If you’ve ever accompanied someone so spiritually depleted they have no hope left for themselves or the world, you know how important your presence can be. It can actually be awe-inspiring. The seemingly small act of holding the hope for another person can heal not only that person, but the whole world.
“Holding the Hope”
East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church
December 15, 2019
Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul with Ruth Troup and Diana Jackson
Monthly Theme: Awe
Guest musician Bio, to be printed in the order of service: Fern Jennings
Sounding of the Singing Bowl ( Rev Denis)
Welcome Marten Schreiber
The solstice is coming up Saturday, so let’s rise in anticipation, as we are able,
and open our hymnals to#345 With Joy We Claim the Growing Light. Since it’s short, let’s sing this a couple times.
With joy we claim the growing light, advancing thought, and widening view, the larger freedom, clearer sight, which from the old unfold the new.
With wider view, come loftier goal; with fuller light, more good to see; with freedom, truer self-control; with knowledge, deeper reverence be.
Call to Worship Rev. Denis
On Thursday morning, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of our Unitarian Universalist Association, sent out her holiday greetings — in print and on video. I’d like to share with you part of what she said:
“The winter season is a time of quiet reflection, of candlelight, of storytelling and rituals that invite us to hold the realities of sacrifice and community, of hardship and hope.”
“When my hope is waning, I hold on to the rituals that root me in my faith. Winter is a time where many Unitarian Universalist source traditions honor stories of resilient hope – whether it is the story of the Maccabean revolt and the miracle of the faith of the people who lit the lamp knowing there was not enough oil; or the story of a family and a mother forced to leave their home when they were so near to delivering their child.
“As Unitarians Universalists, we tell the stories of our ancestors and our history to fortify us and remember we are not the first to struggle and risk, to hope and love. I believe that as we light candles, sing songs, and recall the stories of our sacred texts,
we are teaching our hearts and our bodies how to hold on to the same resilience that has saved people from disconnection and despair for centuries.
“Our work as people of faith is to oxygenate the imaginations that remind us of how love binds us all, imaginations that call us to tend to the care of each other – that remind us there is more possibility in this life for justice, for interconnectedness, for abundance – and for the shared good if we let that guide our actions, our spirits, and our commitments.”
And so, we gather here today, in the shelter of our Beacon, to worship… to give shape and meaning to our lives. We gather in order to make the effort to not just see sacrifice and community, hardship and Hope, but to bear witness to them in others, and to experience them with awe. Reverence.
Ruth and Diana, would you do us the honor of lighting our chalice? This is the most important ritual we share with Unitarian Universalists across the nation: We light a flame of commitment within a chalice of covenant.
Chalice Lighting Ruth Troup and Diana Jackson
(One reads and the other lights the chalice)
These are the words of Ben Soule
As the crackling cold air stops our breath, so does the radiant flame draw from us
the words we need to give and to receive.
Let us gaze upon this, our common flame, so that we remember who we are and what we can do when we are together.
Joys and Cares (Rev Denis)
When you came in this morning….
Take a moment now to settle yourself. Really feel yourself in your seat. Feel your feet no the floor if you can. Notice your breath and your general being as we draw our attention to the joys and cares shared in this book. [Read]
We acknowledge all those among us who are struggling right now, during this holiday season when so much is expected of us. May we have the inner strength to be present with our loneliness, and the courage to reach out to our friends and neighbors for companionship.
We hold in our hearts this morning the 47 people who were on the volcanic White Island in New Zealand this week when it erupted. We are especially mindful of the 16 found dead so far, their families and the others who escaped with horrible burns.
For these, and all the joys and cares that remain unspoken in the quiet of our hearts, we observe a moment of silent meditation.
[Two minutes. Chime. Invite.]
The universe was brought forth by an inexhaustible creative power. It pours out torrents of energy still. Awesome and wondrous and mysterious, it is the source of our being.
Matter was formed out of chaos. Time passed, time beyond imagining; matter crossed a boundary and became life. Time passed, and life gave birth to – us!
Our universe is being formed at every moment. We too are not yet grown to full height. But ours is a special gift, for a special task: to help in our own shaping. For we were made to be free: free to love or to hate, free to destroy or to create.
