Blooming Is Becoming Vulnerable, Rev Denis Paul

Start Date

Centering Thought: "Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at the sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground." - Zora Neale Hurston

Flower Communion, Halcyon Domanski 

Czechoslovakian Norbert (CHApek) Capek was studying in the United States to be a Baptist minister. It was the 1920's, and while studying here, he met the woman who would become his wife. (MAya) Maja, who would also became a minister, convinced her husband to leave his church and become a Unitarian. When they returned to Czechoslovakia, he founded the Unitarian Church there.

His church, like East Shore, had as members a lot of people who left other Christian traditions. In their case, most people had been Catholics, and felt disconnected, sometimes even alienated, from the practice of communion with bread and wine, But Norbert (CHApek) Chapek felt they needed a practice that would ceremonially bind together churchgoers in their congregation, so that they would feel they belonged to one another, connected each to all, as a part of the world that nurtured them.

In that time and place - Europe in the 1920's - most people walked to Sunday services, so if people didn't take flowers from their own gardens, they could pick wildflowers from the roadside along the when. When they arrived, the youth of the congregation would collect the flowers in a vase, and present them for the communion ritual, where they would be redistributed.

The practice became a tradition in the Capek's Church, so when Maja returned to the United States to visit, she introduced the flower communion to congregations in and around Cambridge Massachusetts, and the practice spread across the denomination. Sadly, World War 2 broke out, Maja was prevented from returning to Europe, and Norbert was put in a concentration camp where he died in 1942.

After his death, the flower communion became a stronger act of solidarity, packed with more meaning, a symbol of a commitment to work for justice together.

This morning, as we do every year on Mother's Day, we're going to replicate that ritual. For those of you who didn't remember to bring flowers, and couldn't pick them along the way, we got some in advance, so there is enough for everyone.

Would the youth bring forward the flowers?

These are the words the Rev. Dr. Capek used in the ritual:

Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, 
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.

It is time now for us to share in the Flower Communion. 
I ask that as you each in turn approach the communion vase you do so reverently--with a sense of how important it is for each of us to address our world and one another with gentleness, justice, and love.

I ask that you select a flower--different from the one you brought--that particularly appeals to you. As you take your chosen flower--noting its shape and beauty--please remember to handle it carefully. It is a gift that someone else has brought to you. It represents that person's unique humanity, and therefore deserves your kindest touch. Let us share in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness and love.

Reading

This morning's reading from the global scripture is called 
"The Champa Flower," a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

Supposing I became a champa flower, 
just for fun, 
and grew on a branch high up that tree, 
and shook in the wind with laughter and
danced upon the newly budded leaves, 
would you know me, mother?

You would call, "Baby, where are you?" 
and I should laugh to
myself and keep quite quiet.

I should slyly open my petals and watch you at your work.
When after your bath, 
with wet hair spread on your shoulders,
you walked through the shadow of the champa tree 
to the little court where you say your prayers, 
you would notice the scent of the flower, 
but not know that it came from me.

When after the midday meal you sat at the window 
Reading Ramayana, 
and the tree's shadow fell over your hair and your lap,
I should fling my wee little shadow on to the page of your book,
just where you were reading.

But would you guess that it was the tiny shadow 
of your little child?

When in the evening you went to the cow shed 
with the lighted lamp in your hand 
I should suddenly drop on to the earth again 
And be your own baby once more, 
and beg you to tell me a story.

"Where have you been, you naughty child?"

"I won't tell you, mother." 

That's what you and I would say then.

Sermon "Blooming Is Becoming Vulnerable" Rev Denis Letourneau Paul

Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali Scholar, a poet, writer, philosopher and activist. He was what some people call a polymath: a person with so many skills and interests that it's hard to even categorize him. But make no mistake: he wasn't just a public intellectual. He wasn't just a spiritual creative. He was an activist against colonialism.

Tagore was born in Bangladesh, "the land of Bengal," 155 years ago yesterday. That anniversary was marked this week, as 18 Bengali Scholars from a consortium of public and private agencies released the most comprehensive collection ever assembled of Tagore's work.

