October 13, 2019: “The Quest for Belonging”

AFFIRMATION:                 “Yes, There’s No Binary”
(from the Rev. Dr. David Breeden)

The road not taken
is not a fork. That’s
too simple a thought,
flipping some coin.
Either/or. Nope. It’s
not this or that.
No or yes. It’s nor/neither and all
of the above and
more. The road
taken goes every
way at once. There.
There. They. Them.
Go. Now. Live.

CHALICE LIGHTING:       Words by Rev. Gretchen Haley            (read by Nyla M.)

In a world that feeds on moral outrage
We are here to cultivate moral courage
In a time that prizes picking sides
We gather to draw a wider circle
And in a culture that teaches us to get for what we give
And to ask “what’s in it for me?”
We come to practice generosity and to remember,
We are all in this together.
In the midst of life’s bitterness,
we choose to sing, to give thanks,
to laugh together, and to be keepers of beauty
to offer a place of belonging for all who come
in gladness and in pain
to resist the push to the next moment, and the next

to slow down, to breathe more deeply,
to feel a part of something greater for this hour, and in this space
let us be the change we wish to see
come, let us worship together.

MEDITATION & PRAYER:                                               Muncie McLeod

Let us take a moment to practice the meditation on Loving Kindness:

  1. Carve out some quiet time for yourself (even a few minutes will work) and sit comfortably. Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and take a few deep breaths. 
  2. Imagine yourself [them] experiencing complete physical and emotional wellness and inner peace. Imagine feeling perfect love for yourself [them], thanking yourself [them] for all that you [they] are, knowing that you [they] are just right—just as you [they] are. Focus on this feeling of inner peace, and imagine that you [and they] are breathing out tension and breathing in feelings of love.
  3. Repeat three or four positive, reassuring phrases to yourself.
  • May I [they] be happy
  • May I [they] be safe
  • May I [they] be healthy, peaceful, and strong
  • May I [they] give and receive appreciation today
  1. Bask in feelings of warmth and self-compassion for a few moments. If your attention drifts, gently redirect it back to these feelings of loving kindness. Let these feelings envelop you.
  2. Now think of someone you care about. Think of that person and [Repeat the above for them]

excerpt from “Eternal Echoes”                        (by John O’Donohue)

“The hunger to belong is at the heart of our nature. Cut off from others, we atrophy and turn in on ourselves. The sense of belonging is the natural balance of our lives. Mostly, we do not need to make an issue of belonging. When we belong, we take it for granted. There is some innocent childlike side to the human heart that is always deeply hurt when we are excluded. Belonging suggests warmth, understanding, and embrace. No one was created for isolation. When we become isolated, we are prone to being damaged; our minds lose their flexibility and natural kindness; we become vulnerable to fear and negativity. The sense of belonging keeps you in balance amidst the inner and outer immensities. The ancient and eternal values of human life—truth, unity, goodness, justice, beauty, and love are all statements of true belonging; they are the also the secret intention and dream of human longing.”

SERMON:              The Quest for Belonging                                            by Muncie McLeod

Many of you know Phyllis B., who has been a member of this congregation since forever. Periodically she sends out an email of her current reflections. About a month ago she sent one with the subject line “Stories in Our Souls”. The image of soul stories provides excellent context in my piece today and I have taken a quote from her email. So I wish to acknowledge her contribution and dedicate today’s sermon to Phyllis.

Susan Orlean writes in her work, The Library Book:

“Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by our experiences and emotions; each individual’s consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve cataloged and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived. It is something that no one else can entirely share. If you can take something from that internal collection and share it – with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in story recited – it takes on a life of its own.”

While this is true, there is more to each of us than this library of life lived. Each of us, at birth, comes with our own innate nature, some say a divine spark, at our very core. Every newborn is different right from the start, as any parent with two or more children can attest.

When we are born, we are delivered into the world as a stranger among strangers. It is our task to make the strange familiar and meaningful and discover, or invent, how our divine self belongs within this strange land.

The tension between the divine self and the manifest world makes this an impossible task, and therefore an excellent quest.

As we grow up, we soak up the influences around us from our family, friends, community and culture constructing an inner conscious self that is influenced by our divine nature. Eventually we discover that our inner self does not always feel at home with our circumstances.

