Sermons 2022-23

Both Sides

Both Sides

Rev. Douglas Taylor

May 21, 2023

Sermon video:

Joni Mitchell’s music has had a big impact on my growing up. I appreciate our choir bringing one of her songs to us this morning. This song, “Both Sides Now” captures the wistful and nuanced layers of growing up, the disillusionment, and reimagining that can happen with adolescence and adulthood.

In the song, she opens with the early, romantic imaginings about life and love. Then she unpacks the jarring realities often discovered about pain and loss – the disillusionment; the sadness of it all that can lead a person to become jaded. But then, with a twist, she reflects back on it all and chooses the romantic options anyway, saying she really doesn’t know life or love at all.

Joni’s strength as a songwriter is not limited to her lyrics – but her lyrics are certainly a key component to her work. She lays such beauty out before us, showing the highs and lows of living with such poignancy.

Many of her songs have this layer of poignancy, a sorrowful yearning. In our reading this morning from the book Bittersweet by Susan Cain, we heard about how creativity is often linked with a certain sadness or melancholy. The piece we heard from the book began with the question: “Is creativity associated with sorrow and longing, through some mysterious force?”

At other points in that chapter, Cain writes about Beethoven and what he went through creating his 9th Symphony and particularly the section we know as the “Ode to Joy” – a piece of work so exultant and yet laced with sorrow. The author also wrote about the life of Leonard Cohan, the artist most associated with the song “Hallelujah” and whose life is certainly an example of a ‘broken hallelujah’ in many ways. Is the melancholy suffering a required cost for this level of phenomenal creativity?

Cain is quick to assure readers on this point. It is not so much suffering that is required so much as a bittersweet disposition.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of viewing darkness as the sole or even primary catalyst to creativity. [Cain writes early in the book] After all, plenty of creatives are sanguine types. And studies also show that flashes of insight are more likely to happen when we’re in a good mood. We also know that clinical depression – which we might think of as an emotional black hole obliterating all light – kills creativity. As Columbia University psychiatry professor Philip Muskin told The Atlantic magazine, “Creative people are not creative when they’re depressed.” (Cian, Bittersweet, p60)

The image of creative people as tortured souls simply is not accurate. And it is not what this book, Bittersweet, is about. I think it is more accurate to say creativity is less about sorrow and suffering and more closely linked to yearning tinged with a sadness – the sadness seems to be a necessary component, but not sufficient on its own. Susan Cain did not, after all, title her book ‘bitter.’

In her book, Cain is exploring the concept of ‘bittersweet’ as an experience and perspective. And this is not just about creative artists, it’s about all people. All of us experience grief and sorrow, loss and pain. The experience of the bittersweet is an acknowledgement of that sorrow and pain. But the goal is not to be sad. The goal is to take life whole. To allow sorrow a full share, but not the whole share.

In the Jewish book of wisdom, Kohelet – also known as Ecclesiastes – we hear that our lives are filled with beginnings and endings, with gathering and casting away, with breaking down and building up, with dancing and with mourning “and a time for every purpose under heaven.” Kohelet, like Susan Cain in her book about the bittersweet, calling us to take life whole, to not refuse portions because they are hard or laced with sorrow.

As Unitarian Universalists, we have this practice of sharing our joys and sorrows most Sundays. It is a common enough ritual among us as to be recognizable if you’ve been to other UU congregations. We invite you, share the ups and downs of your living – to recognize these happy and sad experiences as important and worthy of sharing in our worship together. One piece of the ritual I honor is that we don’t parse out the joys from the sorrows – they are all mixed together. It can be jarring to hear about a death or a grief and then swiftly move on to hear about a birthday or recovery. And occasionally someone will offer something that is both a joy and a sorrow. It is best to not draw to fine a distinction. It is best to allow all of the joys and sorrows to sit beside each other, jostling for attention and care. Because this is how life really is.

My point, Susan Cain’s point, Joni Mitchell’s point, the point of the author of Ecclesiastes is simply this: Sorrow should not be sequestered away as if it is something shameful. It is part of our living and indeed may opening us up to some of the more remarkable aspects of our living. In our sorrow, we reveal our compassion. I am, this morning, not offering an ode to sorrow. Instead, I am saying our sorrow is the signal that we care.

Consider: we have days of light and days of clouds. We live in the shadow of our losses and the bright light of new love. We all have both light and shadow. It is the way of nature and all life. It is the light we want, the joy we share with others; but sorrow and shadow are present as well. If we only see the clouds and shadows as negative, we are missing an important part of what is happening.

Think for a moment about the times you have seen sunlight, actually seen a ray of sunshine. Perhaps it was a photograph or an experience while out in nature. Can you recall? When the light shines out through a cloud bank or breaks through the trees or shines in the early morning through the window across the dust of your room; and you actually see the ray of sunlight? Have you seen that? It is as if the sun beam has a definite shape, a width and length you could measure.

The sunbeam in such an experience is clear because it is partly blocked by the trees or by clouds by the window. Unfiltered light shines everywhere; but we notice it, we see it, when it is flickering or when it is filtered through shadow, when it is a little obstructed. I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now. They are both the feathered canyons and that which blocks the sun. And really, both are worth it.

Here is the real secret. With Joni’s song we are invited to see both sides of life and love and clouds – both! We are invited to feel the joy and the sorrow, the give and take, win and lose. And the secret is the way it is presented as two options and yet the song calls us into the third option which is both. Not one or the other, but both.   

A few years ago, I bumped into and took great solace in a blog post by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a process theologian I find to be very accessible. He was writing about order and disorder through a metaphor of “three boxes.” We begin, our theologian claims, with order. We call it normal. That is his first box. We then experience a disruption, a time of disorder, something that upsets the way we want things to be. This is the second box. And, he continues, if we keep at it, we can find our way into reorder. This is not a return to who things used to be; it is instead a reordering of toward the future given what has happened. Richard Rohr wrote, “Whenever we’re led out of normalcy into sacred, open space, it’s going to feel like suffering, because it is letting go of what we’re used to.”

Essentially, he was advocating for the value of disorder. He could have as easily written about imperfection or suffering or grief. He picked a more neutral concept: disorder. The second box in his metaphor of ‘three boxes’ is disorder. You could equally think of it as the progression from thesis and antithesis into synthesis. Or perhaps: sunlight and clouds, and the sunbeams that arise from the interplay of light and shadow.

