Centering thought for the cover:
Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feetmoving forward.
-- Nelson Mendela
Personal Reflection, “Mystery of Life,” – Nancy Bihary
I met Charles, the natural healer, through a friend. I put his business card with my collection of business cards. Several years later, I had some health issues that weren’t being addressed, it seemed, through the usual medical route. I had a good job at the time and could afford to pay out-of-pocket for Charles’ treatments. (Insurance does not cover what he does.)
On my first visit, he said he could see the colors of my energy aura. At the beginning of a session, he would ask me if I had pain anywhere, but I soon found out he could already tell exactly where before I would tell him. I went to him from February to June of 2008. In one session he worked on my neck. Afterwards, I was able to turn my head with incredible range of motion. While he was gently stretching my neck (There was no pain in this) I had tears streaming down my face and felt very emotional. It became apparent to me, he was healing more than my physical body. I became aware of how my point-ofview was causing my emotional pain. I was the one causing it. These ideas were not all that new to me because at some point in my past experiences I had realized at some level I was responsible for my own emotions no matter what was going on around me. Now I realize when I hold onto hurt feelings and anger, just to name two emotions that contract the body, I am not present in the form of love to others. Loving relationships do not happen when I am contracted.
I had experienced many miracles during my sessions with Charles and afterwards. That fall, I stopped going for treatments, but started reading books written by Adi Da Samraj, who was Charles’ spiritual master. Through my independent studies, I was beginning to get a basic understanding of the meaning of life and my place in it. I began buying my own books and DVD’s. I bought books for family members, too. I wanted them to have the same experiences and understanding about life that I was having and feeling. Mostly, my family was not that interested and slowly the books have come back to me. I can understand their hesitancy toward a spiritual teacher because none of them have experienced the healing miracles that I have. It is sad to say, but in our era of time, the spirit-teachers amongst us are not recognized. But in a primitive culture on the Island of Naitumba in Fiji Adi Da Samraj was recognized and honored immediately.
In June, I must have sprained my left leg. I had several nights where the pain kept me awake. I went to see Charles. On the drive home from my second session with Charles the same organ music came into my awareness just like it had six years ago on my drives home from his energy treatments. From my readings of Adi Da’s teachings, I interpret the sounds to be spirit-current manifesting for me in the form of organ music. After a session with Charles the spirit-energy in and around my body is very apparent. And as always, the healing that is taking place is both physical and emotional.
There is a love attraction toward a spiritual master. And I actually feel this while I am in his presence and when I am reading Avatar Adi Da Samraj’s books. The necessary task of turning to him becomes a natural healing behavior. A behavior that Jesus and other Adepts have taught. The healing grace that I feel is real, mysterious and life giving.
Sermon “Pointing Toward the Sun,” – Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
More than once, folks around here have told me that I’ve been preaching a lot about Universalism.
To be a little bit more precise I have been using Universalist stories and history to illustrate the topics I’m preaching about. And with good reason.
When the Hiring Team first contacted me in March and I had the chance to meet with them and the board in April, I was told about four goals for the congregation that I would be expected to work toward, the first of which is enhancing the sense of community around here, a task that I took to be about bringing people together in unexpected ways, accompanying all of you through a process of engaging more deeply with one another, pointing out all the places love and joy already exist, encouraging healing of old wounds, and discovering all the ways in which the past affects our future. Ultimately, that sense of community – to me – is rooted in and exemplified by our Universalist history.
A few weeks ago, I told a wonder tale of Hosea Ballou, one of the founding fathers of the Universalist side of our religious family. I call it a wonder tale because it probably wasn’t true, just a story that he had told of being a child and feeling the love of his father, Maturin. No matter how much he played in the mud, no matter how much he broke his promise to his father to stay clean, his father always him. Period. And that image of unconditional love came to be the basis of his theology that no loving God would condemn a person to hell.
Over the centuries following his long ministry, the story became larger than reality, more symbolic, and frankly, more interesting.
Well, Hosea had a distant cousin named Aidin Ballou, a man who was raised in the Six-Principal Baptist faith and grew up to serve the Christian Connexion church, which strove to return to the ways of the “pure” church of the first century after the death of Jesus, which was, perhaps surprisingly to some of you, very Unitarian. The Trinity in those early days of the church simply hadn’t been invented yet.
