Centering Thought: The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love. – Margaret Atwood
Reading "Love Poem," by Andrzej Luckwitz
My mind is conflicted with thoughts and feelings that come all of a sudden.
I stop right where I was walking as a shiver runs along my spine. Color blooms on my cheeks and cold sweat on my hands.
My fingers clutch the letter I'm holding for someone, above the box I will drop it in that will go to that one person I have feelings about.
I release the letter watching it flutter into the box at the same time all of my emotions come free, my pulse races at the action I have just achieved but then my mind grows calm and I walk away feeling good.
Reading "How Do I Love Thee?" Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robin McBride
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being an ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose
I shall love thee better after death.
Reflection, Becca Ray
To me, love is a feeling. You can't go searching for love with a flashlight and find it in your closet. And when you find it, there are no big, bold letters saying "love" before you. Sometimes love happens at the most unexpected time. Some people think they found love when they see someone and they get butterflies in their stomach. I don't find that love, but if it is to them, I won't judge. I think anyone can be in love. If a guy likes a girl or a girl likes a guy. That's ok to me. If a guy likes a guy or a girl likes a girl. I think it's fine. If a person romantically likes no one, it's ok. A lot of people don't like it when someone is gay or lesbian. I don't discriminate them, but I try to find their reason.
I think someone has to know the person they love enough to really, truly love them. If you only love someone because they look good, but their attitude is selfish and mean, than that's not love. The true beauty comes from the inside. If the person you love is the most ugliest person in the world, but they would die if it meant protecting you and loving you and you would return it, than that's a real beauty.
A person doesn't always have to be the one who is loved either. If you love your cat or your dog, then you would care enough to give it a home, food, and loving attention. Showing you care for a life that is considered a pet to a human shows that you love things no matter what size or shape. You can give love to something that can be considered to be alive and not have a life at all too. If you care to walk an extra ten feet to your recycling can instead of stopping at your trash can or at the side of the road, it shows you love and care for the home you have, Earth.
Love can the most beautiful thing in the world or it can wear you down. People will do crazy things for love. They might try to make themselves look totally different and try to change their personality, just to get someone to love them. And when the person does love them, they don't get a chance to really love that person they tried so hard to get because they are too busy moping around because they don't like the way they are. Then there is no love, even personal love to yourself.
But love will always be in the world. There would be no life without love. Love is what makes us cuddle together with our loved ones and what makes us go out on a walk by ourselves. It's what makes us spend hours in our room writing love letters and what makes us cry our eyes out when the love is gone. The absence of love spreads us apart, and the presence of love bonds us together.
Homily "One Billion Ways to Love," Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
Here's a fifty cent word for you: Exegesis.
For the longest time, I thought the word was Exejesus, E-X-E-J-E-S-U-S, like Exit Jesus, as in Jesus of Nazareth has left the building.
But it's spelled E-X-E-G-E-S-I-S, and it's a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially the Christian Bible or other sacred text. For UUs, any text can be sacred, including a poem. In fact, poems are probably our most revered sacred texts.
If we were to exegete the Elizabeth Barrett Browning piece Robin read earlier, we'd have to start with knowing what kind of text it is. It's not a novel, or a comic book, or or a research paper or a newspaper article. It's a love poem, of a type called a sonnet, a 14-line poem with a very specific meter or rhythm, usually iambic pentameter. Shakespeare loved Sonnets, so much so that he wrote 154 of them in his life, which ended in 1616.
Now for a bit of history. Browning wrote this morning's poem, which was her sonnet #43 (out of 44 that she wrote) in 1850, a time when few women were published, and even fewer became famous. In fact, if you were to Google 19thcentury women poets, you'd be lucky to come up with three dozen of them, most of which you've never heard of.
Mostly it was men were the romantic poets of the day: John Keats, Percy Shelley and Walt Whitman. Some people thought women were too emotional to write about something as serious as romantic love!
Now, I've read Barrett's poem a few times, and even though she doesn't actually count the ways she loves her lover, I come up with about 16 different ways:
to the depth
height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being
to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun
freely, as men strive for right
purely, as they turn from praise
with the passion
In old griefs
with my childhood's faith
with a love I seemed to lose
with the breath,
That's sixteen earthly ways. We won't even get into the debate about whether or not there is life after death in which to love someone. That's a topic for another day, and a more in-depth exegesis.