This is not meant as a moral judgment about light vs darkness, joy vs sorrow, order vs disorder. Instead, it is an acknowledgment of comfort and discomfort, and the values of each. “This is always painful at some level,” Rohr writes in his blog, describing the move from the first box ‘order’ to the second box ‘disorder’; “But part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger” In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (NIV; John 12:24)

Joni Mitchell’s song describes her child-like, romantic imaginings about life and love. She then reveals the jarring disillusionment and hurt, the sadness of it all that can lead a person to become jaded. That’s Rohr’s second box: the disorder. And Joni Mitchell’s song then, suggests not simply a return to the first perspective but an appreciation of the original romantic view through the lens of the lived heartbreak and sorrow.

The goal is never to remain in the grief or the jaded heartbreak. The goal is take life whole; to live all of it. Listen to this piece from writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown.  

Put your attention on suffering – which is constant and everywhere – and it is all you will see. Joy will come, and laughter, but you will find it brief, possibly a distraction.

Put your attention on joy, being connected and feeling whole, and you will find it everywhere. Your heart will still break. You will know grief. But you will find it a reasonable cost for the random abundance of miracles, and the soft wild rhythms of love.

Brown is sharing here the same message I take from Joni Mitchell’s song. You can look at both sides now, from suffering and joy, and still somehow, it is the joy we will recall. In the song, Joni calls them illusions. Her early romantic versions of clouds and love and life are – according to her – illusions. This is the one big point on which I would argue with the amazing Joni Mitchell.

Yes, clouds are not really feathered canyons. Seeing them as angel’s hair is indeed a playful illusion. I will concede those descriptions of clouds as illusions. But to say the dizzy dancing way we feel when we are in love is a illusion is simply not true. It is certainly not all there is to being in love, but that exciting ‘falling in love’ time is not an illusion. And, I would argue, the counter part she offers of ‘if you care, don’t let them know – don’t give yourself away,’ is not to be commended as a better way to show love. That is more about protecting your broken heart than it is about the illusion of love. Certainly, your heart can be broken if you give it away – that part of what Joni is saying is true. But that’s what it is to love. That’s not naive or delusional, that’s just the risk we take when we love.

And so it is with life too. Life is meant to be a risk of love and faith. It is not something to be done shielded and in fear. The better way, living openly and with all the tears and fears that go with it is not an illusion. That is, as I say, the better way.

And when Joni ends each chorus saying she recalls the open and vulnerable way best – that is what Adrienne Marie Brown is saying too. Approach from the side of joy, Brown says, but be open and vulnerable to both the sorrow and the joy in life and all will be well. It will be bittersweet, to be sure. But that is how life is.

Consider the interplay of light and shadow, the dynamic interchange of joy and sorrow, the wild poignancy of your living. Be not locked into what has always been. It is not safety we find in being well-shielded from sorrow and loss, but stagnation and death. Release your fears, trust that the risks of sorrow and sadness are worth it more often than not.

In so doing, our lives will be both a little more bitter and a little more sweet. And what’s more – they will be whole. Let us have faith that such a life will lead us deeper into the fullness of living.

In a world without end,

May it be so.

The Fire in Your Bowl

The Fire in Your Bowl

November 27, 2022

Rev. Douglas Taylor

Sermon video:

A few weeks back we had our monthly Soul Matters Small Group Ministry with the Athens, Binghamton, and Cortland congregations. The theme for the month was around Change; and one of the questions struck me. I’d thought I might have it as my focus question that evening but instead, as I read it again, I thought, “Oh, that’s a whole sermon.” So, I answered a different question for the evening discussion. That bigger question, the one that first caught me but I waited to answer, was this:

It’s what many of us fear the most: becoming reconciled to injustice, resigned to fear and despair, lulled into a life of apathy. Have you put in enough strategies to avoid this fate?

Are you doing enough to avoid this reconciliation and resignation? There is a lot of trouble out in the world, many things that tempt us into despair, much that breaks our hearts. The phrases in that question are drawn from a poem titled “I Am Afraid of Nealy Everything” by an anonymous author. And, while I am not, (afraid of nearly everything – that is) I do find this poem compelling.

I Am Afraid of Nearly Everything                   by Anonymous

I am afraid of nearly everything:

of darkness,



children mutilated.

But most of all, I am afraid of what I might become:

reconciled to injustice,

resigned to fear and despair,

lulled into a life of apathy.

Unchain my hope, make me strong.

Stretch me towards the impossible, that I may work for what ought to be:

the hungry fed,

the enslaved freed,

the suffering comforted,

the peace accomplished.

And while I am not afraid of the first set of things mentioned in the poem: war, hunger – mostly I am heartbroken and angry about those things. What grips me, thought is the second set mentioned in the poem. I do find that second set of things unnerving. I do fear that I might become reconciled to injustice. There is a piece from Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail in which King says there are some things in our society against which we ought to be maladjusted. I don’t want to become reconciled to injustice, resigned to fear and despair, lulled into a life of apathy.

There are many things in our world that break our hearts or tempt us toward despair and resignation. There is a vast amount of need in the world, calling for our attention, for our action. But as Howard Thurman famously said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The fear and frustration are a lot. But what the world really needs is our joy. The world needs our light and bright living. The world needs people who have come alive.

The world needs our joy? There is a strange wall between these two topics: the heartbreaking needs of the world and … joy. It is difficult to speak of fear, injustice, hunger, and suffering alongside something so bright and wonderful as joy.

Where do you find joy? Where is that brightness in your life? Set to the side for a moment all these heavy things I’ve been bringing up and give some attention to this question: Where do you find joy? Or to lean into Howard Thurman’s nuance of the question: what makes you come alive?

Many people will answer these questions with simple things: a quiet morning in the woods, holidays with family, making love, playing games with friends. Maybe your thoughts drifted toward larger events from your living – the culmination of a long project, a special trip or cruise, the birth of a child. There is joy in this world in so many places large and small. And the world needs our joy. The world needs people who have come alive.

