Saturday, August 28, 2010

We saw it along the roadside...

as we rounded the bend, going toward my driveway. At first I wasn't sure how big it was, its splayed legs leaning against the raised curb, its eyes silvery in the headlights, and I was afraid it might be Maxie.

But as we drew closer, we could tell that it was a fawn, about 6 months or so old, possibly the baby of the mama deer who has been roaming my land this spring and summer. She had two fawns with her the last time I saw her. Maybe next time she'd only have one.

We all sighed with regret as we turned into my driveway and I said goodbye to the folks I'd gone with to a meeting. I went inside and couldn't get the fawn out of my mind. I didn't know if it was dead--or injured and still alive. I wasn't completely sure it wasn't Max, as we had driven by rather quickly, though the image in my mind's eye was that of a small deer.

So after a few minutes, I took a flashlight and went back down the driveway to check on the small body alongside the road. I had no idea what I'd do if it was still alive, as I had no way to put it out of its pain, and it seemed heartless to just leave it there in misery to die alone.

But when I got there and shone my light on the body, about the size of a small Lab, there was no movement, no sound, only bright blood on the pavement and a slight warmth to the touch. I put my hand on the rough coat, still lightly freckled with fawn spots, and said I'm sorry, baby, I'm so sorry. And walked back up the driveway toward the phone to call the sheriff's dispatcher.

"There's a dead fawn on Bush Point Road."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In a slump....

when it comes to blogging. I just can't get inspired by much of anything right now. I'm in the throes of planning for the new church year, which means meetings (covenant of right relations, science/ethics/meaning, board, committee on ministry, worship, staff); the band has had several gigs in the recent past and continuing today through mid-September; I've been concerned about several parishioners who are ill or struggling; and the things I'm thinking about seriously are not blog fodder.

But here are a few of the other ideas that have floated through my mind:

1. Reading "Sex at Dawn", which purports to be a study (somewhat racy in language and style, but very readable) of how humankind is really supposed to be polygamous rather than monogamous, so that the temptations of men (and presumably women) need not be squelched, avoided, quelled, but respected and sanctioned, because it's so important to have a sex life. I see the authors' point, but, having been hurt by infidelity of a few kinds (sex, alcohol, for starters), I am inclined to think that human beings need to tie a string around "it" and keep it in the pants IF they are in committed relationships. If the relationship is committedly open, that's the participants' prerogative; if it's not, then monogamy is the safest option, even though it may be tough for the randy individual. ( Though I have never personally witnessed a successful "out" open relationship. Somebody seems to always get the short end of the stick.) Also, the authors do not consider the aging process nor give a set of options for those of us who are no longer prowling for sex but rather for companionship.

2. For some reason, I am missing Colorado and have spent a good deal of time recently checking the Denver Post online to see if there's news of anybody I know in the Jefferson County school district, where I used to teach/counsel. I was significantly jealous upon viewing a photo in the Jeffco retirees newsletter of some of my former colleagues singing a few old union songs with Peter Yarrow---yes, that Peter Yarrow! I've been warbling "Union Maid" ever since.

3. It frosts my cookies that Washington State does not have a public beach law, like Oregon does. Of course, the shoreline of Puget Sound would make that very complicated, so I understand, but it's frustrating on Whidbey (paradise that it is) not to be able to walk the beach for miles at a time.

4. I'm looking forward to our gig tonight, which is on the Virginia V ship in Lake Union; it's a fundraiser for the M Bar C ranch in Freeland, which hosts the Forgotten Children Fund activities. It's a $100 a plate feast and festivities and we are getting paid! Plus we're getting dinner out of the deal, though I don't know if it's the same cuisine as the paid guests.

5. I'm sick of my hair being long. I'm going to get Amy to cut it off, I think. The straggliness of my limp locks and the persistent tickle of stray strands down my neck are getting to me. I want cute hair that doesn't need to be tended so much!

6. I will be so glad to get rid of this cataract! The vision in my left eye is cloudy and fuzzy and the prospect of getting rid of that fuzzy cloud outweighs any hesitation that the few risks of cataract surgery present.

Okay. I may add more as I think of other things.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A comment on the Animal Blessing service...

from the owner of one of the blessees.

