June 2, 2019: “The Invisible Embrace”

“The Invisible Embrace” (Rev. Dr. Susanne Intriligator, copyright)

“In the house where I grew up,” writes the UU minister Rev. Joe Cleveland, “there is a big window – a sliding glass door, really – that looks out on the backyard. Out back of our house it was a kind of clearing with trees to both sides. We had a bird feeder out there in the clearing and my mom made sure that it was filled with bird seed. Next to that big window that looked out at the trees and the clearing and the bird feeder, my mom always kept bird books and a pair of binoculars.”

“I don’t know how much time I spent looking out that window at the birds. We’d spot a bird and then look it up and figure out what it was. And I would even just page through those guide books sometimes, looking at the birds and the amazing pictures of them in these books.”

“Sometimes, even when I hadn’t just noticed some bird flying by, I would just pick up the binoculars. I would practice using them, how to hold them and focus them.”

Cleveland writes: “Some beauty is easy to see. But I think there is a lot of beauty that I wouldn’t notice if I didn’t practice looking for it. The more I practice looking for beauty, the more I am ready for it, the more beauty I find in my world.” end quote

Do you have a window with binoculars nearby?

Is there a way you could make a daily practice of looking for beauty in your life?

“The human soul is hungry for beauty,” writes the poet philosopher priest John ODonohue. “When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful, for it meets the needs of our soul. . . . In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act.”

He goes on: “Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us. end quote I love that language. We slip into beauty like we slip into water, trusting that it will hold us.” end quote.

That’s why he calls his book on beauty “The Invisible Embrace”. That’s what he’s talking about, slipping into beauty and letting it hold you up for a time. Feeling the upliftt, floating in it, relaxing into it.

It’s an important message for us, for right now. In a time when anxiety is running high everywhere, when our climate is in crisis and our political system seems to be failing us, when we are exhausted and disheartened and scared. We need beauty. When so many of us are having difficulty, facing surgery or a new diagnosis, or grieving the loss of a dear friend, we need this message. These are difficult times, to say the least, here and now, and I’m glad to have beauty to buoy me.

That’s what Joyce was talking about in her reading, too. The way the experience of beauty gives us rest and release from the rage that surrounds us.

It’s funny I think, how we have so many different answers to the prompt Beauty is . . . . as you all read it. We find beauty is so many different places and forms.

Music, art, literature. Nature. Our loved ones. Our children.

So many forms and yet it seems, near universal agreement on the experience of Beauty, what it does for us, how it feeds us, renews us, inspires us. Like we were made for one another.

Those of you who are in our private church Facebook group may have seen a video I shared there this week. It came across my feed, a coincidence, not at all related to my contemplating this month’s theme of Beauty. And yet it’s a perfect illustration of the theme.

It’s quite simple, really, a moment captured on someone’s phone, from perhaps a “Mommy and Me” type class in a gym or a library somewhere. Almost all you can see is a young woman in black with a violin. In silence she lifts it to her chin and then plays a solo instrumental version of the Elvis Presley hit, “When Fools Rush In.”

Now that’s the song we chose for our wedding, for our first dance, so it has a soft spot for me, as a fool who rushed in (after five years or so of living together, but who’s counting?) Anyway in the video, that one violin is just so gorgeous and rich and melodious, you hear squeals from the children and then, in one corner of the screen approaches a toddler. You can tell he’s just starting to walk, with that wobbly, bow-legged gait, and he has this expression of absolute wonder on his face. The first time ever he’s heard live music, you just KNOW it when you see it. He’s taken with woman and this violin and he just doesn’t know what to do with all that joy coursing through him. So he just keeps going. Until he runs into her leg and he just starts hugging her, chubby little arms around her thigh.

You can hear the mom call out, “Oh I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” but the violinist is a human, and a wide smile blooms on her face too.

A moment of pure joy.

Art, beauty, human connection, all in one moment.

Dostoyevsky once said “Beauty will save the world.”

Will it? Can it?

The Russian novelist and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn took issue with Dostoyevsky’s statement. “Just how could such a thing be possible?” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “When had it ever happened in the bloodthirsty course of history that beauty had saved anyone from anything? Beauty had provided embellishment certainly, given uplift – but whom had it ever saved?”

But Solzhenitsyn reconsiders, he goes on his essay, to answer his own question. Beauty he claims, especially in art, has a singular power to carry and convey truth and good.

“Perhaps that old trinity of Truth and Good and Beauty is not just the formal outworn formula it used to seem to us during our heady, materialistic youth,” says Solzhenitsyn. “If the crests of these three trees join together, . . . and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.” End quote.

Beauty carries with it, hidden within, truth and good. Do you agree?

For the mystic John O’Donohue, beauty contains truth and good because beauty itself is another name for God. We were created to desire beauty, to find our heart’s home in beauty, so that we would find our way home to God.

He quotes the medieval Spanish priest St. John of the Cross:

“I did not have to ask my heart what it wanted
because of all the desires I have ever known
just one did I cling to
for it was the essence of all desires
to know beauty.”

Sometimes, in Western cultures like ours, we can miss out on this journey of the heart, because our cultural norms about Beauty can seem purely of the head, just analytical. Since ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, westerners have prized symmetry and precision, mathematical patterns and perfection. Sometimes these patterns lead us to worship a technical perfection that leaves no room for the spiritual, the flawed, the human.

Recently I heard about a concept called “wabisabi“. Have you heard of wabisabi?

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabisabi is a world-view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, derived from the Buddhist teachings about impermanence and suffering. So in wabisabi, which is central to Japanese culture, objects like pottery or ancient temples are prized for asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, and best of all – the special beauty that comes with age.

Richard Powell writes: “Wabisabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

How liberating is that?

