The Five Secrets You Must Learn Before You Die Part 1, Rev. Judy Bagley-Bonner

Start Date

First Reading: From Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo

To live wisely we must recognize that there are two fundamental truths of a human life. The first is that we have a limited and undefined amount of time, it may be one hundred years, it may be thirty. The second is that, in that limited and undefined amount of time of time, we have an almost unlimited number of choices about how we use our time, the things we choose to focus on and put our energy into- and that these simple choices will ultimately define our lives.

Many years ago, a middle aged woman named Margaret told me that she had tried to live her entire life from the perspective of an old woman sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch. She told me that whenever she had a decision to make, she would imagine sitting on her porch as an old woman looking back on her life. She would ask that woman to advise her.

Second Reading "The Call" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

I have heard it all my life,
A voice calling a name I recognized as my own.
Sometimes it comes as a soft-bellied whisper.
Sometimes it holds an edge of urgency.
But always it says: Wake up my love. You are walking asleep.
There's no safety in that!
Remember what you are and let this knowing
take you home to the Beloved with every breath.
Hold tenderly who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness.
There is nowhere to go. What you are looking for is right here.
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen,
no point in the future to get to.
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment, right now.
You are wearing yourself out with all this searching.
Come home and rest.
How much longer can you live like this?
Your hungry spirit is gaunt, your heart stumbles. All this trying.
Give it up!
Let yourself be one of the God-mad,
faithful only to the Beauty you are.
Let the Lover pull you to your feet and hold you close,
dancing even when fear urges you to sit this one out.
Remember- there is one word you are here to say with your whole being.
When it finds you, give your life to it. Don't be tight-lipped and stingy.
Spend yourself completely on the saying.
Be one word in this great love poem we are writing together.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves - goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying What I do is me: for that I came. 
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves - goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

Today, and for at least the next two Sundays, my sermons will be based on Dr. John Izzo's book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover before You Die. As I said in my descriptive article about this series, if you tend to be suspicious of books with numbers in their titles, "Five Secrets..." "Six Pathways..." "Seven Habits..." please know that I am too. I gave this one a second look for two reasons. First, it was placed on my radar by a friend whose mind and taste in books I know to be generally spot on. Second, PBS aired a show based on the book, and I find I can usually trust PBS to deal with substantial subjects. For the book, Dr. Izzo asked 15,000 people to send in the name of one person that they would identify as having found wisdom, meaning and happiness in life. Those 15,000 provided 1000 names, and from that group, over 400 were selected for a pre-interview by Dr. Izzo and his two assistants. From that pool, 235 were chosen to be interviewed in depth. The ages of the 235 ranged from 60 - 106, as Dr. Izzo wanted them to have had at least that long of a life to reflect upon. While they were nearly all from North America, they were widely diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, and geography, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Atheists, and they represented all socioeconomic groups. Further, they were diverse in terms of profession and life experience, including, for example, town barbers, teachers, business owners, aboriginal chiefs, homemakers, authors, CEOs, priests, poets, and holocaust survivors. Through a series of one to three hour interviews, Dr. Izzo and his assistants asked the interviewees a number of specific questions, such as "what brought you the greatest happiness in life" "What are your regrets?" "What mattered and what turned out not to matter?" "What do you wish you had learned earlier?" What he discovered is that with a combined 18,000 years of experience, there were indeed some common themes for these ordinary people who managed to find extraordinary meaning and happiness." And by "happiness" Dr. Izzo is quick to explain that he uses the term not in the sense of a temporary state of feeling good brought on by pleasure, but as a deeper sense of contentment and regular, though not constant, joy, underlying changing circumstances. To elaborate, he turns to that oft quoted statement of Joseph Campbell, "I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."

It was this underlying, deeper happiness that Dr. Izzo wanted to know about, the kind of happiness that includes a sense of purpose. He mentions that his grandfather taught him about the difference between being "tired" and being "a good tired," on any given day, which meant having spent ones energy not just on the superficial, but on substance, leading to quiet satisfaction, contentment and finally, peaceful sleep. As is the day, so is the lifetime. A life lived like this is truly a thing of beauty, and a thing of beauty, as we know, "... is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."