We are like mountain climbers on a perilous ascent. Often we stumble; sometimes it seems we may dash ourselves on the rocks below. But there is hope, for dimly we have seen a vision, and felt a presence, and faintly heard a voice not ours.
The blazing stars, particles too small to see, the smile of children, the eyes of lovers, melody filling the soul, a flood of joy surprising the heart, mystery at the core of the plainest things – all tell us that we are not alone.
They open our eyes to the vision that steadies and sustains us.
From Gates of Prayer, A Jewish Prayerbook
Personal Reflection “Shining a Light” Diana Jackson
Reading Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
Our reading this morning is by Alain de Botton, the author of Religion for Atheists. This is from the introduction to his 2009 book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.
“For thousands of years, it had been nature–and its supposed creator–that had had a monopoly on awe. It had been the icecaps, the deserts, the volcanoes and the glaciers that had given us a sense of finitude and limitation and had elicited a feeling in which fear and respect coagulated into a strangely pleasing feeling of humility, a feeling which the philosophers of the eighteenth century had famously termed the sublime.
“But then had come a transformation to which we were still the heirs…. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the dominant catalyst for that feeling of the sublime had ceased to be nature. We were now deep in the era of the technological sublime, when awe could most powerfully be invoked not by forests or icebergs but by supercomputers, rockets and particle accelerators. We were now almost exclusively amazed by ourselves.”
Homily “Holding the Hope” Rev Denis Letourneau Paul
Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray’s holiday message couldn’t have come at a better time.
We’re only 17 days away from 2020. If the events of the last few months are any indicator, it will be a year filled with more urgency and vitriol than any year we are likely to experience in any of our lifetimes.
And right on the heels of the ancient holiday of Chalica, her message is a reminder that traditions are important not just because they have been observed for generations before us, by ancestor who have struggled and risked and hoped and loved. Traditions are important because we make them important, by imbuing them with the capacity to help us find meaning in our lives and in our relationships.
Traditions help us connect to a sense of wonder and awe.
As Alain de Botton said in our reading, awe used to be completely different for humans. Without the security and the distractions of our technologies, it was easier for the ancients to be humbled by the world around them. They were at risk of being eliminated at any moment by those icecaps and glaciers, deserts and volcanoes.
And then they learned to build shelters to keep them safe, and as their scientific knowledge expanded, so did their structures.
But the structures couldn’t make them happy then, any more than they can now. Sure, it’s a little easier to feel happy when you are safe, but it’s no guarantee.
Reverend Frederick-Gray also said in her message, in a part I didn’t read earlier, that “This season is a time of both joy and sorrow.”
She said “The holidays make me think of loved ones who hold me in love and care in the present, and of loved ones I’ve lost along the way. Many of us soak in laughter and love from family and friends, but that doesn’t mean that the holidays can’t be a time where we’re also hurting, feeling lonely, or feeling simply exhausted by the thought of another year of pain and struggle. I know that these are difficult and dangerous times, I am concerned for the future of our country. If I am honest, a feeling of despair often arises in my heart and consciousness.”
That’s why in her message she shared her suggestion for holding the hope — being in relationship with other people as a reminder of everything good in our lives and the possibilities that really do exist for our future together. That’s a great suggestion.
Basically, reaching out to the people who actually value us. Reaching out to people we respect and value.
It’s a really great suggestion, isn’t it? If you are the kind of person who is generally resilient, and well resourced, not prone to depression, it a fabulous suggestion. Remember who it is that really matters and why. It’s a great formula if you’re experiencing a bit of seasonal blues.
But sometimes, it takes more than that. Sometimes, we just don’t have any hope to hold on to.
So, what do we do, when the people we love, or the people we share company with, can no longer hold onto the hope? You know what I mean? How do we support people when they’re really having a tough time remembering what the value is in life? When they find themselves unable to find any possibility for good?
I don’t want to imply that any of us should be personally responsible for “fixing” anyone. Nobody can make anybody else do or feel anything that they don’t want to do or feel. We can’t force anybody else see life through more cheerful lenses. And we all know that often the greatest desperation can be very effectively masked. All we can do is be present to those around whose needs are visible.
But how? How can we be present to anyone who has lost hope? How can we be present in a way that is even a bit effective, if only temporarily?
