“Fulfilling Our Desire”
This year during the Christian season of Lent, the forty days leading up to Easter, I chose for my reflections a series of writings on floriography, the means of communication through the use or arrangement of flowers. Humanity has attributed meaning to various flowers for thousands of years. Flowers are given as an expression of something you might not say out loud as in Victorian times when the practice reached its height. We see floriography show up in art and poetry and religious symbolism – hence the Lenten study that was prompted! In the first week’s readings I was reminded of the Dutch who in their desperation during a 1630’s winter went absolutely wild for want of tulips, for color and beauty. I had read of this phenomenon in Michael Pollan’s book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” The desire for beauty in an otherwise cold dark time grasped them and drew them almost instinctively to these flowers. Pollan gives a lengthy and fascinating history of our penchant for flowers as a whole, but I was struck by the Dutch who created the world’s first ‘market bubble’ known as tulip-mania where in the price of a single bulb rose to match the cost of a house. To what lengths will we go to fulfill our desires? From what are they born?
Imagination and desire are closely intertwined for me – dreaming, hoping, creating – all arise from an inner source. I call it Love. You have your own names for it – Ground of Being. Center. Mystery. It is for each of us to identify for ourselves. Part of the seeking life. But I consider this Love as a seed planted within, the seed of something not yet – an idea that doesn’t quit that is packed with all the nutrients it needs to burst forth. Mine is to water and give it good soil in which to sink its roots. The Dutch desire for beauty might have been a bit misplaced given the road it took! There is an inner longing and then our response. The things we think we want, that which delights, that which takes up space, that which fills up time in our purpose driven lives. I pondered how often we are on target and how often we wander off.
I share this today because I see the Easter stories as being full of desire – some of it honorable, some of it misplaced, some of it individual and some collective.
There is the prophet’s desire – a believed holy seed compelling beyond measure. Surely Jesus was possessed of this. He saw the direction of world he lived in, saw where it was heading, the politics of the day. And he saw, too, a different way to be, one that rubbed up against the powers that were and ultimately got him killed. It is a familiar story because we have seen it repeated over and over in our lifetimes. The deep desire for beloved community, as we have come to call it. A place where everyone’s dignity is tied up in everyone else’s. A place of compassion, of equity, of right relationship – justice. The sense that we and all of life are interconnected – interdependent; the actions of one people impacting the lives of so many others and the ripple effect that causes. The domino effect we have on our earth home.
There is the people’s desire for a king – a leader like Caesar – an emperor to rule over them. In the Christian tradition, last Sunday was Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ entrance into the city, hailed by his followers as king, a carpet of palm branches laid before him to mark the path of their misunderstood leader. Why do we so often seek power over when power with is so much more valuable to our relationships? It’s as if we can’t help ourselves! We see it now in our world – the rise of authoritarian leadership and the people’s enthusiastic submission to it. From what misplaced desire does the will to lead in that way arise? Selfishness? Greed? Power? Are we still crying out for a king?
And then, a woman’s desire that her beloved teacher and companion be present with her still. Mary at the tomb, sensing the presence of Jesus even after he has met his tragic and violent demise, wanting with all her heart to believe that he was not truly gone. How many of us have experienced such a presence, known such a desire? So many, I think, whose dearest ones have gone before us and yet we hear their voice as if they were right here with us, find ourselves wrapped up in memories so strong and powerful as to comfort us, accompany us, through our days, their lives a gift that we do not want to let go of completely.
There is a collective desire, too, among those early followers of Jesus’ message. A people who would become a community, sharing what they had in a communal fashion, seeing to it that all were cared for, even and especially the least among them. It was a way of life that gathered steam as it moved forward in time, becoming one of the world’s great religious traditions. Here, too, was that desire for a way of life that they believed in and for a teacher who could lead such a movement. So powerful the message that they too heard and saw and felt his presence in their midst. And always as time marches on there are those who will abuse or misuse the desires of the people, those original intentions feared by some who saw their own purpose, their own power wane, tamp down on a movement at odds with their own desires. On and on it goes, up to the present and likely beyond.
The Easter stories are full of desire. Taken literally, they form the basis for the Christian tradition. Taken metaphorically, as I am inclined to do, they represent so much of what we all experience in our living and being this many years into the future. That’s what makes such texts sacred – their timelessness. Do you see yourself in any of the root desires expressed? Do you see any of our present-day circumstances represented?
We each come to this place full of our own desires – for connection, for meaning, to live into our felt purpose, to learn and grow and be inspired. And while these are common among us, how they show up for each of us will always be different. That’s some of the beauty of humanity – and some of what we have found can make relationship harder work than we might want it to be. That’s why these ideas about covenant and good conflict resolution skills seem so important – things we have touched on but have not yet seen through to fruition. All in good time! For now, though, I invite you to think about why you have come, why you continue to show up. What personal desires do you hope can be met by your involvement here?
Unitarian Universalism is oftentimes referred to as a movement. Some of that is so we don’t offend anyone by calling it a religion! But some of it has grounding in the idea of movement as being countercultural, of an upswelling of hope bound up in alternative ways of existing in the world. Not much unlike those early followers, honestly! Our Principles, those seven statements that we covenant to affirm and promote about our relationships to one another, and the wider scope of humanity speak to a collective desire for a more loving and accepting coexistence, a desire to enter into the work of making it be so.
We haven’t talked lately about our collective desire as a community of faith here in Chatham. We’ve talked around it – our purpose, the why of our being here, our mission. Talked about what drew some of us here through the Membership Committee’s survey and the resulting colorful signage. And I know you had some of these conversations a year or so before I came to be with you. I returned from my time of learning this winter with thoughts about imagination and fantasy and creativity in our midst in order to ensure we are here and relevant into the future. The next logical step is to figure out what our desire is as a body made up of all these individual desirous souls.
Most of you know I spent last weekend on a silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist center in northern Massachusetts. I took as a part of my intention a surrendering to simplicity that I heard the teachers describe in one of the talks. Retreat life is pretty simple, you wake and move to the sound of a bell, meals are prepared for you, pretty bare bones compared to regular life. It is the retreatants task to simply sit and be and notice. And so, I began to think about desire in terms of how much I really do need and about how clinging to that desire causes suffering or discomfort or heartache. It’s the grasping, the ‘gotta have it’ sense that wears one out. The fact of desire just is. In my morning readings in “Nonviolence Daily” this year with quotes from Gandhi and reflections it says that ending exploitation requires us to forego many things we otherwise think are necessary, that the greatest experiment in nonviolence might be a voluntary reduction of our desires and wants in an effort to support the whole.
The Easter stories remind us of the lengths to which people will go to fulfill their desires – at what cost or at whose expense. The invitation for us is to consider how our personal desires align with that of the common good. What choices can we make as persons that impact humanity in a positive way? And beyond that, what are we willing to let go of for a larger body to exist well – be that our family on the smaller scale or our world on the other end of the spectrum – or for our church to thrive here in Chatham. And what desires do we, as a subset of the whole, think we need to hold onto and what do we let go of or shift?
This Easter, I hope you come away from our gathered time with questions of desire on your hearts and in your minds and moving through your spirits. I hope you will take some time to examine your own desires and how they meld with those to whom you are connected. And I hope that you will consider how much of what you desire is truly necessary and what you might part with in order that our world and this place we love so dearly will move from survival to thriving.
May it be so.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, April 17, 2022