So, sixteen different ways to love. There are so many other ways that we've heard of this morning. Andrzej talked about the
racing-heart kind of love that eventually - hopefully - turns into
a calm love, one that can express itself with more confidence and maybe even yield satisfaction.
Rebecca talked about even more kinds of love:
different genders and the ways they can be attracted to each other;
loving someone for what's inside rather than on the surface;
loving the pets we live with, and
all animals as we
love the earth and its fragile systems. She sums it up beautifully when she says
There would be no life without love.
That's a big love. And for those who have not been counting, that's 26 different kinds of love that I've just mentioned, 26 different ways of feeling the excitement and mystery of being with someone or something that feels special. Most of them are kinds of romantic love: not really knowing what will happen in the relationship, but being excited about the possibilities.
But there are other kinds of love.
Agape is a huge love, a love of all humanity including people we are at war with and even the people who consider you their enemy.
Agape is caring for the planet and the animals of the Amazon Rain Forest and the Serengeti of Africa, even though you may never encounter them.
Then there's the love of family, where if we're lucky we learn about the rules of love: how to respect each another person to follow their wishes; getting their consent before doing things that affect them, taking time to be with each other in order to let love grow, and giving each other space to find ourselves when we need to. Loving family, like loving pets or neighbors or the people we go to church with, is all about developing patience.
The great thing about learning about love from family, neighbors and people at church is that it teaches how to love romantically, so that when we do find that special someone who makes us excited about the possibilities of the future, we know how to behave.
But some people never learn the lessons about how to love. Some people actually get messages that love is something else. They learn that love is holding on tightly to people, controlling them and forcing them to do things that are not in their best interest. They learn that they have the right or even the responsibility to protect the people they love from harm, and that others don't know how to care for themselves. Some people learn that love hurts. They learn that love has to hurt or it isn't really love.
Sadly, these people grow up to be the kinds of people who abuse others, and feel like they are doing the right thing, and most of the time – not all of the time but MOST of the time, the person being abused is a woman.
That's why three years ago, on Valentine's Day, thousands of women around the world launched the One Billion Rising campaign to draw attention to the horrible statistic that one in three women in the world will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. That means that there is a good chance that many of the women in this room right now will be or have been hurt with physical violence, often at the hands of men who claim to love them, and they wanted for a billion of them, 1/7 of the world's population to show one billion healthy ways to love.
Two years ago, millions of women across the globe gathered to dance together, to rise up and say, "we have the strength and the power and the support to end violence," and last year, even more women gathered in even more cities to a special dance called "Break the Chain," a dance that was choreographed by Debbie Allen. And this year, men and boys who care about women, men and boys who have learned about agape – big love – from their mothers and sisters and grandmothers and teachers and neighbors, are joining in doing the dance.
It's a way for men and boys to say, "I know that love isn't easy. I know that love can make my cheeks turn red and my palms sweat and my heart race, and sometimes it's really, really hard to let go of control, but I want to be the kind of person who loves fully."
That's why this dance, isn't about a cause. It's not about giving money to an organization, or voting on certain legislation in any particular country. Breaking the Chain is about expanding our definition of love, living into the agape. Breaking the Chain is about honestly seeing the anger, violence and destruction that lives within every one of us, giving up domination and control and turning it into something else. Something powerful. Something beautiful. Something respectful, that we learn from our mothers and grandmothers and sisters and aunts and neighbors.
Special Music "Break the Chain," One Billion Rising (Halcyon)
For the last couple of weeks, the youth have been practicing this line dance, just for today. I'm going them to come into the center to do it, and I encourage everyone – men and women, young and old – to dance along with them. You don't have to know the dance…just move!
You'll notice, if you pay attention to the video or to our own live dancers, that there are certain moves in the dance that are repeated, each with it's own symbolism. See if you can pick up on it. And later on, be sure to talk together as a family about the meaning of the dance.
So kids, come on into the center of the circle.