Rosemary Chinicci is a Catholic nun, a member of the very liberal order of the Sisters of Loretto, and she also happens to have a been a teacher of pastoral care at Starr King School for the ministry, one of our two UU seminaries.
One day, she was talking about the role of pastoral care giving, which she described as being present, bearing witness to joy and suffering, and holding the hope when necessary. UUs.
We can be so concrete sometimes, can’t we? A bunch of us stared at her, blinking, not really knowing what she meant, but wanting to look like we were picking up what she was putting down.
There was a long silence.
Finally someone asked timidly “what do you mean by holding the hope?” Another person repeated the phrase “holding the hope,” like it was an accusation. Rosemary just looked around the circle … at each face … one after the other …Really seeing each person …until she got halfway across the circle. She got up, walked across the room, asked a person to move, then took his seat and looked at the woman next to her and asked “how are you?”
The woman smiled cheerfully and said “Fine. How are you?”
Rosemary just continued looking at her gently and said “No. Really. How are you?”
This woman burst into tears. Her crying turned into sobbing as her shoulders heaved, and she tried to hide her face.
Rosemary didn’t try to fix anything. She didn’t try to convince my classmate that there was a so much to be grateful for. She didn’t tell her to buck up, or insist that she needed to be a better model of ministerial presence. She didn’t give her that “I know, I know” look or pat her hand, or offer a hug, or try to crack a joke to lighten the mood.
Rosemary just sat there as this woman cried herself out. Rosemary offered tissues, but otherwise never moved, never even took her eyes off this woman. Rosemary held her close without ever touching her.
She sheltered her. She provided a place of compassion In her presence.
Rosemary wasn’t a soothesayer or a mind reader, she just paid attention to each us, really saw those who were in need, in big and small ways in that moment.
And that …. That is what we are called to do as people of Unitarian Universalist faith, people who believe in the power of the promises we make to each other, and the primacy of the human experience as we figure out what life is all about.
We are called to shelter one another. Not just one another, gathered here right not, but everyone out there who seeks accompaniment.
I talk a lot about how this Beacon of Light and Hope. We begin just about every Sunday by talking about how and why we gather under it, and name what it is that we are worshiping.
In case you’ve missed it, we are giving shape to the commitment we make to each other and the world — and maybe even that which many call god — to create more love, more compassion, more justice and democracy and opportunities for learning, as we celebrate the individual’s incredible worth and dignity and foster humility as tiny, tiny points in the ever-expanding interconnected web of all existence.
In other words, we are balancing the tension between our first and seventh principles. We are celebrating the incredible dignity and worth of every single individual and taking responsibility for the well being of everything and everyone on our planet because we are profoundly, elementally interdependent.
Our building, this place that I like to call The Beacon, allows us to do that.
This Beacon shines out to the world to welcome in anyone seeking comfort or solace. Our Beacon announces to the world our intentions of making peace and justice, and our desire to hold the hope for anyone who can no longer do it alone. And our Beacon shines the light of the universe, the light that will always return, day after day, down into our space. It allows us to bask in the beautiful, vitamin D-filled light of the sun to nurture and support us.
It’s not just here in this sanctuary. All of our rooms contain the compassion of the lives of those of us doing the work. The Chapel. The community room. The classrooms we call Love, Revere, Discover and Connect, as physical and spatial manifestations of our mission.
This building really is incredible in so many ways.
All the large windows let us not only enjoy the world outside as we worship it, they allow everyone to see in at what we are doing. We aren’t engaged in secret rituals.
While the building has a face directed at Chillicothe Road, there is no “front,” per se. The main doors open from two directions, east and west, as a reminder that there is no one right direction, single way to approach the work we do. The roof is long and low, with broad overhangs that keep the damaging water and ice away from the walls that protect the interior. The overhangs provide cooling shade in the summertime, but draw in light in the winter when the sun is low.
It’s a complicated roof. A symbol of the complexity of this work we do of providing shelter. Everyone’s needs are a little different, and the different shapes, the nooks and crannies, valleys and peaks, remind us of that.