Now turn with me to these heavier things I mentioned earlier. The things that break your heart, that spark your anger, that tempt you toward despair. If we are going to make this world a better place, if we are going to meet the world’s needs – we must be prepared to bring our joy with us to those hard places. The suggestion is not to forget about the pain. Or to only live in your bliss, neglecting the needs of others. No. The counsel from Howard Thurman and others is to not leave your joy behind, bring it with you as you go.

I shared with the children about the history and meaning of our Flaming Chalice. The symbol is still flexible, delightfully open to interpretation and reinterpretation. The fire in our bowl is spoken of as our fire of commitment, our spark of joy, our image of God, a beacon of hope, and our hearth fire of community. The way I am using the image today is as a combination of the fire of commitment and the spark of joy within each of us. Let me explain.

Earlier this month I was invited to travel to Buffalo for a healing conversation about racism and gun violence. 6 months earlier, on May 14th of this year, a man from Conklin (near Binghamton) went up to a Tops market in Buffalo and killed 10 people. It is clear from his own writings that this was a racially motivated crime. He drove over three hours to get to a predominantly black neighborhood with the intent to kill as many black people as possible.

Our local interfaith group, The Children of Abraham, decided this was a topic that fit within our mission of building mutual trust and respect across our religious traditions. One member of our interfaith group had relationships up in Buffalo, and when the shooting happened, they reached out; and our recent trip grew from there. About a dozen of us from this area drove up to Buffalo to meet with clergy and lay leaders from the churches serving the neighborhood where the shooting took place. We shared a meal together and we shared our experiences of the event.

I and a few others talked about the vigil hosted that week in May on the Broome County Courthouse lawn – organized by the Black clergy in our area. I shared about our congregation’s serendipitous program already planned to have history professor Steve Call do a lecture on racist narratives of the history of the Civil War that foster white nationalism among us – and how that lecture and the subsequent Q & A helped bring some of our community together in awareness. 

I shared some of these things, some of these events that happened in response. I also shared some of my own feelings – about my frustration and anger, but also my desire to distance myself and my congregation from the shooter as if to say he is not an example of the people down here in Binghamton.

But he is. I shared how I wrestled with the fact that there is something in this community that allowed that man’s hate to grow and flourish. There is something in this community for which I am in part responsible.

I had a few opportunities to share. Mostly, I listened. Mostly, I held space for others to share. I heard about the vigil they had held in one of the larger sanctuaries and the crowds who showed up that night. I heard about the impact of the one grocery store in the neighborhood being closed as a crime scene for two months. I heard about the small memorial set up in the market to the ten people killed that day. I heard about how people in the neighborhood felt pressure to ‘be resilient and move on.’

One lay leader shared with us her experience of the day of the shooting. She said she’d been planning to met up with a niece at the Tops market that evening. She told us the grocery store was something of a community center – every time she went there, she saw several people she knew. When she first heard the shooting had happened, she had about 20 phone calls to make to family members to see if they were safe. Had they been at the store? Had they heard from anyone else? Did they know what was going on?

Her uncle was one of the ten people killed. Her uncle was part of a program to drive people places. “Where are you going,” he would ask, “how much money do you have?” And he would always take them where they needed to go for whatever they could pay. I am not sure if that’s why he was at the grocery store that afternoon, but it seems likely.

These were good people, normal people going about their lives. The shooter wanted to kill as many black people as possible. During my visit, I heard about the weariness settling in on them and the resignation settling in around them.

But most of all, I am afraid of what I might become: (Our poem had cautioned us,)

reconciled to injustice,

resigned to fear and despair,

lulled into a life of apathy.

The poem then turns and offers a call for something different.

Unchain my hope, make me strong

Stretch me towards the impossible, that I may work for what ought to be:

the hungry fed,

the enslaved freed,

the suffering comforted,

the peace accomplished.

You will recall, perhaps, that I promised this sermon would be about joy, about coming alive. I am grateful to have been invited into that conversation. It opens me up, I feel more alive when I can be a participant in a healing conversation like that. I’m not saying I found great joy through the experience; but I am saying I did not leave my joy back in Binghamton for this visit. It was a joy to meet a few new people, to learn about their lives and their passions, to be with them in a meaningful struggle.

There is a plan to have a dozen or so people from Buffalo come down here to Binghamton and Conklin for a similar event at the one-year anniversary. There is a plan to keep the relationships, to keep this bridge we’ve begun to build. And that is meaningful and can lead to strong neighborhoods and communities and, yes, to joy. By engaging with a meaningful struggle, a struggle for meaning in the face of suffering – we can overcome it. We can persevere together. We can come to a place of joy together. We can even find it along the way, in the struggle.

There are many things in our world that break our hearts or tempt us toward despair and resignation. There is a vast amount of need in the world, calling for our attention, for our action. But as Howard Thurman famously said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The fear and frustration are a lot. But what the world really needs is our joy. The world needs our light and bright living. The world needs people who have come alive.

What is it for you? Where is your joy? What makes you come alive? Perhaps it is teaching or sharing music. It doesn’t have to be a justice issue – although it easily could be tangled up with justice-making in some way.

I find I come alive when I am invited into the sort of healing conversation I found up in Buffalo. I also found it last week when I participated with the students at the Transgender Day of Remembrance at Binghamton University. I find it every time I put together and lead a memorial service. It is about being invited into meaningful struggle with others. It is about being trusted to hold a vulnerable space open for healing. This is what makes me come alive. What is it for you?

The fire in our bowl is that light leading us on. It is the spark of passion we offer the world. It is the center of our bright living. I invite you to lean into the place of your joy, to know what fire helps you to come alive. Where we work for what ought to be:

the hungry fed,

the enslaved freed,

the suffering comforted,

the peace accomplished.

The world needs our joy. The world needs us to come alive.

In a world without end,

May it be so.

How This All Gets Better

How This All Gets Better

October 30, 2022

Rev. Douglas Taylor

Sermon video:

At our Soul Matters gathering this month, our theme was Courage. One suggested question was this: “What seems more dangerous these days: Pessimism or Optimism?” I like that. It doesn’t ask the usual ‘are you a pessimist or an optimist?’ Goodness! That gets boring quickly and everyone jumps on how they’re neither pessimist nor optimist, we’re all realists these days. But that was not the question. Instead, it asks, which do you think is more dangerous?

