The Innermost Place, Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul with Bree Byrd and Greta Cawley

Start Date
Listen to this sermon
Audio file

Call to Worship and Body Prayer Rev. Denis
Welcome to this space. This space under this beacon of hope, where the light of the universe shines down upon us, even on the gloomiest, chilliest of days. Welcome to this space under this beacon, where our light shines out into the world, letting it know why we are here: to shine our hope.
We are hopeful that we might rise to meet a new day for those who seek and who serve the spirit, hopeful that each and every one of us might encounter the sacred within, among, and beyond every human soul, and hopeful that such an encounter might work through us to topple the idolatries of our age.

We come from a lot of different places, physically and emotionally, with different expectations for our time together.

So, before we begin, I’d like to invite you to really arrive in this space
Arrive in your seat…
Or, better yet, get up.
Take your stone with you.
Find your own spot in this sanctuary
Really fill it with your body, your presense
Take advantage of the space that we have

Feel your ground with your feet
Feel the stone in your hand, it’s texture … temperature …
Look around
See…. the roof … the art …

Take an inventory of your body
What feels strong, secure?
What feels pained, weak?
Let it be what it is
Give your body encouragement
While accepting it for what it is

[Long pause]

Let us turn even more inward now.
Feel the rhythm of the breath.
In and out, In and out,
Find the peace of just being with the flow of the breath.
Letting go of yesterday and tomorrow.
Feel the restorative power of the peace of this moment.
A peace, large enough to open
to the concerns and sorrows that trouble us.
A stillness, quiet enough to respond
to the joys and celebrations that enliven us.
There is safety here in the rhythm of the breath.
The ebb and flow of life is enacted with each one.
Taking in oxygen sustenance,
Letting go of carbon dioxide.
Taking in the fullness of experience
Letting go of the residue that wants to cling to us.
Cultivate inner peace and inner safety
in this sanctuary
dedicated to cultivating the Spirit of Life
dedicated to being a beacon of love for all beings.

[another long pause…chime bowl.]

Prayer
I’d like to share with you now this version of the Buddhist Metta Sutta:

In order that I may be skilled in discerning what is good, in order that I may understand the path to peace, Let me be able, upright, and straightforward, of good speech, gentle, and free from pride;
Let me be contented, easily satisfied, having few duties, living simply, of controlled senses, prudent, without pride and without attachment to nation, race, or other groups.

Let me not do the slightest thing for which the wise might rebuke me. Instead let me think: “May all beings be well and safe, may they be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be, whether moving or standing still, without exception, whether large, great, middling, or small,
whether tiny or substantial, Whether seen or unseen, whether living near or far, Born or unborn; may all beings be happy.

Let none deceive or despise another anywhere. Let none wish harm to another, in anger or in hate.” Just as a mother would guard her child, her only child, with her own life, even so let me cultivate a boundless mind for all beings in the world.

Let me cultivate a boundless love for all beings in the world, above, below, and across, unhindered, without ill will or enmity. Standing, walking, seated, or lying down, free from torpor, let me as far as possible fix my attention on this recollection.

This, they say, is the divine life right here.

Personal Reflection Bree Byrd

Reading Bree Byrd
This morning’s reading is titled “Faith and Belief,” by Jackie Clement, who worked in a the high tech industry as an engineer and marketing manager, before becoming ordained as a UU minister and publishing several books focused on our faith and our families.

She writes:

Last summer, my husband John and I were canoeing in New Hampshire. At the end of a trip around the lake I climbed out of the canoe first, had one foot in the lake and one foot in the canoe. That’s when things went wrong. While taking my foot out of the canoe, I caught my heel on the edge. Losing my balance, I instinctively grabbed for the most solid thing within my grasp – the canoe.

There are times when grabbing on to what is most solid and stable is exactly the wrong thing to do. When I resurfaced, I saw my husband sitting ina foot and a half of water fishing for his glasses on the lake bottom. In my attempt to save myself, I took an innocent bystander down as well.

I tell this story not to demonstrate my lack of boating experience, but to say that I understand the emotional impetus to grab onto what seems most stable and solid when the world is tipping us off our feet. In religious terms, we might say we are driven to hold ever more tightly to our beliefs when we are under stress.

Like grabbing a canoe for stability, depending on belief to keep us from going under is to grasp at the wrong thing. It is not our belief that we need to hold onto, but our faith. Though the two are often taken to mean the same thing, there is a subtle and critical difference. Faith is deeply seated in confidence, vital to our very existence; belief is only what we think is true, though we wouldn’t stake our lives on it.

Faith leaves room for mystery, belief does not.

As Albert Einstein wrote in his personal credo, “the most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious.”

Sometimes what seems most solid and stable is only an illusion of stability. Things that appear more ethereal, that may seem to be the toughest to grasp, are in fact the most stable and secure. Love, faith, and community may seem to be intangible ideals, but if nurtured they can serve as the very bedrock of our lives.

Beliefs can fall away. But the things that seem most insubstantial – perhaps because they can be the hardest to come by – have the greatest worth, and provide the steadiest base.

