Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

September 13, 2015: “Shaping Our Souls”

Homily “Shaping Our Souls,” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Have you ever noticed clouds in a brilliant azure blue sky on a gorgeous day? Of course you have! They’re so fluffy and light, white, with a little gray in them. How can you see them and not feel happy, buoyant?

And when you see images of angels in heaven, the clouds they glide on are lighter than cotton balls. I say lighter, because they float in the air like balloons, all misty on the edges.

But. I’m curious. Does anybody know how much a cloud weighs?

According to scientist Peggy LeMone at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the average cloud weighs 1.1 MILLION pounds! (1)

I know it’s hard to image what 1.1 million pounds is exactly, so imagine a huge herd of 100 adult elephants lashed together, drifting above your head in all that azure-ness.

1.1 million pounds is the equivalent of 361 Toyota Priuses. With no passengers. And empty gas tanks!

Now, I don’t want to guess how much any of you weigh, so I’ll say this: it would take 6,918 of ME to weigh 1.1 as much as the average cloud. That’s more than 6900 Rev Denis floating above you.

So, how can cloud weigh so much? Well, because a cloud is made up of water, and water weighs about 8.3 pounds per gallon.

WATER CAN TAKE ANY FORM. It can be liquid, the way it is here today.

It can be solid, like the ice cubes you find in your Arnold Palmer. It can be steam from a tea kettle. It can be condensation, the sweat on the outside of that lemonade glass. The mistiness that makes up clouds.

It can be sweat on a person, the result of hard, physical work.

It can be tears. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow. Tears of frustration or loss.

Water can take any shape.

A cloud can remind you of a pony … or Abe Lincoln, with a stovepipe hat and a beard with no mustache. Any water will take the shape of any vessel you put it in. Like this vase. Or, it can look like a big cotton blanket wrapping the hills of San Francisco California, or Quito Ecuador.

Water is powerful.

It changes the shape of things. It can cut through stone to create great chasms in the landscape, like the Colorado River slicing rapidly through the Grand Canyon, or the Cuyahoga River meandering slowly through downtown Cleveland.

Water is awfully resilient and adaptable. No matter what you do to it, it may change forms, it may even evaporate into the atmosphere, but it never goes away.

And we are made up mostly of water. Each one of us is about 60% water! So, what does that say about us? Maybe the fact that we are made up of so much water explains why we are so adaptable. I know. Sometimes it seems impossible, but humans are amazingly resilient.

Over the last 20,000 years or so, we’ve evolved from more than a dozen different hominids, and we keep learning more and more about the remarkable ways in which our ancestors evolved. In fact, just a few days ago The University of Witwatersrand, in collaboration with National Geographic, announced the discovery in South Africa of an early human ancestor they call Homo naledi. (2)

And as individuals, we can survive most anything.

We may shed some of those tears, or sweat up a storm in the process, but we usually make it through any loss, any challenge. Because we have each other to rely on.

Water is absolutely essential to life…every known living complex organism has water in it, and every single one of them needs water, even just the tiniest bit, to survive.

So, water is sacred. It’s at the core of life.

It’s been regarded with great respect and even reverence by cultures and traditions across the globe, across time. That’s why we protect it and preserve it by doing things like cleaning our beaches – the way we will at Mentor Headlands on September 26. That’s why water is used in religious ceremonies like baptisms and the water communion we celebrate to day, as we do every September.

You may not know this, but each month we have a theme for worship here at East Shore, a religious or spiritual topic the Worship Arts Team uses to create cohesion in the services we lead, a theme that we can all explore together, going deeper together. This month our theme is Vocation and Calling.

There’s actually a difference between vocation and calling. They are not exactly synonyms.

Vocation is a gift you have, a gift that you were probably born with, that was hopefully nurtured in you as a child growing up. A gift for music or healing or poetry, if you’re lucky, can turn into a job that you love and get paid to do. Or maybe your gift is a hobby, the kind of thing that helps you recharge your batteries and feel good about yourself and your life so you can continue to do the work that pays you.

Vocation comes from within.

But a calling is a strong urge toward a particular kind of work that serves something larger than yourself. Maybe your skill with music and song leads you to become a singer and songwriter, but it’s a calling that makes you into the kind of singer/songwriter who seeks to make a difference in the world. Someone like Pete Seeger or Nina Simone. The world needs your gift, and you can’t deny it.