Well, dangerous to who? To me for thinking that way? To our society that would be happy to have me prop up the status quo? Now the question is exciting again. Shall I risk too-soon surrender and needless despair with my pessimistic perspective? Or will my optimistic outlook risk unwarranted hope leading to a near-willful blindness to the suffering of others while I accept Positive Vibes Only. Which is more dangerous?

And this question is in the context of our current situation together. What seems more dangerous these days? Is it realistic to think things are getting better, or that they will soon be improving? Or might it be more realistic to anticipate that we have not yet hit bottom and things will be getting worse?

I was talking to a member of the congregation after a recent worship service in which we played a portion of the General Assembly speech by UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray. The congregant expressed some dismay at how pessimistic the speech had seemed – dire warnings for us to rally together for justice. “General Assembly occurred at the end of June,” I responded, “right when the news broke that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v Wade. Many people are feeling that the country is losing ground.”

The congregant nodded, acknowledging the point. But then continued, “Overall, though, we are making progress. We’ve been gaining ground! Things are much better today than a generation earlier.” We didn’t talk in terms of optimism and pessimism in that conversation, but the undertones were there. It made me pause and really consider the situation we are in.

Don’t get me wrong. The situation we are in is not good. The federal protections of reproductive rights are being undermined. Our country’s democracy has taken a heavy political blow with election deniers and voter suppression. Racist white nationalists are in the public sphere seeking respectability. Our society is severely divided politically. Corporations continue to post record profits while regular folks suffer economically. And globally, this pandemic is still taking lives. The climate continues to spiral in crisis. And countless other calamities abound.

But our question is not about if there is trouble today. The question is about being pessimistic or optimistic given this trouble. The question is, do we think things are going to get better or worse from here?

Enter Robert Putnam. Our reading this morning was from a new book by this political scientist, The Upswing. Putnam’s answer seems to be – yes things are going to get better if we want them to. The subtitle of the book is “How American came together a century ago and how we can do it again.”

Now, Putnam is a researcher. He didn’t look at if things were “better” or “worse.” He studied topics a little more concrete. And, his scope was vast, reviewing more than a hundred years’ worth of data. He looked at four specific metrics: economic, political, social, and cultural.

First, economic equality – when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is large, a small number of wealthy individuals find the situation better but the vast majority of people find the situation worse. When there is greater economic equality, more people are better off. The second metric was polarization in politics. You’ve probably experienced this as well, but it seems to me from all the negative political ads this year that my choices are between the corrupt fascists who will ruin the country and the radical socialists who will ruin the country. When there is more cooperation and compromise across party lines, more can be accomplished and more people are better off. Third, Putnam looked at society and if people were isolated or had cohesion. I recall an earlier one of his books, Bowling Alone, dug into that specific metric at length. His fourth metric he framed as cultural – are people focused on their responsibilities to others or on a narrower self-interest.

Here is the most interesting part of all this. In charting these big trends, he noticed an unmistakable pattern in each of the four independent metrics. There is a steady rise toward “a more egalitarian, cooperative, cohesive, and altruistic nation” (p11) for several decades and then a turn followed by all four metrics falling. And they all lined up to have this rise and fall occur at the same time in the life of our nation. He shows it all on one chart and calls it an inverted U, a shift from “I” to “We” and back to “I” again.

It started in the Gilded Age, the 1890’s and early 1900’s: a very narcissistic, polarized era. That’s what he means by “I.” The measures climb until the mid-1960’s. to the more egalitarian and altruistic time which he labels “We.”

“Between the mid-1960’s and today – by scores of hard measures along multiple dimensions – we have been experiencing declining economic equality, the deterioration of compromise in the public square, a fraying social fabric, and a descent into cultural narcissism.” (p11)

This research is interesting, but what are we to do with it? I do enjoy hearing a sound perspective on history. But I want to know how it will help me grapple with where we are today. What do we do with this information?

It might seem like the obvious answer is to look back at what we were doing as the trends were climbing and do more of that; look at what we were doing as the trends were falling and do less of that. But it’s not that simple.

Part of it is that simple. Looking back at the early 1900’s we can witness a progressive movement toward national shared values and the Social Gospel movement and eventually the political New Deal. In part, it is as simple as harkening back to some of those efforts and enacting them again together. We can and we should encourage the revival of communal care and mutual responsibility as a nation.

However, when we look at what happened in the 1960’s as a template for what we should not do, we do well to be more nuanced. The book even warns that it is important to realize the cohesive “We” developed over the first half of the 1900’s was fundamentally a white, male “We.” As the measures trends down from the 60’s, the country was experiencing very positive strides forward in civil rights and women’s rights, for example. The book makes the point that the part of the turn away from progress was a backlash as the progress began to include African Americans and women.

Society shifted away from increased mutual responsibility and toward increased individual freedom and rights. It is important to notice that the civil rights and women’s rights movements are part of the freedoms and diversity that have grown in our current individual-focused culture now. On the continuum between “I” and “We”, our individual rights are strongest at the “I” pole.

So, yes. We need to encourage more of the progressive steps we took during the previous climb. We need to vote and petition and push for economic and political changes that support greater economic equality and at least a chance of political pluralism across the party lines. But that’s not enough. As we build rebuild a new “We” as a nation together, we must acknowledge that the new “We” needs to be expanse enough to include the “We” that we really are today: Not only white men, but women and African Americans as well. And while Putnam’s book only goes that far, we can certainly go farther. Not only women, but non-binary and trans people and queer people as well. Not only African Americans but indigenous and immigrants and other people of color pushed to the margins still today.

And to accomplish this, the call for greater equality and mutual responsibility must be in balance. It is not so simple as to call for more “We” and less “I.” We need both. The new upswing needs to create a new “We” rather than nostalgically reach back to the “We” we used to be. The new “We” must include and honor some of the particular elements of “I” or it will not work.

This is not a foreign topic among us as Unitarian Universalists. Our faith tradition has long been strongly individualistic. We have long focused on our freedoms and on each person’s inherent worthiness and personal searching. Lately we have swung our focus together toward covenants, recognizing this need to balance the “I” with a strong “We.” Every community needs to find the balance between the freedom and the equality, that leaning too heavy in “I” or in “We” is ultimately destructive. Other faith traditions, other nations need to grapple with too much communitarian focus. Our faith tradition and this nation need to grapple with the opposite at this time in our history.

