Monday, September 12, 2011

Milestones and Transitions

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Sept. 11, 2011

Three years ago, on our first Sunday in this building, I told you a Sufi story that I’d like to repeat today because I think it has as much meaning for us now as it did then. It goes like this:

High on a far off mountain, a little spring flowed out of a hidden source. As the water from the spring flowed down the mountain, it passed through all kinds of places, rocky ravines, quiet meadows, past beaver dams and through lakes and ponds.

Sometimes the little stream leaped and danced and bubbled as it raced down a canyon or sometimes it drifted lazily through a forest meadow or even disappeared underground for a short distance. It had never encountered an obstacle that it couldn't surmount, either by leaping over it or going under it or around it or wearing away the hard rock that captured it.

But one day it reached the edge of a vast desert. "Hey, no problem," said the little stream to itself. "I've never been stopped by any obstacle before. No desert is going to stop me now!"

So the stream flung itself at the desert. And its waters disappeared, absorbed by the sand. It threw itself at the hot desert sand again and again. And every time, its waters disappeared.

"This can't be," said the stream. "If the wind can cross the desert, certainly I, a stream, can cross it too!" And it continued to fling itself at the hot sand. And every time, its waters disappeared.

"But it is my destiny to cross the desert," cried the stream, in despair. And as it rested dejectedly at the edge of the desert, getting its strength back, and wondering what to do next, it heard a small, still, whispery voice. And this is what the stream heard the desert say.

"You can't cross the desert using your old ways," said the desert. "I am not like a boulder or a tree or a rocky ledge. It is no use hurling yourself at the desert like that. You will never cross the sand this way; you will simply disappear or turn into marshland."

"But how I can get across?" cried the stream. "I don't know any new ways; I only know the old ways. The wind can get across the desert. Why can't I?"

"The wind is your new way," said the desert. "You must let the wind carry you across the hot sands."

"How can that be?" asked the stream. "How can the wind carry me?"

"You must let yourself be absorbed into the wind," said the desert. "The wind will catch you up in that way and carry you across the desert."

"No!" cried the stream. "I am a stream with a nature and an identity all my own. I don't want to lose myself by being absorbed into the wind."

"But that's what the wind does," said the desert. "The wind will catch you up and carry you across the desert and set you down again very lightly so you can become a stream again. Trust me and trust the wind."

"But I might not be the same stream on the other side of the desert, if I've been absorbed by the wind and carried a long way. I won't be myself if I let the wind carry me and set me down again in a new place."

The desert understood the stream's fear but it also understood the mystery.

"You're right," said the desert. "But you won't be the same stream, no matter what. If you stay here, you will turn into a marshland and that's not a stream either. If you let the wind carry you across the desert, the real you, the real heart of you, the essence of everything you truly are, will arise again on the other side to flow in a new course, to be a river that you can't even imagine from where you are standing now."

"How can this happen?" asked the stream, mystified by this new idea.

"The wind has always done this," said the desert. "It takes up the water and carries it over the desert and then lets it fall again. The water falls as rain and it becomes a river, joined by waters from all over the world which have crossed the deserts to come together."

"But can't I just stay the same?" asked the stream.

"You cannot in any way remain the same," whispered the desert. "Movement is your very nature. It will never cease until your true destination has been reached."

As the stream considered this, it began to remember where it had come from and it had a memory deep in its heart of a wind that could be trusted and a horizon that was always out of reach but always a new beginning.

So the stream took a deep breath and surrendered itself to the power of the wind and the wind took the vapor of the stream in strong and loving arms and took it high above the desert, far beyond the horizon, and let it fall again softly at the top of a new mountain.

And the stream began to understand who it really was and what it meant to be a stream. (Adapted from versions by All Souls UU in Washington DC and Leonard Ingram)

Why might I tell you this story again, at the beginning of yet another new year? It’s because three years ago we had a challenge----how to become a congregation with a new home, new faces, new ways of serving each other and our community. We rose to that challenge and learned to be the congregation we were at heart: able to use our new home for the good of the community and for our own good, even though it was scary and we knew we had to change from our old ways of doing things.

Now we have new challenges to face during the coming year. First, we have lost three mighty oaks from our congregation during the past several months: Baird Bardarson, Peggy Bardarson, and Malcolm Ferrier. The loss of these three leaders has created a hole in our hearts as well as in our community. As we think about what these three leaders did for this congregation, we may wonder how we will ever fill their shoes.

Second, every week we welcome new faces, new friends with new ideas, many of whom keep coming back and contributing fresh understandings, asking good questions, becoming members and friends within the community. It’s exciting to meet so many new and wonderful folks as they come through these doors, but it can also be a challenge to remember all the new names, all the new faces, and give tribute to all the new ideas they bring.

And third, I recently let you know that I will be retiring from my ministry here at the end of next June. That means another new challenge, to find the right minister to serve you after I have begun my new life in retirement.

Like the little stream trying to cross the desert, this congregation is facing the need to change yet again, to learn new ways of being together, to step into the shoes left by our three late leaders, to involve our new folks in groups and gatherings, learning about them and cherishing their company, and to learn to work with a new minister, someone different from me, someone whose ideas are fresh and new, someone who will attract even more visitors and friends into this community, and bring a vision of service and spiritual life that will stretch and transform this congregation once again.

I believe that this congregation is ready to meet these challenges, ready to thrive in new ways, ready to bring new service to each other and to the community around us. I look forward to an exciting and productive year together. Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

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