Callings don’t even have to be born out of gifts. When I first started paying attention to my calling to ministry, I had almost none of the skills expected of a minister. I knew nothing of world religions, nothing of UU history, and I was terrified to speak in public! Seriously. The first time I spoke in front of a large group, I almost threw up. But I knew that if I just had faith in myself and the future, I would learn everything I needed to know along the way. I just had to move toward that future.

Calling comes from outside of yourself.

You hear a calling deep within you. And it usually arises from the vocation you already have, but it moves you toward something else. Something bigger than yourself. Something important that can change the world, even if only in a small way. And that calling can become its own new vocation.

Vocation is given shape and purpose by a calling, which molds it into something else.

That’s the way it was for Jeremy Gilley, the guy Halcyon talked about. He had a vocation in acting. Okay, he may not have been the greatest actor in the world, a household name making millions of dollars, but he honed his craft.

His calling though, was to create a day of peace across the globe, a universal day of cease-fire when families in war-torn regions would move about without fear. A day when humanitarian workers could distribute water or mosquito nets. A day when children could see and hear and feel what it’s like to have peace…if only for day.

Jeremy Gilley had a craft, making films, that allowed him to follow his calling in a unique way, thereby making a little difference in the world.

His vocation was given shape and purpose by his calling, which molded it into Pinwheels for Peace.

The same way the water you brought today will merge with the water other people have brought. They merge together, they become one water which takes the shape of the container we put it all in.

The water represents our best intentions for how we will be together in the coming year. The water, represents our callings, which give shape to our vocations.

So as we listen to the Anthem, Song of the River, I’d like to ask you to think about what your skill is, and how you can use it to answer a calling from your community. A calling from this church.

What do you feel called to do here in the coming year? What is the urge you have toward work you will do here this year?

In other words, what is the gift you will bring, and how will it serve the community?

Water Communion (Rev Denis and Halcyon)

Ministry is kind of a big calling. I’ve dedicated my life to serving Humanity, the earth, Unitarian Universalism, the congregation, and every single person who makes up this church.

But every year, I also get little callings. The ways in which I’m pulled toward doing something else with my gifts. The world, and this congregation urges me toward doing something a little differently.

This year, I am called to do more inviting. With this water from the Cuyahogo River, I pledge myself to not do things alone, but to invite all of you to join me.

(Pour the water)

And I am going to start right here. By putting on these high heels as inviting you to join me and the Beacon Boys on September 24, as we Walk a Mile in Her Shoes to draw attention to the huge problem of violence against women.


Along with Ian and Justin and Jason and Pat, I am going to wear these shoes in solidarity with all women, just as I’ve worn this robe since my ordination. And, If I can raise $1,000 for the Domestic Violence and Childrens Advocacy Center, I’ll forego these comfy heels and wear these crazy heels!

You with me? You’re all invited to join the Beacon Boys by walking with us, donating to the cause, or showing up to lend your support. And if I’m wearing these crazy heels, to administer first aid.

See me after the service if you’d like to accept the invitation.


Now, I’d like to invite all of you to come forward, as Halcyon directs you section by section, to pour your water into the vessel and briefly share with us what it is that you are called to do.

[Beacon Boys go last]

May this water be infused with the love of this church. 
May our own bodies, filled with rivers of breath, 
Be so filled with life-energy, with wellness, 
To carry us through our days. 
May our home, this blue-green planet, 
With its mountains and seas and ice caps, 
Be held in sacred keeping, blessed through our stewardship and care, 
As we strive to bring our gifts to this beloved community.

May we also take this time to remember those whose joys and sorrows have been recorded into this book, with hopes for our prayers and good thoughts:

[read from the book]

This week, we recognized the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Thousands died that day, and an unknown number have died since from health complications that began after those events. We pray for peace. We pray for healing. We pray for comfort for the survivors, the families of the dead, and to those emotionally affected across this country.

And a tragic construction accident at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, left 107 dead and 238 injured as they prepared for Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the birthplace of Islam.

Let us take a moment of silence, in honor of these joys and cares, and all the ones that remain in the quiet recesses of our hearts.

[One minute of silence]

May it be so.


(2) Paul HGM Dirks et. al. “Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa.”