And in the end, the point is not to swing the pendulum to the other side. The point is to allow the balance to emerge – to work for and clear space for that balance to emerge. To allow Rights and diversity to flourish even as we declare shared values and work for equality together. Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest “What’s past is prologue, what to come, in yours and my discharge.” This is how this all gets better.

We must address the economic inequity and the way we’ve been pushing all the wealth up toward a miniscule percentage of people. We desperately need to find a way to reach across the political divide while exorcising the fascist-tendencies out of our system. And this pandemic has only heightened our awareness of how isolated we all have become – if that is not the work of a religious community, what is?

In the end, the question of will things improve or will things get worse is a misleading question because it implies that we simply need to wait to find out rather than acknowledging that we have a role it figuring it all out. In the end the question “What seems more dangerous these days: Pessimism or Optimism?” is a false question because the most dangerous stance is an active one of a people ready to work for the change we long to see in the world. It is a dangerous stance for the old “We” that is dying as the new “We” emerges.

Our Unitarian Universalist theology is dangerous in this way. Our theology calls us into both equality and freedom. We need to live out our faith. We are called to balance the “I” and the “We,” called to break each other out of the isolation around us, called to build coalitions across our differences – even politically, called to seek greater economic equality among all people. This is the dangerous platform I want to vote for, I want to participate in, I want to have us realize together.

As Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue, what to come, in yours and my discharge.” What is to come is ours to build! In our choir sang in our anthem (We Shall Be Known by MaMuse) we are in a time of Great Turning. It is time now; it is time now that we thrive.  In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love.

The great turning says the changes will not simply happen; it not something we can sit back and receive. We have to make the changes happen. As Shakespeare wrote: they are ours to discharge. We need to grab hold of the moral arc of the universe and help shape the new “We” we are to become; to help bend that arc toward justice; to optimistically believe that we can. That we will.

In a world without end

May it be so.

Stronger Together

Stronger Together

October 16, 2022

Rev. Douglas Taylor

Sermon video:

Reading:                      Collaboration Reflections                   10-16-22

As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we have been partnering with other UU congregations lately in unconventional ways. We have been connecting, associating, sharing, mingling, and collaborating with other UU congregations for a few years now. It is exciting and a little counter cultural. There is an assumption in the dominant culture that other churches are the competition. We are not behaving in that way lately.

For our reading this morning, we are invited to hear some reflections on the history of collaboration within our Cortland, Binghamton, and Athens Sheshequin congregations. We will begin with the long view beginning in Athens PA.

Part I               -Katie Replogle

Good morning.  When Rev. Darcey asked me to offer a reflection on the history of collaboration in the Athens/Sheshequin congregation, what came to mind was the similarity between what our three congregations are doing together today and what the regional Universalist Associations did in the 1800s and 1900s.  This morning I am going to share a little about the North Branch Association that the Athens and Sheshequin congregations belonged to during that time.

Universalist congregations began to form Associations about 1800.  The closest to us at that time was the Western Association, which encompassed most of upstate New York.  In 1811 two members of our Sheshequin congregation attended the Western Association meeting in Bainbridge, which is about 80 miles away.  Imagine how long it took for our delegates to travel that distance!

By the 1840s the Western Association had split several times into smaller, more localized associations.  In 1842 the Universalists in Bradford county – where Athens and Sheshequin are – formed the North Branch Association.  By the 1880s the North Branch had nine member congregations.

In the early years, the primary interaction among the member congregations was the annual meeting.  These meetings were usually three-day events which included as many as five worship services as well as business meetings.  One of the things the association did was to help congregations that did not have regular preaching to connect with a minister.

In the second half of the 1800s, as travel became easier, the North Branch congregations were able to interact more frequently.  The Association developed into a strong, supportive community.

When, in the 1880s and 90s, the Sheshequin congregation was faltering, their sibling North Branch congregations came to the rescue.  In 1880 the Towanda minister preached a sermon at Sheshequin on church organization and baptized about 30 adults and children.  In 1895, the ministers of the Athens and Towanda churches held a series of “revival” meetings in Sheshequin, which brought in many new members and got the congregation back on its feet.

By the early 1900s only four congregations remained in the North Branch.  Only one of them could afford a full-time minister.  So in 1914, the North Branch jointly called a single minister to serve all of the churches.  Shared professional ministry continued until about 1990.

Lay groups within the congregations also joined together.  In 1897 the youth groups of the four North Branch churches formed their own association.  A North Branch men’s group was organized in 1932.  And the individual Ladies’ Aid Societies evolved into a county-wide branch of the Association of Universalist Women.

The North Branch held union worship services several times a year, often with music by a “union choir.”  There were also annual North Branch picnics.

Sadly, the North Branch Association ceased to function in the early 2000s, and ours is now the only remaining member congregation in Bradford county.  But our long tradition of partnering continues in this wonderful relationship with our friends in Cortland and Binghamton.

Part II              -Douglas Taylor

Back in the fall of 2015, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cortland and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton began discussions of a formal partnership. We started simply with conversations among leaders about the breadth and expectations of such a partnership. For example, we decided to not look to become one congregation together, but to remain independent while sharing resources. At first it was a little one-sided with the larger Binghamton congregation offering resources to the smaller Cortland church. But over time, that shifted.

Much of the collaboration has happened in our experience of worship. We’ve had pulpit exchanges and we shared musical resources. Binghamton created a library of Rev. Douglas Taylor’s sermons on DVDs for Cortland to use. We also shared adult education resources such as the Soul Matters packets and our annual joint Spirituality Retreats.

When Rev. Darcey Laine began serving the Cortland church in 2018, the Athens and Cortland congregations didn’t know each other at all. And it seemed natural for Cortland to join the

multi-congregation Coming-of-Age which had started with Athens and Big flats, and has over the course of the years also included Binghamton and Ithaca. It seemed natural to invite Athens to be part of the Spirituality retreats. When the pandemic hit, the Athens and Cortland congregations started sharing Sunday worship online together every Sunday. It was during that time our Binghamton – Cortland Collaboration expanded to formally include the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens & Sheshequin.