This space we are in, the sanctuary, is broad and flexible, allowing our history and theology and polity to be reflected in the way we arrange ourselves when we gather to sing and celebrate in worship. We aren’t stuck in fixed front-facing pews, uncomfortable reminders that we are not in control. We can face each other, as equal and active participants in this work of Holding the Hope, manifest in the stones we put in the altar in the center of this space every Sunday.
And this ceiling. You gotta love this ceiling, with its exposed structure, the integrity of its lightness, with nothing to hide. Because of the low walls and the high pyramidal peak with changing roof pitches, it has the uncanny ability to both hold us low, rooted to the ground, and allow our hearts and imaginations to soar toward the sky.
Have you ever noticed the floor plan of the building, the shape of it, if you were to see it from above? It’s basically three wings, all at angles to each other, so that when you are outdoors, approaching it from just about any direction, it’s coming in toward you on both sides. It’s as if the building is enveloping you in a big, loving, welcoming hug, a reminder that this is home. And if it’s your first time here, the shape of the building is an invitation to come in and stay. To let this place and its people nurture your soul.
I’ve said a million times that nobody has ever woken up on a Sunday morning and thought “there’s a church nearby that needs my money. My life is perfect, and I am feeling generous. I think I’ll go.”
People come to a house of worship like this because they have a need. A need for connection. A need to making meaning of their lives. A need for help answering all the tough questions their kids are asking.
Sometimes, those needs are more urgent. Sometimes, people show up needing us to hold the hope for them when they can’t, they way Sister Rosemary did. We couldn’t do any of that, we couldn’t be any of that, for ourselves or the people who seek us out, without this building.
I know that each of us, in our own way, seeks to find humbling awe in the natural world. In these days of very real climate change and its devastating effects, it’s impossible to not feel that mix of fear and respect for our world. But in some cases, especially in this case, I think this building — this place that helps us “Hold the Hope” — is worthy of a little awe. (End)
Reflection “Mondogreen” Ruth Troup
My answer to the question “Why do I keep coming to East Shore?” has changed over time. I started attending to get my stepsons some religious education and then continued with spiritual exploration for myself. Over my 30 years here the answer has become because of the community. My life is richer and fuller for the connections and exposure to other thoughts and viewpoints that I have found here.
Within this church, I have experienced the creativity generated by a group or a committee. I’m enchanted by the process where we go from floundering around to having something take shape from those miscellaneous bits. Let me share an example.
Raise your hand if you know what a mondegreen is. Let me say that before last week, I had no idea what a mondegreen was. Then Rev Denis supplied this word, mondegreen, and it applied exactly to what we were talking about. A mondegreen is a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. The word was coined in the mid-1950s by author Sylvia Wright who, as a child, had heard a Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl of Murray” and believed that one stanza went like this:
Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual words were “laid him on the green” but young Sylvia heard it differently: Lady Mondegreen. A Christmas example of a mondegreen would be The Good King wants his applesauce for the feast this evening.
When the Capital Campaign committee met a few weeks ago, we were tossing around ideas for a campaign theme. There were five of us including Diana Jackson, Rev. Denis, and myself. We talked about many things – dream home, Holding the Hope, high maintenance, ice dams on the roof, Spirit of Life. Diana told us that Mike Sievers (a former Finance Chair) thought for a good while that the line in Spirit of Life was “Ruth hold me close”. Rev Denis said “Roof hold me close?” and we laughed. That laughter was the springboard to our capital campaign theme. Rev Denis quickly wrote the Ode to the Beacon also known as Roof Hold Me Close, the final shape of those various bits. Naturally, it would be part of the kick-off service.
Some of you know about East Shore’s history with songs being parodied for fundraising activities or roasting an outgoing minister. The Rev Bruce Clary holds the record for his complete re-write of three Broadway musicals for the entertainment portion of the Stewardship Dinner. One of these included his version of The Music Man with Professor Sheryl Shill (that was me). Rev Denis’ Ode to the Beacon is the latest musical parody installment – light-hearted with nuggets of truth.
Everything was ready to go; the brochure was back from the printers and then an issue popped up. It turns out that Carolyn McDade, the composer of Spirit of Life, is on record voicing strong objections to her copyrighted song being amended. In a related matter, the UU Musicians Network is currently in a confrontation with the UUA over not being compensated fairly – to the point that the Network is boycotting the 2020 General Assembly. Tensions have escalated.