Sermon “The Innermost Place” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
A few weeks ago I was invited to …

I think this is one of those times when it is important to name my social location…

The women on the panel were asked a series of questions…

At the end, the clergy present were invited to ask…

I prefaced my question

Greta responded …. So I invited her speak. “Soul of a pastor”

Sadly, I learned Friday that because of a family emergency she couldn’t make it.

That’s the way life goes, isn’t it? Unforeseen emergencies conspire to change everything. Our bodies betray us with illness. The bodies of our loved ones fail, taking them from us, forcing us into mourning.

I had planned to talk today about reproductive rights, about the sacrdnes of our bodies as sanctuary, and our responsiblilty …threat

But because we’ve now had four deaths in five weeks, and I spent most of my week planning memorial services, everything just feels different.

We know women’s lives and safety are being threatened.
We know in the coming years, through court decisions and legislation, the state of Ohio will further limit access to abortions by closing down clinics.

We know that licensed medical clinics are being forced to disseminate incorrect information about reproductive health as pro-life pregnancy centers are proliferating, looking like medical centers, even though they aren’t licensed as such.

Professionals are being forced out of the practice of providing safe abortions, while women are being threatened with imprisonment for having abortions.

We know that in response to the threats, more women are running for public office than ever, but they still aren’t trusted to make decisions about their own bodies and their own health. They aren’t trusted to make decisions between themselves, their partners, and their God.

We know all of this. We’re registered to vote.
We hope to change the tide, to get it moving forward again instead of slinking back into some weird world that never really existed in the past.

What’s come up for me in the last couple weeks is that because we know all of this, because we know that the world is tumultuous and divisive, chaotic and threatening, and constantly changing so that news cycles last a couple hours instead of a few days, we need a place of sanctuary.

I’ve been hearing it over and over again. People have said “I need to come here and have my batteries recharged, to find sustenance so I can go back into the world and face its inescapable realities.”

As we’ve been exploring the idea of sanctuary this month, it’s become clear that creating sanctuary is exactly the job that has been asked of this congregation.

As we struggle out in the world to find a balance between the worth and dignity of every person and our shared responsibility to the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part, we need a place where we are accepted for who we are, and supported in the decisions we make and the challenges we face.

This is a time when our third principle is perhaps the most important to us:

We covenant to affirm and promote acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.

Spiritual growth isn’t about belief. It’s not about deepening our commitments to any political stance, no matter how righteous.

Spiritual growth is about faith. Faith in community. Faith that good will prevail. Faith that we the people will find the right path again. Faith that other people have the strength, courage and moral fortitude to make decisions that are right for them, and that when they do choose to become parents, with a little help from their village, they will do a good job. Faith that we’ve raised our children well.

Spiritual growth is faith in our own bodies and our own skills, which happens best in the company of others. In the company of people who encourage us, even if they don’t believe the same things we do.

This is the place to engage in spiritual growth, and to do it together.

I know that may seem….well, crazy.
I mean, why would anyone want to put a lot of resources and energy into a place where more people are dying than joining? It makes no sense, on the surface.

But think about Jackie Clement’s canoe, the one she fell out of, and knocked her husband from. Her mistake was that she grabbed onto the thing that seemed most stable, the thing that was the most solid in form and substance, but not in foundation. The canoe.

She had more faith in the canoe than she did in her own body’s ability to right its balance, or survive the fall into the water. She panicked and trusted the wrong thing.

Right now is not a time to be grabbing onto our building. Our building won’t save us, even if the foundation is solid and the ground on which it rests doesn’t seem to be moving. There’s shifting demographics, climate change, a mortgage.

Right now is not a time to be grabbing onto membership numbers as proof of our worthiness, proof of our effectiveness. Our numbers may be shrinking, but the people who are here are fiercely committed to the work and the relationships in a way East Shore has never seen. Just yesterday, Jerie Green said to me that this place is a huge part of her, and nobody can ever take it away from her. I know she, like so many of us, feel the same way.

Right now is not even a time to be grabbing onto our beliefs. Because if there is one thing we have learned since the elections of 2016, is that there is nobody….NOBODY…who agrees with any of us 100%, and agreement on anything cannot be the litmus test for the strength of any relationship. None of us fit neatly anymore into any political or theological categories that ever made sense before. Evangelicals are sounding more like Universalists al the time, even though we agree with them about almost nothing.

Our building, our membership numbers, our beliefs aren’t going to save us.

Right now, instead of grabbing onto our beliefs, we need to be grabbing onto our faith in each other, our faith in community, our faith in our families, our faith in our history… and our future. That’s what’s going to get us through. Our acceptance of one another, and encouragement to spiritual growth, right here, in our congregation, our home.

And our spiritual growth begins here, in the innermost places of our lives.

Our spiritual growth begins with our bodies that greet one another each week as imperfect and failing as they may be.

Our spiritual growth begins with this space that houses our hopes and dreams, as varied and ever-changing as they may be.

Like the canoe, it won’t look any different as we change. It won’t look any different to the casual aboserver because the building itself won’t change. But we will change, for the better. We will be stronger. We will be more spiritually mature, individually and collectively.

Because our spiritual growth begins with the relationships we make here. Together. Committed to one another, in good times and in bad.

May it be so.

Event type
Worship Service
Add to Calendar 2019-12-06 14:27:35 2019-12-06 14:27:35 Title Description Location East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church laura@laurasolomon.net America/New_York public