Even before the formal agreement, we’ve had pulpit exchanges and choir exchanges and shared classes among the three individual congregations in various ways. There was a regular Treasurers lunch among a handful of church that led to a program of peer audits. And many people have enjoyed the online classes and Small Group Ministry sessions we’ve been doing during the pandemic as multi-congregational offerings.

Today, we still plan to remain three district Unitarian Universalist congregations. But we are in covenant to support one another that we all may thrive. Today, we celebrate our collaboration and the ways we serve our Unitarian Universalist faith together in new and exciting ways.

Sermon: Stronger Together October 16, 2022; Rev. Douglas Taylor

I stumbled across this quote recently: “Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” I have heard this sentiment from naturalists and environmentalists certainly, also from historians and physicists and systems theoreticians. “Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” This particular wording, however, I found labeled as a quote from Buddhism. It is, of course, no surprise to you that I offer this sentiment as a religious or spiritual message. “Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

Our relational interdependence is a prominent feature of our spiritual existence. This is a topic I approach from the pulpit with some regularity, I know. At least in terms of how we as individuals can engage with other individuals across our individual differences. Today I would speak of how your spiritual community can be in relationship with other spiritual communities in mutually supportive ways.

It isn’t always like that. What I am suggesting is a little counter-cultural. There is a thing we do when we form groups together. We have a drive to belong that leads us to build our belonging with borders that create an in-group and an out-group. It’s hard. It’s a basic aspect of group dynamics – some people are in the group and some people are not. We love our little congregational community, we ae special and beautiful people. Being part of the group is important and means something about those of us in the group.

But it’s hard because it also implies something about those not in the group. And even when our theology calls us to honor that specialness and beauty of all the people even if they aren’t members of our group … it is still hard.

I do hope it is a little surprising to learn that Unitarian Universalists congregations have at times been a little exclusive in our groupings. We have, at times, seen each other as rivels. We would, at times, speak of how this or that minister was poaching members from other congregations. Or how a small congregation was floundering and the neighboring congregations would cluck their tongues and say “tut-tut,” but then do nothing to offer support.

The patterns are changing. But for a long stretch of time our free congregations so loved our autonomous and independent nature that we neglected our covenants of mutual support among congregations. It is a feature of Unitarian Universalism that we run by Congregational Polity – which is usually a happy side note but occasionally arises as a very important and even distinctive aspect of our way of faith.

Congregational Polity, in short, means each Unitarian Universalist congregation is independent. But it is more than that. We take this as a religious precept; not merely as an interesting governing happenstance. Just as you are free to develop your faith, freely and independently – to believe as you must; each congregation is likewise free and independent.

Now we do have an association of congregations – the UUA – and yes, there is real value to be found in our association. We have support staff and programs that help Unitarian Universalism thrive. Honestly, I and other leaders in our congregation have been in recent contact with representatives of the UUA receiving good support.

But that body, the UUA, has no authority over how a congregation runs. Other forms of polity – episcopal, hierarchical, or presbyterian – have some group beyond the gathered congregation that will determine issues such as: which clergy will serve where, what topics can be discussed from the pulpit, which justice issues are important, and who is allowed to get married, baptized, ordained, or buried with ecclesiastical blessing.

Our Congregational Polity essentially says “each congregation decides all of that for themselves.” As I say, it is usually a happy side note until it suddenly becomes very important. So, with all this independence and autonomy, we Unitarian Universalists have in the past fallen into the pattern of not offering mutual support to our neighboring congregations. We might say, for example: that other congregation is doing its own thing and we have promised not to meddle. But that is not quite what we have promised. As I say, it can be hard.

Of course, Unitarian Universalists are not the only religious group that runs by Congregational Polity. Interestingly, most of those that do in the United States harken back to an old document written in the mid 1600’s called the Cambridge Platform. 

The story behind this Cambridge Platform is interesting. A group of settlers from Europe were all in the same area of Massachusetts and decided they wanted to start a church together. They arranged to hold a year-long series of gatherings to talk about how to do that. You might think they talked about points of doctrine: what will our stance be on salvation and sin, grace and predestination? But no. In their meetings they talked about matters of civil society – how to be a community together. They were committed to be a “church gathered by mutual consent rather than by mutual belief.”

Now, these religious communities from almost 375 years ago were certainly not Unitarian or Universalist. That part had to wait a few hundred years. But the point is not what they did or did not believe, the point is how they organized their congregations. Although, it may be interesting to note: Of the 65 congregations that voted to ratify the [Cambridge]Platform in 1648, 21 are members of the Unitarian Universalist Association today. (ibid)

My point is this: we have a long, proud history of this independence. But even way back in the 1648 there was a section devoted to Cooperation Between Churches – or using the language from the document itself, “of the communion of churches one with another.” Even back then we made a point to say, “and we should help the other groups, not just our own group.” And still over the years we slip into patterns of cliquishness and isolation.

But it is like the parable of the bundle of sticks – one stick may be easy enough to break with your bare hands. But several sticks together in a bundle are not easy to break. Alone each stick can be easily snapped. But they are stronger together.

This is true. It is easy to test and verify. And yet it is counter-cultural to cooperate and collaborate. Generations of people promised to do so – making a religious commitment to supporting each other. And it is still hard to follow through on that promise.

And something significant has changed recently. Something different is happening.

If you follow news about trends in religion you may have noticed many religious communities are suffering. Attendance is down. Commitment is flagging. There is doom and there is gloom. Some religious communities, including UU congregations, are questioning how they will keep their doors open given the new reality they are facing.

Of course, we must give a nod to the context of the past two-and-a-half years. The pandemic, with the business shut downs and social distancing, has heightened our awareness of the lines of isolation and connection in our lives. This pandemic has put quite a strain on religious communities. But well before this pandemic we’ve been aware of walls of division and the harmful ways we pretend at independence. There has been a trend away from religious affiliation and attendance growing for some time. This isn’t new.

I am reminded of the wisdom from a progressive thinker and pastor Cary Nieuwhof who said that a crisis such as this pandemic “is not just a disruptor, it’s an accelerator.” The implication being that this pandemic has amplified and accelerated changes that are already underway.

I invite you to hear that with some excitement. I know there are warnings out there about how congregations need to pivot and be nimble and synergize the emerging paradigm. I’m here to be excited about how we already are. “Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.”