We want to thank you for your blessing our Charlie. She is one changed dog-well, she is trying to be. She still struggles with the principle of respect and dignity for others-occasional scuffles with the other dogs usually ending up with Charlie getting bit in the snout (I have the same battle, as you know, except for the snout part).

My only suggestion for the next animal ceremony would be to make it a little more detailed (at least for Charlie). Possible areas of concern might be: improved bowel control when at the Coupeville Farmers' Market, while chatting with the mayor and we have just used our last plastic bag, use of an indoor voice in the vet's waiting room, and everyone's favorite-crotch sniffing etiquette at social gatherings except, with Republicans, of course (there's that pesky respect and dignity principle again!!)

We are perfectly willing to come early for all the extras!!!

Thanks again, Kit, and we look forward to seeing you at church, and the Sat. get togethers-

Linda, Elaine, and Charlie
(Printed with permission from the owner)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Blessing of the Animals: an intergenerational service

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, Aug. 22, 2010

We’re gonna sing this song at the end of the service, but let’s practice the chorus of it right now, okay?
“All God’s critters got a place in the choir,
Some sing low, some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they got now.”

Who are God’s critters? That is, who are the critters who live on the earth? Let’s just call out the species names of some of our favorite critters!

And why are they our favorites? What do these critters we’ve named do? What do they do for us? For the earth? Why are critters so important?

I remember when I was a kid growing up; we had lots of animals in our lives. We had a dog named Snicker (after the candy bar) who adopted our family when we moved to a town where he was a stray. We had cats occasionally but not often, because Snicker wasn’t that great with cats.

I had horses to ride and pet and feed and brush and hug and love because of a generous man in my Dad’s little church, who lent me a horse and all the things a horse needed, every summer. We had birds—both parakeets indoors and native birds outdoors.

On the ranches and farms around our little town, there were sheep and goats and cattle and pigs and chickens. In the fields and woodlands, there were deer and mice and squirrels and chipmunks and even an occasional bear. And there were skunks too, and raccoons.

I was surrounded by animals as I grew up and I learned to be gentle with them, to feed and water them properly, to use them or play with them carefully---not to hurt them by rough treatment or to hit them in anger if they didn’t behave the way I wanted them to. This wasn’t always easy, as I had a bit of a quick temper at times, but the look on Snicker’s face if I struck him in anger told me that I would lose his trust if I treated him badly.

When I’d go riding my horse, I had to remember that Prince or Dan or Coaly or Paleface was bigger and stronger than I was and I had to be careful about safety. I had to make sure my saddle was tightly cinched and that the bridle and bit were comfortably settled in the horse’s mouth. I had to be sensitive to the weather and know that thunder and lightning could scare my horse, and that it wasn’t a good idea to run my horse hard in really hot weather. Yes, I learned a lot about life from my animal friends.

There’s a funny story in my family about what I learned from horses. I was about ten years old and I was so crazy about horses, as lots of young girls are, that one day as our family was all together in the car, my mom and my dad and my sister and brother, I was gushing over how much I loved my horse Prince. Oh, I loved him so much! In fact, I loved him so much that someday I was going to marry him. My parents were wisely silent, until I said in a burst of enthusiasm, “yes, Daddy (my dad was a minister) will say to us at the wedding, I now pronounce you gelding and wife.” Yes, I got a little sex education too from my experiences with animals!

But how about you? What have you learned from the animals in your life? Have you learned something special from the animal you brought today to be blessed?

St. Francis of Assisi lived over 800 years ago in Italy and he loved animals too. Stories are told about St. Francis taming a wolf who had been terrorizing a small village, preaching to birds, and protecting the creatures of the woods and fields. Our blessing today of the animals we care for is to show our understanding and our agreement with the idea that animals are so important in our lives that we must always protect them and take care of them.

We have come to understand that we must not use animals carelessly, that if they work for us, as horses and cows and donkeys and dogs and other working animals do, we have a responsibility to see that they do not work too hard or too long or under bad conditions and that they receive good care, good food, good shelter.

Many of us have come to understand that using animals for food is something that must be done carefully and respectfully. Some of us don’t eat meat any more. Some of us eat only plants and their products for food. Some of us eat meat and fish but look for meat and fish that is humanely produced. And we don’t eat too much of it or eat it just because it’s the fashionable thing to do.