He lived in a time of great change in that region of the world, and during that time, British-controlled India was partitioned, forever changing its political and religious landscape.

During his life, Tagore visited China for extended periods three times, and has come to have superstar status among many Chinese, in large part because he took a stand against opium use, which was then being encouraged by western powers as a tool in colonizing China. (1)

His ancestors were aristocrats. They were Pirali Brahmin. Brahmin are the priests and teachers responsible for religious rituals. They are intermediaries between the temple devotees and the deities being worshiped.

One ancestor converted from Hinduism to Islam, taking along with him two brothers. The rest of the family stayed within the fold of Hinduism, but they were shunned from orthodox society because of what was considered the treasonous act of their relative.

As a result, much of Tagore's family acted outside of the norms and customs of their time. (2) They lived in the liminal zone - the no-man's land -- between polite society and outcasts.

His own father, Debendranath Tagore, was a leader of the Brahmo Samaj, a new religious sect in nineteenth-century Bengal which attempted a revival of the monism of the Hindu tradition as laid down in the ancient texts, the Upanishads. (3) Monism is a denial of dualities, the assertion that there is no separation between the divine and the world. Humankind is God and God is Humankind. Debendranath Tagore, like his Brahmin ancestors, was an intermediary, but his goal was to kind of eliminate the middle man....to put himself out of work in a way, encouraging the direct experience of the divine. Direct living in and being divine.

That was a philosophical tradition carried on by Rabindranath Tagore.

In honor of Rabindranath Tagore's birthday, I pulled out a collection of poems and stumbled across "The Champa Flower," which was just perfect for Mother's Day. I was enchanted by the imagery, and the relationship between the mother and the child, which reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston's recollection of her own mother: In her autobiography, Hurston wrote, "Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at the sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground." (4)

Both Hurston and Tagore get the heart of what a mother's job is: to nurture their children, encourage them to reach their highest potential, and to have the confidence to go as far and as high as they can, and most importantly to let them go when the time comes.

Tagore's poem takes place in a champa tree.

Champa is a word used to describe Indian perfumes and incenses that have Plumeria in them in combination with other fragrances like sandalwood, vanilla, and even resins. The scents are distinctly Indian.

There are also Champa trees all over the subcontinent. Along with Bakul and Parijata, champa trees are considered to be among the most sacred. So central were they to ancient culture that mystics declared them to be gifts from the heavenly realms, brought to the earth so that their leaves, bark, roots, seeds and flowers could be used for medicine or for pleasure. For millennia, they have been used ceremonially in temple offerings, and medicinally to cool inflamed or overheated bodies. (5)

Champa trees, like mothers, provide comfort, care, and healing.

Supposing I became a champa flower, 
just for fun, 
and grew on a branch high up that tree, 
and shook in the wind with laughter and
danced upon the newly budded leaves, 
would you know me, mother?

Imagine being a beautiful, fragrant, useful, sacred and ethereal being. Just for fun. Imagine as a little child how risky it would be, resting on a branch so high up. What if he fell? What if he never returned from his magical transformation, and instead of having a long life, growing into adulthood, he were to remain a short-lived flower?

You would call, "Baby, where are you?" 
and I should laugh to
myself and keep quite quiet.

What a joke that would be to play on his mother! How he would giggle in the excitement of autonomy...to be so high up, so outside of his mother's reach, so different from everything he's ever been expected to be.

I should slyly open my petals and watch you at your work.
When after your bath,
with wet hair spread on your shoulders,
you walked through the shadow of the champa tree
to the little court where you say your prayers,
you would notice the scent of the flower,
but not know that it came from me.

He slyly opens his petals into bloom. He becomes vulnerable in his innocence, exposing himself to the sun and the possibility of being blown away by a gust. He is brand new, but at same time mature, at the peak of his essential champa flower being. That's when he reaches his real purpose: to bring beauty and fragrance, to bear pollen or ovule; to begin the work of reproduction.