As we heard in the reading this morning, the Athens and Binghamton and Cortland congregations have been in this work of mutual support for a while now. Reaching beyond the usual borders of our congregational lines has helped us all remain nimble in the midst of this pandemic upheaval. We are stronger together. We’ve been sharing resources, staying in communication, and showing up online with each other over this hard time. Rev. Darcey Laine helped me remember a relevant story from India.

There was once a flock of birds peacefully pecking seeds under a tree. A hunter came along and threw a heavy net over them. He said, “Aha! Now I have my dinner!”

All at once the birds began to flap their wings. Up, up they rose into the air, taking the net with them. They came down on the tree and, as the net snagged in the tree’s branches, the birds flew out from under it to freedom.

The hunter looked on in amazement, scratched his head and muttered, “As long as those birds cooperate with one another like that, I’ll never be able to capture them! Each one of those birds is so frail and yet, together they can lift the net.”

We are stronger together.

I was talking with a few UU colleagues this weekend about all this. We were talking specifically about the ways we’ve been sharing across our usual congregational borders during this pandemic. Zoom has made so much possible. This expanding mutual support is not only happening in our little corner of the world.

I heard stories of how one colleague had people from 3 or 4 different congregations reading through the Tao Te Ching with him online weekly over the past two years. I heard about how the Saratoga Springs and the Schenectady congregations are sharing a UU the Vote campaign together; and about how the Syracuse congregations included the Canton congregation in their Coming-of-Age program. It feels very much like the Soul Matters sessions we’ve been sharing as Athens, Binghamton, and Cortland, and all the other things we’ve been doing together. All of these UUs reaching out in mutual support across their normal congregational lines. It is heartening.

“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” We are stronger together. Many of us participated in the class offer by John Buehrens on the history of the transcendentalists – a class made possible through the Rochester Unitarian church. One point of feedback we heard then and hear often is not about the content of the offering but about how good it is – how heartening it is – to participate with people outside our own congregations at these offerings.

We are lifting the net for each other. Alone, each congregation has been struggling, caught in the net of this pandemic. But together we help each other get free. Our sharing across these congregational borders is a blessing at every turn. The UUs in Syracuse want our congregation in Cortland to thrive. The UUs in Schenectady want the UUs in Binghamton to be strong. It is a practical example of what we call collective liberation – a theological outlook that says I am not free until my neighbor is also free. We can lift the net together.

This is will grow. This new way of sharing will continue and will bless our communities into the future. We are not alone. We are stronger together. This sometimes counter-cultural practice of mutual support will bless us in the offering and receiving. We can lift the net together.

In a world without end,

May it be so.

This Earth, This Spirit

photo by Lynne Theophanis

This Earth, This Spirit

(Salvation in the Wilderness ’13)

Rev. Douglas Taylor

October 9, 2022

Sermon video:

William Cullen Bryant was an American romantic poet from the 1800’s; he has a poem “Green River” that begins, “When the breezes are soft and skies are fair, I steal an hour away from study and care, and hie me away to the woodland scene.” Me? I stole more than an hour; I had a whole day. Friday afternoon I did hie me and my family away to the wilderness for some soft breeze and woodland scene – for some relief of the kind only wild places can provide.

Yesterday I was up at Camp Unirondack, our Unitarian Universalist camp and conference center in the forever wild forests of the western Adirondack mountains. Unirondack is one of the sacred locations of my youth. I attended summer camp every year for many years leading up to the summer I was old enough to work up there as a counselor. I returned ten years after that summer to work two summers in a row as the camp chaplain while I was finishing seminary. That was when my older children first experienced Unirondack. They have also kept a close connection to the place ever since.

My family connection extends further. My mother attended Unirondack as a youth, indeed she was a camper the first year they opened in 1951. As an adult she offered programs and served on the Board. And stretching in the other generational direction, we brought our granddaughter up for her first visit this weekend just a little over half-a-year old.

Unirondack has been a sacred place for me not only during my youth but all my life. Do you have a place, perhaps a wilderness or a garden, some patch of nature upon which you can rely? Do you have a Quiet Place such as we heard about in the story this morning (Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin)?

Bryant’s poem concludes with the lines, “I often come to this quiet place, to breathe the air that ruffles the face, and gaze upon thee in silent dream, for in thy lonely and lovely stream an image of that calm life appears that won my heart in greener years.”

Wilderness is significantly important for human beings because as natural creatures we need nature to help us stay balanced and in touch with our spiritual root. That is my experience of nature and wilderness. It is a touchstone back to balance for me, a taproot of spiritual health, and a resource of relief for my spirit. Wild places are necessary for if we do not seek out wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts, and we will starve a sacred and necessary aspect of our lives for want of wilderness.

Attending Sunday morning worship is important, to be sure. I am never going to not say Sunday mornings are important. It helps us stay balanced in community. But we also need retreats such as up at a wilderness camp to have transformative, identity-shaping experiences. Hie yourselves to the woods from time to time and be renewed in spirit, that you may be whole.

There is a wonderful misquotation of Thoreau that says: In wildness is the salvation of the world. It comes from that great naturalist Aldo Leopold in his book A Sand County Almanac. In it he wrote, “Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world.” (P 133) The line comes in exactly my favorite section of that book, Leopold’s conversion story of killing a wolf and realizing the deep interconnectedness of the mountain and the wolf and the deer and the men. Leopold realized that to survive we would need to learn to think like a mountain. He realized that we humans must learn to see ourselves not as separate from the earth and the other animals. That the wild places need not be tamed, they are necessary and we can learn from them. “Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world.”

Except Thoreau never said that, at least not precisely that. The correct quotation comes from Thoreau’s essay, “Walking.” “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.” He had not said ‘salvation,’ he’d said ‘preservation.’ “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Preservation is different from salvation. They have similarities to be sure. They both carry the tone of being made whole. Salvation and preservation each signal a sense of a goal both secure and sound. But while salvation rescues and restores that which is unsound back to soundness, that which is broken back to wholeness; preservation maintains and safeguards the wholeness that exists already.