Our relationships with animals, whether they are our pets or our source of food or work or the wildlife we see in the fields and forest and oceans, must be in balance. We must not overfish the oceans; we must not overwork our work animals; we must not use up animals or animal habitat unnecessarily.

When our earth and its creatures are in balance, our lives are more in balance too. We are happier when our animals are happy and well-cared for. We receive so much love from our pets when they are happy and we feel bad when they are sick or injured or afraid.

What does it feel like to be out of balance? When you are dizzy, what does that feel like? Being dizzy is a kind of being out of balance. We can’t walk straight, we feel a little sick, we might even fall down. It’s not very much fun to be dizzy, even if we sometimes do it to be funny.

So we bless our animals today to tell them in our own way that they are important to us, that they help keep our lives in balance, and that we appreciate all that they do for us.

A blessing is a very strong wish for good things for someone or, in this case, our animals. When we bless them, we are wishing that they will have good health, good things to happen to them, good people to take care of them. And we are also promising them that we will help them have good health, good things, good people in their lives.

Our behavior toward our animals tells them even better than words that we care for them. So we are promising them the blessing of our good care.

As we get ready to do our animal blessing, I’m going to ask that we spread out a little bit, if necessary. We’ll do the smaller animals first and work our way up through the dogs and larger animals. I’m going to ask the owner what the animal’s name is and then I’m going to say, “Bless you ___ and may you live a long and happy and healthy life.” And we’ll give each animal a treat.

At the end of the blessing, we’ll have a time of silence in memory of all the dear animals that have blessed our lives and have given us so much love before they died. During that time of silence, I’ll invite you to speak out the names of those animals who have died and whose memory still gives you joy, even though you miss them very much.

Before we sing our final song, I will lead us in a commitment promise to our animals, saying out loud a pledge, a vow to treat animals with care and respect, in our homes, in our lands, and in meeting our food needs.

BLESSING: what is this animal’s name? _________ Bless you, ____, and may you live a long, happy, and healthy life.

SILENCE: (speak names of pets who have died into the silence)

COMMITMENT PLEDGE: (repeat after me)
I promise to treat the animals in my life
With respect and care.
I promise to care for my pets
by giving them good food, shelter, and love.
I promise to care for wildlife
By caring for the forests and fields and oceans where they live.
I promise to care for working animals
By treating them kindly and gently.
I promise to care for food animals
By respecting the gift they give with their bodies.
I make these promises
Knowing that my life is connected to theirs.
May it be so.

SONG: All God’s Critters

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stopping the itch of bug bites

Okay, this is not exactly Ladies Home Journal or Martha Stewart's Whole Living, but I have recently been dealing with a small matter of fleas on Max. I had been wondering why I would occasionally have a few inexplicable bites that itched madly but were apparently inflicted by invisible bugs.

I have googled itchy bites, invisible bugs, mites, whatever word or combination of words I thought might explain these occasional fleets of itchy bites. Some of them I could tell were mosquito bites, which have (at least on me) a distinctive whitish bump that itches. Others, however, were tiny, in very odd places, and only distinguished by a small raised red bumpito that itched madly.

Until Max's recent trip to the vet for his leukemia booster, I had not thought they could possibly be fleas, as I have never seen a flea on him or any of the other cats, nor in the bedding or favorite spots where he lies. The other two cats had been declared free of fleas earlier this month, but Max turned up with a few fleas.

Aha! Googling flea bites produced images that were clearly the same as my bites, so we are taking steps to eradicate the critters. Which brings me to something useful I discovered long ago when I was trying to deal with itchy bites.

The People's Pharmacy is a newspaper column that is a kind of clearing house for both natural and allopathic health remedies. People will write in about a bar of soap curing their night time leg cramps or the evils of various drugs, Vicks for fungus-y toenails, that sort of thing. And one day, somebody mentioned heat as a temporary cure for itchy bites.

I jumped on this one, because no over the counter product, even antihistamines, had done anything to make the itch go away, and I did some experimenting. There were some fairly inconvenient ways of applying heat, like with a hair dryer, and it would be easy to get burned if it got too hot. But it needed to be pretty high heat in order to quell the itch, not just make it itchier.