Chris Walton, editor of UUWorld magazine, describes Aidin Ballou as having become a Universalist minister because he loved to argue with Universalists, including his cousin Hosea. Later on, in 1923, he broke with the Universalists because he was a little more conservative their mainstream. He believed that some souls would be punished by god before being “restored” to a state of forgiven grace, which of course caused quite a stir. So in 1931, he lost his pulpit and became a Unitarian.
By the late 1930’s, Aidin hooked up with a group of people who embraced Christian “nonresistance,” the belief that they must always turn the other cheek.1 Basically, these people were trying to live out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew that includes the Beattitudes. If you don’t know the beatitudes, I’m sure you’ve heard them:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom
These are some pretty tough guidelines to live by. They basically take
everything Christians know about people, and turn those stereotypes on their heads. But it gets better: Jesus says if someone takes your coat, give him all of your clothes; if he slaps you in the face, turn your head and offer him the other cheek to slap; and – perhaps craziest of all – pray for your enemy. In fact, Jesus says love your enemy. It’s easy to love people who love you, but to really be like God, you have to love everyone.
And what’s even crazier is that Aidin Ballou and his friends chose the Sermon on the Mount as their model for a communal life. They didn’t just give away all that they had in order to follow the life and teachings of Jesus. Oh no. They dedicated themselves to observing their human nature, their reactions to everyday occurrences, and doing the exact opposite of what any normal person would do.
Chris Walton writes:
In 1839 they pledged themselves to a “Standard of Practical Christianity”; it was a comprehensive and demanding ideal [in which] they rejected military service, lawsuits, politics, taxes, even voting.
Finding the Standard hard to live in isolation, in 1841 the “practical Christians” established Hopedale, a utopian village in Milford, Massachusetts.
After ten years the village had 200 inhabitants, thirty-one homes, and several businesses. Women participated fully in its civic life. But the experiment came to an end because of too few converts and a fiscal crisis. In 1860, the society was reestablished as a Practical Christian church. Nonresistance was unpopular during the Civil War; by 1861 only thirty-eight members remained.”3
They lived together in their little Utopian village for 20 years. 20 years of doing what was nearly impossible.
It all kind of makes this place, East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, seem pretty easy in comparison.
I gotta tell you that after the weekend we had together, I’m feeling pretty good.
Jason talked a bit earlier, at the end of the announcements, about the work that we did Friday night and for most of the day yesterday. Invitations went out broadly, and response was good.
We started off by deciding what we wanted to do together. There was a strong sentiment in the group that we didn’t need to talk too much about the past, I’m sure rooted in a desire to not dredge up old hurts and disappointments.
But Jason made a great point. “You know when you start dating someone, and you get serious, and you meet their family for the first time?” he asked. Everyone laughed, because we knew where he was going. You look at this new family thinking they’re kind of weird. Then, over time you learn their stories, their history, and then you know why they always have the same argument over something as silly as why there is pudding on the table instead of Jell-O.
It made sense to everyone.
When we were broken into groups to share our own experiences of what we heard about East Shore when we joined, what we learned about it afterward, and the unanswered questions we still have about who we are and how we came to be, there was a lot of openness and laughter. As groups of people who’ve been in the congregation for similar amounts of time reported back to one another, there was a conviviality that was kind of infectious, even as the questions went unanswered; questions like:
Why is Graystone – the building East Shore occupied before building this facility – so important to our narrative? Why did we move? And why are so many walls here white?
Why are there differences between the long-timers and the short-timers? Long-timers being the people who worshiped at Graystone. I think someone referred to them as the “stoners” and “shorters.” And what can we do to close that gap?
What is the Fahr fund? And, who were the Fahrs?
Why did past ministers leave, and why were they called in the first place?
The people who’ve been around the longest, 30+ years, had some of the juiciest questions:
What is our mission, and why don’t we know it?
How do we rekindle the fun that we used to have?
Why do we look beyond our congregation to be of service, when there is so much need among us?
And, why don’t we connect more with other UU churches in our district? Or non-UU churches right here in Kirtland?
People who’ve been around for only a few years were still confused, and people who’ve been around for 20, 30, or more years, I‘m sure were shaking their heads thinking, “where on earth did you get that idea?”