What does that have to do with us? While there is a fair use exception for copywritten material that would apply for Ode to the Beacon, in this time of instant communication, we decided to sidestep a potential social media battle with McDade’s supporters within the Musician’s Network. So, we won’t be singing Ode to the Beacon today; just know that it was inspired by Spirit of Life and hum any tune that comes to mind when you read the words.
People may wonder ‘Why have a capital campaign now?’ The short answer is that our 20-year-old building, our Beacon of Hope, is in need of big-ticket maintenance and repair. The roof and siding need attention, the parking lot is also on the list. Our goal for this campaign is $200,000. It would be paid over 3 years starting in July of 2020 and finishing in June 2023.
We have pledge packets for each household today. Inside the packet you will find a letter from me, a FAQ page, a pledge card to be returned by Dec 29 plus an envelope and a brochure. The brochure tells a story and has helpful information like a giving chart showing how we can reach our $200,000 goal and possible ways to fulfill your pledge.
We would like to have the pledging portion of the Capital Campaign completed well before the 2020 Annual Stewardship activities. While Unitarians Universalists don’t believe in eternal damnation for sinners, as humans, we still feel guilty when we procrastinate. Lighten your load: turn your pledge card in before December 29.
Immediately after the service today is our complimentary Capital Campaign Kick-off brunch. We have breakfast casseroles for vegetarians, carnivores, and a gluten-free option. We hope you all will join us. Please take a moment to pick up your pledge packet from the table by the door. Enjoy some food with your community. Maybe you can talk about how we can keep our Beacon of Hope lasting for another 20 years.
Hymn #226 People, Look East
People, look east. The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make you house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People look east: Love, the Guest, is on the way.
Furrows , be glad. Though earth is bare, one more seed is planted there. Give up your strength the seed to nourish, that in course the flower may flourish.
People look east: Love, the Rose, is on the way.
Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim, one more light the bowl shall brim, shining beyond the frosty weather, bright as sun and moon together. People look east: Love, the Star, is on the way.
Offering of Gifts (Rev Denis) WomanSafe
Please Join the choir in singing #368 Now Let Us Sing. You might not even have to open your hymnal.
Offertory Hymn “#368 Now Let Us Sing”
Low Voices: High Voices:
Now let us sing, sing, sing, sing. Sing to the power of the faith within.
Now let us sing, sing, sing, sing. Sing to the power of the faith within.
Lift up your voice, Lift up your voice,
be not afraid; be not afraid;
now let us
sing to the power of the faith within sing to the power of the faith within
Benediction (Rev Denis)
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote
“Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin. …
Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a marketplace for you.”
Let us go now, into this holiday season and this capital campaign with the awareness that our thoughts and our creativity and our resources are more than just intellectual and monetary property we have exclusive rights to.
Let us bask in our own sense of wonder, willing to give. And willing to receive.
- Today, stay for brunch
- At 12:15 there’s a social justice council meeting in the community room
- Wednesday night a Membership committee meeting
- Thursday Circle of Mom
- Saturday morning at 10 the Great East Shore Cookie Bake Off. Bring ingredients for any kind of crispy, chewy or soft handheld back to enjoy after the Christmas Eve Candlelight service, which will be at 6pm on Tuesday the 24th.
- And I hope you are planning on being here for the Roaring 20’s themed New Year’s Eve Party. I’ve heard that dancing is going to be the thing. The Charleston, the Jitterbug and Skanking. Yep. Something for all ages, and if you don’t know how to do these dances, someone can teach you. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
- I also want to let you know that my schedule is going to be a bit different than had been planned back in April, the schedule that is published online. It’s usually three-weeks-on, one-week-off, like clockwork, the perfect 3/4 time calendar. But last week, upon reflection, I realized it could never work out to be away the week before Christmas. There is just too much to do. So, instead of being off this week, I’ll be off from Christmas to New Years. Either week, you can reach me by cell phone. Remember if I’m away, I generally don’t look at emails.
Bond of Union — Church Covenant (Rev Denis)
We join hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, pledging ourselves to an individual religious freedom, which transcends all creeds, not to think alike but to journey together.
Extinguishing the Chalice (Rev Denis)