From up there, high on that branch he lovingly watches his mother work in the garden. He is playful, but reverent as she cares for herself so that she can do some of the most important work: to pray for his protection, to wish for him to be the best possible version of himself. Only, she doesn't know anything of his magical transformation as he sits way above her.

When after the midday meal you sat at the window 
Reading Ramayana, 
and the tree's shadow fell over your hair and your lap,
I should fling my wee little shadow onto the page of your book,
just where you were reading.
But would you guess that it was the tiny shadow 
of your little child?

Ramayana is a Sanskrit epic poem of seven books assembled over the ages, but attributed to the poet Valmiki. The title means "Rama's journey," Rama being the seventh avatar or the supreme god Vishnu. It depicts the duties of relationships, the perfect ideals of roles like king, servant, soldier, father, or mother.

But the Ramayana is not written like an instruction manual. "If you are a mother, go to verse 12,002." It's written as a narrative, much the way the Odyssey and the Iliad are, with Rama encountering hundreds of different characters along the way, including one of my favorite Hindu gods, Hanuman, the monkey god, who shows up in times of despair or chaos, playing pranks and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.

The ideal role of a mother is illustrated through the experiences of the characters.

So the mother is below, learning how to let her child be independent, a little like Hanuman, climbing a tree, the trickster looking down, moving his shadow across her, hoping she'll figure out it's him, so high, so close to the sun. His shadow teases her, and at the same time gives her a gentle reminder of their connection, even from a distance.

When in the evening you went to the cow shed 
with the lighted lamp in your hand 
I should suddenly drop on to the earth again 
And be your own baby once more, 
and beg you to tell me a story.

Like all good things, his time in the champa tree must end, as the sun sets and his mother goes back to work, preparing for the night. He drops, revealing himself, and returning the work of childhood: begging for a bedtime tale.

His mother doesn't make a big deal out of his absence, she's just glad to see him, happy he is safe.

"Where have you been, you naughty child?"
"I won't tell you, mother." 
That's what you and I would say then.

Because he knows what he's done. And he knows that in a way, she is dying to know what he's been up to, what kind of trouble he's gotten himself into, but she also knows....it's probably best that the details of his absence remain his secret. That is her job of letting go, so he will have more adventures.

At their best, mothers are our Brahmin, the intermediaries between us and the divine world, those blessed priests who get us to follow our instincts and open our petals toward the sun, to climb the trees and leave the ground. They are the teachers who show us how to take risks, to be vulnerable, and to find that we are not separate from the divine. We are divine. We are magical. They give us the simultaneous freedom and protection to be like Hanuman, or to go out learn the painful lessons of life, far away from home, yet still connected like a shadow.

Mothers, ideally, give us the tools to become like Rabindranath Tagore and Zora Neal Hurston.... mystics and artists who reach into their own woundedness, their own vulnerability to become the prophets who inspire their people to come into their wholeness and out of colonialism and oppression.

Not all of us had ideal mothers. Some of our mothers were absent, or too ill mentally or physically to be what we would want of them. Some were abusive, or simply lacking in role models. Some could have benefited from an instruction manual like the Ramayana or Dr. Spock. Some tried their best, but just couldn't make it.

But hopefully all of us have had women in our lives who have loved us and supported us, the women who have taught us to jump at the sun and remind us that even though we might not get there, at least we can get off the ground.

Hopefully, whatever our own mothers may have been like, we can strive to be the kinds of adults who allow children to climb those champa trees and become the flowers they can be. Hopefully, we can be the kinds of adults who don't shelter children, but instead allow them to take risks, to become vulnerable so that they can become stronger and reach their full potential.

 (1) Press Trust of India, " http://www.business-standard.com/article/international/china-releases-first-translations-of-rabindranath-tagore-s-collective-works-116050501222_1.html

(2) Dutta, K; Robinson, A (1995), Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-14030-4

(3) From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

(4) Zora Neale Hurston. Dust Tracks on a Road. JB Lippincott. Philadelphia PA, 1942.

(5) http://www.floracopeia.com/education/champa-bakul-parijata/

Event type
Worship Service