We then wrote on post-it notes, which are still on the wall. On the yellow, we answered the question, what from the past would you like to leave behind? Pink, what would you like to keep? And Blue, what do you hope for in five years?
Whether or not you were here on Friday night, take a look at them as soon as you can.
Yesterday, as the leadership of the church – basically anyone on the Board, the Committee on Ministry, or any Committees – talked about the goals for the next year, something happened that would have surprised me on Friday night: just about everyone present “voted” for exploring our past and sharing our stories as a high priority for the coming year.
It turns out, that’s where the curiosity is. And we learned in that circle yesterday that we can talk about it without poking old wounds or dredging up stuff that should have stayed buried. There’s enough love and respect and commitment among you that we can learn from the past and change our future, and actually have a lot of fun in the process. Maybe, just maybe, the work is a big part of the fun.
If you look at the pink notes over there of things we’d like to keep, divided roughly into categories, you’ll see that the biggest categories have to do with our bond of union and caring for one another, acknowledging that our resiliency comes from our diversity.
Think about what we recited together this morning, the reading from Temple Beth El in Sudbury, Massachusetts, just 25 miles North of the Hopedale Community. Do you actually believe every word that you read? That a Holy One kept anyone alive? Or that the commandments came from that entity? There’s a really good chance that you don’t, and still…you read those words together. Not because everyone believes them completely, but because I asked you to, in deference to those among us whose heritage includes lighting a menorah at this time of year.
I would never light a menorah during worship. It would feel inauthentic. Disrespectful. An act of blatant cultural misappropriation. But, the menorah speaks of hope….hope that the miracle of the past, no matter how distant or improbable, could have happened.
The menorah speaks of seeing one another for who we are, complete with our ancestries and histories, the stories that our people have told one another for generations, the stories that make us who we are.
And that’s the beauty of Adi Da’s Universal Prayer. It’s a reminder that having a broken heart, a heart that has been wounded and healed, is what allows us to see the world honestly, in its complex glory, and be healers ourselves.
It’s a phenomenon that Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest, professor and writer called the wounded healer. When we tend to our wounds, and allow ourselves to heal from them, we emerge from the process stronger, able to be present to the wounds of others without getting re-injured in the process. But when we don’t heal, we are the walking wounded, actually inflicting more pain on others.4 The only way we heal though, is not by sweeping the pain under the rug, but by engaging with it, making meaning of it.
As Howard Zinn pointed out, humanity is packed with stories of cruelty…cruelty that continues today. But there is also compassion and kindness.
By taking the time to look at our past, not with an eye to assigning blame or drawing lines of division, but rather to make meaning of it, we get to see the places where people have behaved magnificently and use their stories as inspiration. And we get to see where we have all fallen short, and together figure out what we learned in the process and how to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Zinn reminds us that we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future….that really the present is made up of a succession of gifts from the past. Even if they don’t look like gifts.
And for me, that’s our lesson from Nancy’s reflection this morning. Through her work with Charles, she became aware of how her point of view was causing her emotional pain…which in turn caused her physical pain. By taking the time to understand and gain meaning from her own experiences, she realized in a more tangible way than she ever had before how much control she actually has over her own life. She knows she doesn’t have control over her surroundings or over other people, but she can affect her own responses by engaging in the work, rather than ignoring the pain.
In the process of healing, Nancy found a spirituality that was new to her, one that she approached with curiosity and interest. It’s one that might not be shared by everyone here, but it works for her, and we all benefit from it as she finds more meaning in her life and in her relationships. Our connection to her transcends that or any other creed, as we walk together in our differences.
So as we move through the solstice and toward more light, into a new calendar year, and the sixtieth year of our existence as a church, may we remember that our task is not as great as the task of Aidin Ballou and the Hopedale Community. We don’t have to live by an impossible standard of purity and perfection. All we have to do is show up and engage in the work that is right in front of us, without sweeping it under the rug. The lessons of our past are right in front of us, in the form of stories waiting to be told.
As we share these stories, may we keep our faces pointing toward the sun, and our feet moving forward.
Special Music Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, (Dick Jackson)
Christopher Walton. “Aidin Ballou: Practical Utopian.” UUWorld magazine, April, 2003. http://www.uuworld.org/2003/04/lookingback.html
Matthew, Chapter 5. English Standard Version.
Henri Nouwen. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Image Books. New York, NY 1979.