Here's what I do. I keep an old stainless steel teaspoon in the bathroom and when I need to stop an itch, I turn the hot water on, let it run till it's so hot I can barely stand it, then stick the spoon into the running water for a few seconds. Then I apply the back side of the spoon directly to the itchy bite and hold it there while the itch flares up briefly and then dies away. This works like a charm and eradicates the itch for me for several hours. If the bite is on my back, I use a few seconds of very hot shower water. But the effect is the same.

So I may have fleas temporarily, but I can deal with the itch. I hope this public service announcement has been helpful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Donate in Mama Jo's name

Mama Jo's a friend of mine, a seminarian, a longtime UU, and a fellow blogger. She's shaving her head in sympathy with the many children in her life who have cancer and have lost their hair. Her own little daughter has had cancer twice and is now healthy again. Can you donate to St. Baldrick's in her name? She's trying to raise $1000.

Why do I live?

It's taken me awhile to get motivated to answer this question for the Salon, but reading Earthbound Spirit's take on it has done just that. Thank you, my cyberfriend!

Right now my congregation and I are engaged in thinking and praying life back into an elderly parishioner who was about to die. And now, miraculously, he's not, at least not right now.

In an earlier post, I bemoaned the fact that being strong and fit can slow down and make difficult an impending death, that our bodies can be too tough to die easily. As they said about my little Baptist mother years ago, "They're going to have to shoot Mona on Judgment Day." Of course, they didn't; she died peacefully in her hospice bed.

It isn't just Baird's body that is too tough to die; it's his will, his character, his desire to experience everything life has to offer----that's what's keeping him going, making use of the OT, the PT, the speech therapy, learning to make his body again do what he wants, his tongue say the words, his mind do the remembering.

He wants more time; he wants to live a while longer, not strapped down to a bed or chair, but seeing friends and family, making conversation, doing things, seeing things, being aware, touching and being touched. And because he knows we want him to live.

This is a powerful lesson to me about living. Why is Baird still living? Because life is all he has for sure, in all its pain and joy. It makes me rethink the fleeting idea I had about eating bonbons to weaken my body so that I wouldn't have a hard time dying someday. The reason Baird has made this turnaround is largely because of his Viking strength----of body and of mind and of heart.

This morning I was reflecting on last night's contemplative worship service (we call it EvenSong, but it's not like Anglican Evensong or the UU Evensong program), seeing the beloved faces and hearing the beloved voices of the dear folks who were present and who were presenting the service. How much I love them!

And it occurs to me that this is why I live. I live to love people. I live to be useful to them. I live to be a safe harbor for them. And in return, I receive love, I receive their care, I receive the safe harbor they offer.

Yeah, it can go wrong. My love for others and theirs for me can go wrong sometimes; it can be painful, it can have unintended consequences. But that's really why I am here---to love, to be useful, to be a safe place. And my life is an exercise in learning to do that better---to love better, to serve better, to be a safe place to more people, animals, the earth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Argggh! And that's not a pirate you're listening to, it's me, peeved. (and then grateful)

Here's the deal. I have had cataract surgery scheduled for August 25 for months, with a pre-op appointment for today at noonish.

Sunday night my only up to date pair of specs fell apart, with the temple piece falling off the main body of the glasses. No big deal, I thought, I'll just get them put back together at the local optical place. I'm wearing my contacts all day long now, it's no biggie.

But the optical place said no, they couldn't do it. Not their kind of repair, try the local jewelers. It was going to require something besides a new screw---it needed welding.

So I took it off to the local jewelers, left it overnight, not knowing whether they'd be able to fix it or not but happy that I had a very old spare pair of specs to wear while reading in bed at night.

Today at noon, I met with the doc for the cataract pre-op and asked if it would be problematic that I was wearing my contact lenses. She looked like I'd kicked her in the patootie and said YES, IT WOULD BE A VERY BIG PROBLEM! DIDN'T THEY TELL YOU NOT TO WEAR YOUR CONTACTS FOR TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE PRE-OP?

Well, no, they hadn't. Nowhere in the literature is it mentioned that a contact lens wearer (at least a gas-perm lens wearer) was not supposed to wear her/his contacts for two weeks preceding the pre-op appointment. Apparently, the eye needs to regain its natural shape so that the measurement for the implantable lens is accurate and it takes two weeks of not being shaped by a hard lens to resume its natural shape.