Sometimes I find myself agreeing with Thoreau and other times I agree with Leopold. I’m not always sure. Sometimes I think salvation is not what’s needed, there is nothing fallen or lost; it is all held in the beauty and we need only turn and notice the beauty that has always been there! But other times I think the world has gone mad and there is so much destruction and violence we pour out on each other and on the world that perhaps preservation is not enough. The major environmental issues are not wilderness conservation and the protection of endangered species. Today the issues are about climate crisis – a deep concern for harm that could well be irreparable for the world as we know it.

Whether wildness is the preservation or the salvation of the world perhaps depends on what you see going on in the world; but either way, it is still wildness that is needed. For if we do not have the experience of the wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts. Those who cry out against climate crisis are invariably those who have felt the touch of nature, who have had their “hearts won” by nature, as Bryant put it.

In various religious scripture and poetry and folklore we find references to the natural world as a place to uncover lessons for living, sometimes explicitly as a place of testing. Nature is sometimes cast as the place of temptation or a place where we get lost. Nature is also presented in fairy tales as a dangerous place yet also a place where we must go to grow up. The mountain top, the desert, the woods and the wilderness each carry a metaphoric or mythic tone that the actual natural locations can truly convey.

There is a reading in our hymnal from Ralph Waldo Emerson that is about roses. The transcendentalists were generally quite skilled at recognizing in nature the lessons for living well. “These roses under my window,” Emerson wrote, “make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.” This is so common a statement from naturalists and transcendentalists. It recurs in literature regularly. The world of nature: flowers, animals, waterfalls; these do not tax themselves with preoccupations and worries. One of the goals of Buddhist meditation is to become present to the moment. A task which is so simple for a dog or a bird or an infant, is so very difficult for you and me.

As Emerson says, the rose under his window is ‘perfect in every moment of its existence.’ “But we postpone or remember. We do not live in the present, but with reverted eye lament the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround us, stand on tiptoe to foresee the future. We cannot be happy or strong until we too live with nature in the present above time.” Think back to a time when you were fully happy. Where you watching the clock? Or was time flying while you were having fun? Think back to a time when you were fully happy. Were you multi-tasking? Or were you fully present and enjoying the moment, ‘perfect in every moment of your existence.’

Henry David Thoreau wrote,

Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace. The buds swell imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity. Why, then, should man hasten as if anything less than eternity were allotted for the least deed? The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient.

So many examples from nature lead us to the conclusion that single-minded attentiveness is highly valued. So often, however, we hear appreciation and praise of multi-tasking; as if multi-tasking is somehow better than being able to focus on one thing, as if having a fragmented attention is a good thing. Multitasking only gives the illusion of creating extra time. This and other behaviors like it work to divide our attention in too many directions. We are in danger of becoming fragmented.

There was a little study done in Scotland a few years back. It was reported in the New York Times with the title “Easing Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Park.” (“Easing Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Park” by Gretchen Reynolds; March 27, 2013, Primarily it was a test run for a portable EEG pack. Until these little devices, any study of brain activity had to take place within the confines of a lab where the Electroencephalogram machine could be used. Well, they invented a portable version that people can wear. The electrodes are hidden beneath an ordinary cap and the readings are sent wirelessly to a laptop carried in a small backpack. Thus configured, an individual can walk around town rather than sit in a lab.

So, one of the first experiments they did was to study the impact of different environments on a person’s brainwave activity. They had volunteers walk through three distinct neighborhoods in Edinburgh: first an historic shopping district with very little vehicle traffic but plenty of sidewalks, next a park-like setting, and finally a busy, high-traffic commercial district. It is no surprise I am sure that the findings showed people were more meditative in the park-like setting and more frustrated in the busy setting.

This is not a dramatic study. As I said, the primary goal seems to have been to test run the new portable EEGs. But still, I’ll point out that the busy, commercial and concrete setting was very demanding on the brain activity. Urban settings demand our attention, the commerce, the people, the traffic, we need to be paying attention. The more natural setting allowed the brain activity to settle into what psychology is calling ‘involuntary attention.’

This is using the word ‘involuntary’ in the automatic sense used biologically for breathing and the beating of our hearts. We don’t think each breath, it just happens naturally. Our brains also have a default setting. This study corroborated this understanding by showing that the volunteer’s brain wave activity went into the involuntary attention mode while in the park-like setting. In other words, they relaxed. The brain is still engaged, but the attention demanded is effortless. The natural world holds our attention but it also allows us the freedom for reflection and contemplation.

Another study, done a few decades back reaches much the same conclusion: we seek out nature because we find it good for our spirits. It was a study about how children use elementary school playgrounds. They replaced “an acre and a half of asphalt with a diverse group of traditional playground swings and bars; structures and sitting area; and a half-acre of fishing ponds, streams, woods, and meadows.” (from The Geography of Childhood by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, p 66) Then the researchers did the low-tech option, rather than hooking the people up to potable EEGs, they just watched the children to see where and how they played.

As you might guess, the kids spent more time with the ponds, streams, woods and meadows compared to the traditional playground equipment. But more than that, “the natural area of the playground saw wider ranges of activities and more mixing of the genders.” (Ibid) The researchers also talked to the kids about the spaces. This is how the children described the natural area: “It’s a very good place. Really quiet. Lots of kids just sit around there and talk.” “It’s just perfect.” (Ibid) Children make themselves at home in nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson speculated that adults don’t really see nature anymore. “The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child.” He claimed when we come back to the woods we come as children in wonder.

In his essay, “Nature” Emerson expands on this idea writing: “Standing on the bare ground – my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.”

Or to consider a different topography, my colleague, Marni Harmony, wrote in our meditation this morning, “I say it touches us that our blood is sea water and our tears are salt … I say we have to go down into the wave’s trough to find ourselves, and then ride her swell until we can see beyond ourselves into our neighbor’s eye.”

Our choir sang (“Children of the Earth” by Sharon Scholl) “We are children of the earth / nurtured in its hills and plains / fed by its sun warmed by its sun / our green home in the universe.”

John Muir wrote: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”

Wild places are necessary for if we do not seek out wild places in nature then we will not learn the gift they offer to the wild places in our hearts, and we will starve a sacred and necessary aspect of our lives for want of wilderness. It is my balance, my taproot of spiritual health. Wilderness is the touchstone of my spirit. Go seek out the wild places in your life and in our world for there is the perseveration of all we hold dear.

In a world without end,

may it be so.