What are the common ingredients, then, to a life lived as "a Thing of Beauty?" Well, Dr. Izzo found five. He calls them secrets, but says they are secrets not in the sense of being hidden, but in being so largely ignored that they might as well be secrets, "hidden in plain sight" we might say. Further, he acknowledges that they probably do not sound earth-shattering, and might even sound a bit cliche. But I would remind us that there is usually a reason things become cliches, namely that they are often, (though not always) deeply true. So I would ask you to hang in there with me in spite of the fact that a couple of these do indeed sound like they came right from an inscription in a high school yearbook.

The first, then, "Be True to Yourself." Bit by bit, increasing as you go, over the course of a lifetime, Izzo says, find out who you really are, learn to hear and claim your own, unique inner voice and speak it, without apology or attack, but with quiet assurance that it represents the best you know at any given time. Assume that sometimes you will learn better later, and will then, in any given moment, have turned out to be wrong! But do not let fear of being wrong or making mistakes render you silent or paralyzed by self doubt in the meantime. We ALL do the best we can based on the resources we have at any given time, and oft' times, our resources are not great. It is a given that we will all be wrong a LOT of the time, and it is better to live our truth knowing that sometimes we will need to apologize, than to play it so safe as to arrive at the end having never been found wanting. What if we could truly, deeply accept this as the given, as the assumed context for our common life, and admit wrongness easily, knowing our lives never did depend on being beyond reproach anyway? Knowing that virtually nothing that is ingenious or beautiful or elegant or saving arrives, at first, in finished form? Its really all quite messy, and evolves slowly, and mistakes are a necessary part of that evolution in everything. Can we not cut each other some slack and have done with the juvenile need to be right all the time? (Said the woman who this very week found herself swallowed whole by a spitting contest over a factoid that meant precisely nothing...) When we can allow ourselves and others to be wrong, we are more free to speak from our truth at any given time, incomplete though our truth may be. And even if others have not given you permission to be wrong, permission to speak your truth and be the unique character that you are...speak it and be it anyway, despite the responses you get.

I came across a great line a week or so ago, which says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, but first it shall make you odd." Indeed, speakers of truth are usually, at some point, speaking in contradiction to the dominant culture, the status quo. And that makes one at least odd and eccentric, if not unpopular and threatening. And this is not to say we all have to be the self proclaimed voice of all truth, the self-righteous prophet in all situations. One can live one's truth quietly, sometimes as much in what you don't say as in what you do, if done from choice as opposed to fear. Sometimes it is that which speaks volumes.

And being true to yourself goes so far beyond speech anyway. It ties in readily with Izzo's second secret, which is to leave no regrets. This may mean cleaning up unfinished business, and making amends for what was done. But interestingly, what Rizzo found was that his subjects tended to have more, and more deeply held regrets, NOT about what they did, but about what they did not do. Playing it safe; living, even if subtly, out of fear of failure or fear in general, or out of a kind of spiritual laziness that just couldn't be bothered with ponying up. Sleep walking through life. Indeed, I remember reading in the hospice literature that people who most fear death are the ones who described themselves as never having lived fully, consciously, intentionally in whatever way that meant for them, in the first place. Those who felt they had lived fully engaged lives were the ones more able let it go when the end came.

Perhaps the old person on the porch has been calling to you. Have you been hearing the call, on and off, all your life? A voice calling a name you recognize as your own? Sometimes as a soft-whisper, sometimes with an edge of urgency. But always it says: Wake up my love. You are walking asleep. There's no safety in that! Let life pull you to your feet and hold you close,

Dancing even when fear urges you to sit this one out. Remember- there is one word you are here to say with your whole being... Give your life to it. "

Those who answer that call live lives that gradually, over the course of a lifetime, evolve into a thing of beauty, such that even though there are times of brokenness and sorrow, of ugliness and despair, even those become artistic counterpoints, chairoscura, worked into the whole painting, and their lives become

"A thing of beauty; a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and quiet breathing.
(Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways,
Yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.
These are the artists whose medium is being. They leave a legacy that somehow lives forever. Be who you are. Leave no regrets.

Event type
Worship Service