So we're rescheduling and the doc is bawling out (very politely) the clerks who should have told me this and it strikes me that I don't know if I even have glasses I can wear. My only decent pair of specs is at the jewelers where they are not sure they will be able to fix them.

Talk about mixed emotions, almost none of them good: anger about the failure to tell me something important, embarrassment for the clerks who probably thought I knew this or didn't know I was wearing contacts, irritation at the doc for her annoyance at me (even though she said it wasn't at me---it felt like I was included), relief at being able to postpone the surgery for two weeks (I wasn't exactly looking forward to it), and fear that I would not have a wearable, see-throughable pair of specs to get me through the next two weeks. Oh, and the fact that I had to drive 40 miles to Coupeville and back to find this out!

All the way home I was going over in my mind how I would cope if the only pair of specs I had to count on were the red-framed horrors that are now at least 20 years old. I called the jewelers as soon as I got home, the repair lady said she'd call me back, and within an hour I was able to go pick them up. In fact, I left this post hanging at about paragraph two to rush over to the store and pick them up.

So GRRRRRR has turned into GRRattitude. Thanks to Kari at Lind's for working a miracle and to my friend Carol who can take me up there for the surgery on the new date. And you'll see me in specs for the next two weeks, but they won't be the red ones from the 80's!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A picture of the congregation to which the following sermon was preached this morning!

After the service this morning, we took a picture of the congregation to send to our friends Baird and Peggy, as Baird is not well enough to come to church.

Nature: Spirit Made Visible

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, August 8, 2010

I’ve been reading through my old journals recently, dating back to the years before I began to study for the ministry. I’ve been keeping journals for decades, ever since I scribbled notes on my Outward Bound experience in a scruffy little notebook in the summer of 1968, a time of my life which cemented my sense of connection with the natural world and got me thinking about my place in it.

Some of those old journal entries are embarrassing, to say the least, and years ago I threw out the worst ones, the journals I never wanted my son to see, whenever I should shuffle off this mortal coil. But even once I got past the place of complaining about family members I was irritated with or the struggles I was having in my work or the latest guy I was dating, I wrote down some remarkably childish things.

It got a lot better once I got into a 12 step program and started being more aware of my feelings, my not-so-sterling qualities, and the steps I needed to take to make my life happier and more honest. I began to take note of the moments in my life when I felt most whole, most open to transformative change, most fulfilled and satisfied.

As I began to write about my deeper experiences, I noticed a pattern. At the time, I owned an old Dodge camping van and used it to travel the Colorado Rockies, to go back and forth between the PNW and Colorado, and to generally find solitude and beauty and lovely freedom and independence in evenings spent alone in a camp chair, in front of a fire I had built myself---with one match!, with my trusty journal on my lap, writing about my day’s activities and thoughts.

I had a few favorite spots I particularly liked to visit: Guanella Pass in the Front Range of the Rockies and only a short distance from Denver in miles but light years away from the clamor of the city; primitive Taylor Park, over two major Rocky Mountain passes near Gunnison CO, but largely undiscovered by anyone but fishermen and cowboys---and me; and the Oregon Coast, particularly Cape Lookout near Tillamook, whose tidepools enticed me in the early mornings.

These were places that felt right to me in ways I couldn’t express clearly. The wide expanse of open space, the mountain peaks nearby, the limitless sense of air, of freedom, of both a great mystery and a great peace. The wildlife---deer, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, coyotes, fish, starfish, sand dollars---all these belonged so perfectly to their surroundings. And, astonishingly, so did I,

I too felt part of these places. The animals were my companions in the woods or on the beach; we lived together as I camped among them. I talked to them, told them how beautiful they were, that they were safe with me, that I appreciated their being with me in the moment.

I think I got some of this sense of connection, as well, from my mother. I’ve told you the story of how my sister and I, as teenagers, would walk the long stretch of Cannon Beach, in Oregon, with our mom in the misty mornings before breakfast, as she declaimed to the gray sky---and to anyone nearby who might hear, including, unfortunately, cute boys---Edna St Vincent Millay’s memorable poem, God’s World”:

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!

Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!

Thy mists that roll and rise!

Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag

And all but cry with colour!
That gaunt crag

To crush!
To lift the lean of that black bluff!

World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,

But never knew I this;

Here such a passion is

As stretcheth me apart.
Lord, I do fear

Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.

My soul is all but out of me,—let fall

No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Millay, of course, was one of the descendants of a remarkable moment in American history in the mid 19th century, when a group of poets and thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and others set the religious and literary world on edge with their vision of Nature as a pathway to the Divine. They were dubbed the Transcendentalists and brought to American culture much more than a connection between God and Nature, but this particular concept was a profound contribution to Unitarian theology .

The Transcendentalists felt that something was missing in classic Unitarianism with its insistence on cool rationality and reason. Solemnity, calmness and emotionless rhetoric failed to satisfy that side of the Transcendentalists which yearned for a more intense spiritual experience. This led Emerson to denounce what he saw as the “corpse-cold” Unitarianism of that time, which was itself a rebellion against the extreme emotionalism of more evangelical Protestant sects.

Emerson, in an essay entitled "Nature," tried to capture the feeling of spiritual conversion as experienced during a sojourn in the woods. In a famous passage that has become a classic…description of the "transcendent moment," he writes:

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity…, which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.

Emerson’s eloquence was parodied on the one hand and yet deeply understood by his peers. In a letter written in January 1849 to his friend Randolph Ryer, Thomas Starr King, another of our Unitarian ancestors, said this about Emerson:

“Emerson gave us last Monday evening the most brilliant lecture I ever listened to from any mortal. It was on the identity of the laws of the mind with the laws of nature. He proved conclusively that man is only a higher kind of corn, that he is a squirrel gone up into the first class, that he is a liberated oyster fully educated, that he is a spiritualized pumpkin, a thinking squash, a graduated sunflower, and inspired turnip.
Such imagery, such wit, such quaint things said in a tone solemn and sublime! I have the most profound respect henceforth for every melon vine as my ancestor... I look upon every turtle as of kin. Tonight he lectures again. I fear I may lose it.”

All this took place a century before the merging of the Unitarian and the Universalist strands of religious thought, in 1961. But Transcendentalist appreciation for Nature as Spirit made Visible has influenced Unitarian Universalist theology and experience for all of us who revere Nature and its spiritual influences.

American Transcendentalism was primarily a reassertion of the mystical basis of all religion, a reaction against the rationalism of Unitarianism and the pessimism of Calvinism. It emphasized heart over mind.

Transcendentalism might have been the fore-runner of the many folks who now think of themselves as “spiritual, not religious” and also those who are religious in ancient earth-centered ways, such as neo-paganism.

But this sense of spiritual connection to nature is within each of us---we just need to nurture it. My friend David Vergin, pastor at Langley United Methodist, recently wrote in his monthly newsletter column:

“The sense of the spiritual dimension of life is so powerful in the forest at dusk that it can almost make me jump out of my skin. After a winter indoors I am stunned each year by the infinite and mysterious expanse of a starlit sky, the enormity and power of the ocean, the endless flow and ever-changing surface of a river, the awesome majesty and mystery of a forest, especially at dawn or dusk…What strikes me when I take time with the natural world is the strength of our tendency to spiritual thoughts and feelings. Gazing at an expanse of water or a starlit sky, some dormant facility in me awakens.”

How does Nature inspire OUR spiritual life and growth? Let’s take a moment and consider this thought. What are your experiences with Nature and Spirit? How does Nature inspire you in a spiritual way? Take a moment to think and then I’ll ask some of you to share. (cong.resp)

Unitarian Universalists have been on a journey over the past century of leaving doctrine and dogma behind and, instead, looking to the lessons of personal experience and reason, as we discover our spiritual and religious paths. We have come to see our religious and spiritual duties more as a matter of relationship to ourselves, each other, and to the natural world.

Our seven principles outline this journey, beginning with our founding principle of “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and concluding with our seventh principle, which states that we affirm and promote “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.” If you would like to review our Principles, you will find them on the back of your order of service.

And in moving away from doctrines and supernatural beliefs, many, if not most of us, find comfort and heartsease in our natural surroundings. It’s why many of us live here, why we built our home here in this spot, why we garden, why we have pets and domestic animals. We see ourselves as part of this universe, not just users of it.

