like a message, but in my emotional state, I couldn’t quite figure it out.
Every redtail or northern harrier caused me a fresh pang, and by the time I reached the outskirts of Salt Lake City, I had exhausted my tear ducts and my brain.
I wanted to be back in Colorado as soon as I could. I prefer U.S. Highway 40, through the mountains, but I had no idea how to find Highway 40 in the maze of interstates, beltways, and smaller roads that interlace the Salt Lake valley.
I drove south into SLC, peering through my foggy contact lenses at unintelligible signs, looking for landmarks. Nothing. I realized I was in the far left lane of a 6-lane interstate and, in my weariness, nearly sideswiped another car as I tried to pull the huge van over so I could read my map.
At last came a break in traffic, and I eased over to the shoulder, cringing for fear I had missed seeing some hapless little car in my mirror, and half-expecting to feel a sickening crunch. But I made it, stopped the van, and, once again, the tears came. I was safe, I hadn’t hit anyone, but I was exhausted and bereft.
Suddenly, in my rearview mirror, I saw the ominous blink--blue and red, blue and red. “Oh no,” I thought, and hastily mopped my eyes as I fumbled for my car registration.
There appeared at the driverside window a short stocky cop, his hat pushed back on his head, his face serious and concerned. I braced myself for the worst, assuming he’d seen my near-accident, but in a voice of infinite kindness, he just asked, “Lady, are you lost?”
That man could not have known just how lost I was. I couldn’t find myself on any map--neither the map of Utah nor the map of my life. I didn’t know where I was after my mother’s death; I only knew I needed to go home. I don’t know what I said to him, besides asking how to find route 40, but he neither remarked on my tears nor ticketed me, and within a few minutes I was on my way again.
As I topped the last long hill up out of Salt Lake City, my eye fell upon the broad winged silhouette of another redtailed hawk, soaring just above the horizon.
And all the confused, jumbled thinking that I’d been doing all day--the memories of my mother, my grief at losing her, my anger at all the years I’d felt motherless because of my own rejection of her religious beliefs and because of her illness, the link to birds and mountains and all of nature, the incandescent flame of her unconditional love for me---all these coalesced into one single thought:
I AM NOT ALONE. I AM NOT ALONE. I AM IN THE ARMS OF THE UNIVERSE, I AM IN THE ARMS OF GOD.