Can you imagine living in a world where, instead of perfection, we worshiped the beauty and authenticity that comes with age?

One person who is aging into her power and authenticity is Joanna Macy, the 90 year-old theologian and climate activist who is one of the major architects of the Great Turning initiative, which deals with our transformation from our current industrial growth society toward a more sustainable civilization.

Macy’s current focus is on what she calls The Work That Reconnects, in all caps The Work That Reconnects. By that she means a framework – both theological and methodological – that reconnects us to the natural world, our deep feelings for it, which we can use to power the great turning and save us from climate catastrophe.

To Macy, it’s a spiral. We start with looking at the natural world, reconnecting to its unbelievably complex, heart-wrenching beauty. From there naturally flows gratitude, which can allow us then to open ourselves to our grief and our fear, which Macy calls “honoring our pain for the world.” Instead of fearing that pain and hiding from it, she calls in strength to allow it, to feel it, and let it help us to the next stage in the spiral, called “seeing with new eyes,” which brings compassion and new solutions. Then we can go forth in the world, to bring change. She calls the whole spiral, which we live again and again, Active Hope.

That’s how you get to Active Hope, by allowing beauty to open you to gratitude. Which gives you courage to walk through fear and pain and get to a new place.

“Beauty will save the world.”

Will it? Can it?

Yes. If you hang those binoculars next to the window and make looking for beauty a daily practice.

Then you find beauty more and more often. In music, art, literature, in the faces of those you love and those you don’t. Yet.

Rest in beauty, slip into its embrace. And be renewed. Drink it in, drink it down, heal yourself from the outside in. Let your soul rest in its true home.

And then . . .

Let the beauty power you, in your authenticity, in your aging beauty and imperfect perfection. In your wholeness, come forth, into this brave and broken world ready to feel your grief and your rage and your power.

Together we can. We can turn the world. We can plant the seeds, we can give birth to beauty and reclaim the earth for itself.

Let us pray. Amen.

May 26, 2019: “Living The Questions”

Unitarian Universalists are the ones who aren’t satisfied with someone else’s theology, with a creed handed down to us through the generations. We undertake our own religious journeys. Finding our own way and accepting and helping others on theirs can’t be done without curiosity.

May 12, 2019: “The Meaning of Membership”

What draws people to join our church? What keeps long-term members coming back? We will celebrate mothers and all caregivers, honor those celebrating milestone membership anniversaries, and officially welcome this year’s new members!

April 21, 2019: “Easter Homily”

Today, this morning, my friends, let us pray that we might, as a nation and as a people, stand up and walk forward, toward that Promised land the one of freedom and dignity and laughter we already hold inside.

April 7, 2019: “The Holy Whole”

Wholeness is the consciousness that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. That you don’t have to earn worthiness. You are Something already complete, already perfect in your own way, and inherently worthy, inherently loved and loveable. That was the true message of Jesus.

March 31, 2019: “A Nation Of Immigrants”

When I was a kid in the 70’s in Michigan, my industrial city was literally overrun with an immigrant wave. Was there tension? Sure, some. But most folks just rolled with it. We knew we were all immigrants at one time – hard-working families with well-kept houses, and not a single incident of terrorism.

March 10, 2019: “Bless This Home”

There are too many lonely people. What we are doing, right here, right now, matters. We are fighting cultural trends, pushing back at hyper-individualism, protecting ourselves and our kids from debilitating loneliness and social isolation. The more people connect to our life-giving message, the more people are weaved into our life-saving community.

March 3, 2019: “Pilgrims Progress”

Pilgrimages developed as a way of pulling people out of normal life, forcing them to put down their worldly ways and set aside time and space for reflection, of un-becomimg what you are not. Is it time for you to set off on a journey of un-becoming?

February 24, 2019: “White Like Me”

Empathy must be cultivated. The truth is that there is no other, no us and them, no black and white, no gay and straight, no easy lines to draw. The separation is the sin. The estrangement, from loved ones, from human connection, from the divine as it manifests in all people, is a spiritual disease.

February 10, 2019: “Trust / Worthy”

In recent years, a major shift has taken place. With more displacement and movement … now, we live disconnected, separate from our extended families and sometimes even from our nuclear families … Trust isn’t dying. It’s just changing .. the act of trust makes us stronger and more whole.

January 27, 2019: “Resilience: The Poetry of Mary Oliver”

Poet Mary Oliver was a bard for UU’s. Her clear, poignant observations of nature became her signature. Oliver viewed her writing as a social act. For Oliver, the dailyness of holding to her routines and commitments held the key to her productivity. She believed, perhaps paradoxically, that discipline and creatively were deeply coupled.

December 9, 2018: “Need To Know” by Anastasia Higginbotham

“Need To Know” How can we have honest talks with our children and our loved ones about really tough topics like death, divorce, and racism? Author Anastasia Higginbotham just finished a national book tour for her latest, the first children’s book about whiteness, which NPR named as one of 2018’s best books.

December 2, 2018: “Alive to Mystery”

Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery. December’s worship theme is Mystery, and oh, what a theme it is. So appropriate for a month when we celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah, mark the passing of the winter solstice, and anticipate the complexities of Christmas.

September 23, 2018: “We Have The Power”

When we live out our values, in smiles and stories, in activism and voting, in interactions large and small, we help the world to evolve, to become fairer, more just, more whole. Even if we can’t exactly see that vision in the darkness, we can feel it. We can walk toward it in faith.

September 16, 2018 “Where Your Destiny Awaits”

What is your personal vision statement, your one-sentence legacy? When it’s all said and done, what do you want them to say about you? … What does it mean to be a people of Vision? Come, learn more about our Theme for September, “Vision”.