But even here on Whidbey, it is easy to get shut up in our cars and houses and lose contact with the natural world we love.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her longer work “Renascence” notes this:
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

We as human beings are born into an intimate relationship with Nature. It is our first level of experience, to feel the cool air on our face and the warmth of fire, the smell of our surroundings, the rough texture of tree bark and stones, the sound of birds and insects, the sight of flowers and animals.

But as we grow, we often lose that sense of wonder at the natural world. Acquisitiveness may subdue our inquisitiveness and encourage us to disregard the needs and gifts of the natural world in favor of our own desires.

We need always to attend to our inner self, the self that can so easily forget our connection with the natural world and can be the root cause of pollution. Our ancestors developed traditional practices of honoring and conserving nature, practices which respected and sanctified the natural world rather than simply using it.

Our natural world is balanced: the elements of water, fire, air, and earth work together even though they both enhance and destroy one another, as water drowns fire and fire eats air. The millions of life species are in balance as well, with predators and prey opposing each other, yet serving the larger good.

We need to learn from nature how to balance the elements of human life, tempering all with the human attributes of compassion and altruism which flow from human consciousness.

As Frank and I were talking about this service last week, he shared with me some of his experiences with Nature, particularly moments spent at places like Ebey’s Landing, where cloud and fog and rain and sun shed special shadows and shape the light in wondrous ways. His feeling part of it all, experiencing its wonder at every level, from microscopic to cosmic, has shaped his own life. And he remarked to me that artists say that our eyes are never on vacation, that there is beauty in some part of everything.

That’s how I see it too. And I was reminded of my mother’s admonition, when we kids would complain that we were bored: “Go out in the yard and see what you find in the grass.” There was infinite life in that grass, we discovered, and no reason to be bored.

And the last line of one of the stanzas of “Renascence” seems apt here:
God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart!

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering our beginnings in the natural world, honoring and revering the elements of nature that inspire and comfort us, and taking care of those elements. May we give our children, our grandchildren, and all the children of the world the gift of a planet made sacred by our actions. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Rethinking the future

We are bombarded with messages about living long, strong lives, protecting our health and vitality, our reproductive abilities, extending our lives beyond our 80th year, and finding cures for lethal illnesses. And these all sound great and most of us buy into them to some extent.

I certainly have. Over the years, I've changed my diet, upped my exercise, invested in the proper insurances, worn my seat belt obsessively (if only to keep that damned beeper from going off as I descend the driveway), and taken seriously my doc's recommendations about medications to prevent bone loss and cholesterol overdrive, even as I remain wary about side effects.

I'm rethinking all that. I don't know if I want to be so physically strong that I have a hard time physically letting death take me, when the time comes. And I don't know if I want to take life-prolonging measures if they only buy me a longer but less-pleasant lifespan.

Last Sunday I was invited to preach in a neighboring church and the worship coordinator asked me to bring my sermon entitled "Sex and the Single Planet", in which I discuss the clash between our human drive to procreate, nurture life, and prolong life as long as possible AND the effects of this innate drive on the ability of the earth to sustain this kind of proliferation of human life.

Several people came up afterwards to express agreement and to point out that our human compassion for the weak and helpless clashes with the rational position that we must limit births and allow people to die sooner. One man said "the Gates Foundation is providing millions of dollars to stamp out malaria in countries where it is prevalent and in the process save the lives of millions of babies who would otherwise die." This humanitarian effort is compassionate and meets a deep human need, but it also increases the survival rate of millions of lives.

I have been with a few people in the past year or so who have made decisions about end of life issues and have voluntarily let go of life, rather than take one last treatment or intervention. I have also known those who wanted to try everything, until they were so weak and in so much pain that their bodies simply gave up.

Right now, one beloved man who has stayed fit and capable and full of vitality right up until a terrible fall is too strong to let go. And his misery is palpable. Of course, his physical strength and health have been the reason he has lived so well for so long, but now, when it would be a blessing to be able to succumb to pneumonia or some other way of easing out of life, it's not likely to happen.

I don't plan to drop my gym membership or start eating nothing but bonbons in hopes of dying more easily in my 80's, but it's tempting, believe me. Favorite Son, you're gonna be in charge of my life some day. You're gonna need to be healthy yourself to handle me!