Every day at noon this month, beginning with January 2nd and all the way through the 31st I gather myself along with my laptop and my zafu and a prayer shawl gifted to me several years ago. I sign on to the Insight Meditation Society website learning center where I zoom in with one of three dharma teachers for a half hour of insightful Buddhist wisdom and sitting in silence. I breathe as per instruction, noticing the in and out of it, and for me the waiting in between, which I have found is considerable. I am a slow breather! The goal is to free my grasp on all the outside distractions of the day – of life – and of that life in our messy world. The goal is to connect – moment to moment with that which lays at my center – the core of my being – that which really matters and from which the rest of my day may unfold. I am doing this daily, with intention, that over time it may become habit. I do it for myself, but as the teaching would have it, as I create this well of peace and quiet knowing within me it will ultimately begin to radiate outward. That whatever benefit I receive in these few minutes might be for the benefit of all beings. That all beings may be free. I think there’s something to it because my Emma follows me upstairs every day and curls up on the love seat behind me, soaking up the calm energy that I imagine flowing in and about the room. Dogs seem to sense such things!
What of this center – this core – this stuff that matters? I believe there is a tiny spark in there – a bit of energy waiting to be tapped, something pure and true and sacred, that exists in all living things – all beings for sure, so certainly each of you. And you may not have such a mystical streak as I do so you may call this something else. I believe it was what Thurman was talking about this morning in our reading – this high resolve that he wished to be reminded of and connected to. He refers to it as a radiance, and I imagine a glowing light of insight, of knowing, that waits for the moment of remembrance and feeds the present with what is of the greatest value in that instant. It seems so easy to forget that it is there, he says, but in the quiet of this place, wherever his place of settling in might be, there comes that sudden connection where a oneness with the ‘all in all’ whispers to him the invitation to never let go of his commitment to the highest and best in his living.
Franciscan Sister Ilea Dileo suggests that there is a contemplative vision at the heart of our lives that brings us into connection with new realities, to the whole of life – interdependent as we say. In this place we become attuned to the deeper intelligence of nature itself and are called into creative expression of our gifts in
Jone Johnson Lewis, in our opening words calls these sparks intentions - the things we mean to do and the way we mean to do them. Experiences - all the melded reality that our life thus far as stored up. Thoughts - the ever-winding path that our minds are on. Feelings - the involuntary responses of the heart. Wisdom – the collective nature of it all interwoven; a web of knowing. We carry this with us, inside of us, and if we are paying attention to it, a guidance for our days appears to accompany us on the journey.
There is so very much that can get in the way. Thurman wrote a half a century or more ago and the list is just as alive for us in our time. The dust and grit of the road we are on. Not the big stuff even, although this week has certainly presented enough in the way of distraction – our political system, damaging weather patterns, more gun violence, nations warring against nations. It is only January 8th if you wanted to use the start of the new year as some kind of a marker or stepping off point, although time does keep on spinning regardless. Thurman suggests it is the little things, calling us to a smaller more personal circle, closer in but no less apparent. The ‘wear and tear,’ he calls it. Maybe an awkward relational moment with someone or the plumbing needs a fix or the car. Maybe we’ve been sick or fallen or can’t sleep. Maybe the to-do list has once again grown too long to manage. You can name your own, I am sure! Likely it is more than one of these and suddenly we find ourselves pulled from what really matters into the whirlwind of reaction. It happens so fast we don’t even realize it until we are in the midst of it and then it takes some time to notice and unwind back toward the simplicity of just being. It takes intention to acquaint oneself with their center, to reacquaint oneself, over and over. We know when we have arrived because there is an abiding peace that washes over us, a sense of freedom and wellbeing. And we wonder why we allowed ourselves to move from it to begin with! We are human of course, that is why!
We find ourselves gathered here today with a list of concerns that have the potential to unravel us as well, send us spinning off in one direction or another, in many different directions perhaps if we forget, too, that we are persons, but also a people here, sharing in something quite beautiful. We are somewhat tossed about by changing demographics, by changing perceptions of church and its place in life, by the simple facts of aging, fixed income, energy. We have done well to hear one another out and the Board will make a proposal after the service for how to proceed. Unlike Thurman’s dust and grit, it is more of a direct challenge that he suggests we could tackle and work through to the end. This is partly the case, but there is a part of it that tugs on our heartstrings. There is a lot of emotion attached because this place holds so much meaning for us. That love we hold has rooted itself in our centers and has the potential to serve us in our situation or to keep us from tapping into wisdom. Our intention is to be part of a sustainable liberal religious faith tradition that serves our most intimate needs and the wider world. Our experience tells us that we have maintained this community for over 35 years now and we will find a way. We know ourselves to be resourceful and creative. Our rational minds are busy coming up with solutions, fixes, crunching numbers, imagining incredible what-if’s. Our feelings tell us that this place is perfect just as it is – our faith home that once invited us in and now welcomes us week after week. Our collective wisdom looks at all of this, takes a balcony view perhaps.
So much is going on inside of us! Some of what we have been doing the past few months is attempting to find our centers using all the tools we know best how to employ. I wonder how many of you have taken some time to simply quiet the mind and heart and sit in the presence of that tiny spark of light. There is no magic to it and doing it once isn’t necessarily going to yield an ultimate response, but I’d like us to try it together. There are lots of tools available for such an exercise, but today I have chosen finger labyrinths. They are easy to create and to follow. Those of you at home have the one I sent with the order of service, or maybe you have your own. If not, you can follow along with your mind’s eye.
Emily Boggis writes that a labyrinth is an ancient form of moving meditation. It is a metaphor for our own spiritual journeys which are often filled with twists and turns but ultimately bring us to the center - the Source of Love, Connectedness, Oneness. A labyrinth is an excellent practice in both listening to and cultivating your inner knowing.
Lets get our labyrinths before us on our laps and take a few cleansing breaths to calm ourselves. Place your finger at the entrance – the opening at the bottom. Labyrinths are intended to be moved through slowly, so gently move your finger up to the first turn. Intentionally follow it left and around to the next turn that seems to double back. At each turn remind yourself to be still and to know that a simple peace accompanies you on the journey.
Arriving at center, stop, wait, breathe. Give yourself a moment to access that quiet peace, the radiance of your high resolve. Now turn and wind your way slowly back out the way you came, reminding yourself all the way that you are accompanied still by this peaceful knowing.
As you exit, stop, and offer gratitude for this opportunity to access your center, your innermost light.
Recently after some sixty years of experimenting and research scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made an incredible breakthrough in nuclear fusion. For the first time the energy resulting from their experiment exceeded the level of energy required to make it happen. This holds hope for the creation of clean energy in the future, but it got me thinking about that light inside of us. What if we were to awaken to that inner light, to shine a light on it in such a way that the resulting light emanating from this place and this people was greater than all the effort it took to create such an awareness. I began to think about harnessing our own light in such a way that it would be an empowering force with an even greater impact in our midst, that instead of expending from our precious reserves and only breaking even, the return would ensure longevity and sustainability.
As we enter into a time of receiving from our Board, may we open ourselves fully and let what we hear today touch that place of centered light and peace. May it be from that place that we ponder and consider our way forward. May it be that in the coming weeks, as we return our thoughts to what we have learned we once again go to that place of centering, unencumbered by the dirt and grit, the wear and tear and from there live into that to which we commit ourselves.
So may it be and Amen.
Rev. Tracy Johnson
UUMH Chatham, January 8, 2023