As John O’Donohue noted in today’s reading, “When we belong, we take it for granted,” and “when we become isolated, we are prone to being damaged; our minds lose their flexibility and natural kindness; we become vulnerable to fear and negativity. The sense of belonging keeps us in balance amidst the inner and outer immensities.”

When we are out of balance, we have many strategies to regain our sense of belonging; curiosity, explanation, storytelling, problem solving, control, anger and denial to name a few.

As we seek to regain our balance, we may note that our personal struggle takes place within the context of a larger cultural dialog. In today’s call to worship we noted that this weekend marks the observances of Indigenous People’s Day, Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day. Each of these celebrations holds lessons for each of us in finding our own sense of belonging.

This is the 31st annual National Coming Out Day which occurs on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. This day reminds us that that coming out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer is one of the most basic tools for establishing our belonging within our culture.

Now, I could recite my own story of coming out, from feeling estranged from my myself until age 23, when I became aware that I was bisexual, and came to a more nuanced sense of gender than most, etc., but often times with non-LGBTQ folks this comes across as interesting, but not universal.

So today I prefer to tell the coming out story of my friend Bud. Bud and I were classmates at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering. After we graduated, I didn’t see him for 10 years. At that time, I was passing through Phoenix Arizona and by chance I saw his name in the phone book. I called him up and spent a couple days with him and he told me this story.

After college he had married his high school sweetheart. They were together for about five years when she left him. He was living what he thought was the culturally standard life; you meet someone, you fall in love, you get married and you live happily ever after. But when Bonnie left him, he understood that he had been emotionally absent from their relationship and that leaving him was the right thing for her to do. He lost his sense of belonging.

He said to me, “I didn’t want to be alone in life and I knew I had to come out.” He opened up to intimacy, met a woman, remarried and at the time of my visit had been together for three years. I love this story because it resonates with my own. Yes, he is straight, but he used the same metaphor that LGBTQ folks employ to describe the discovery of the truth within one’s own heart. He had been living the default story that society had provided for him and when that failed, he awakened to a deeper truth and came out.

His example shows that finding a new way to belong through reconciling cultural beliefs with personal experience, especially in the areas of gender roles, sexuality and the expression of love is not unique to the LGBTQ experience.

For me, this is the universal meaning of National Coming Out Day.

This weekend’s other two observances are related, Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day.

The first, of course, marks the discovery of the America’s by Christopher Columbus and the beginning of permanent settlements in the New World by Western European nations. It is also seen as a day to celebrate Italian American Identity.

Indigenous People’s Day celebrates the Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. It was first observed in 1989 in South Dakota. It is no accident that it falls on the same day as Columbus Day. By doing so it promotes the idea that Columbus’s “discovery” of inhabited lands and subsequent European colonization resulted in the genocide of indigenous peoples by decisions of colonial and national governments.

There has been a lot of controversy around these two observances that many see as antithetical and competing. I tend to see them as complementary and completing. By celebrating Native Americans we flesh out the whole story and spread awareness that Columbus Day should include contrition and reconciliation in order to restore the balance of belonging on this land.

This may be difficult for many Americans of European descent to come to terms with. There is often an attitude of “America belongs to us”, rather than an acknowledgment that we belong to a greater America and to an even larger global society.

My position on the nature of these two observances has been influenced by a Hopi legend.

In their language, Hopi means the people of peace.

According to their teachings when the Hopi came to Turtle Island, their name for North America, they separated into different groups to explore the land, with the understanding that eventually each group would return to the center. One group established a village at the center. Over time, likely many generations, a nomadic group would approach the village and ask if they could settle there. The villagers would give them food and show them a place to encamp for three days. After the three days the new comers would have to show the villagers their most important ritual so that the villagers could understand the sacred energy that the returning group held in trust for the whole tribe. After the sharing of the ritual the returning group would belong to the Village. In this way, over centuries, the various groups returned, shared their rituals and became whole.

This Hopi practice shows that the sense of belonging has parallels at the individual and the collective level. We accomplish this belonging, whether as an individual or as a group, when we share our most sacred stories, with boundaries established by the ancient and eternal values of human life—truth, unity, goodness, justice, beauty, and love. When we share our stories with these values, we no longer see my story and your story, but our story. We can acknowledge our differences while respecting the energies that each holds in trust for the whole. In this way we may come together in universal embrace.

Let us rise in body or in spirit for our closing hymn

BENEDICTION:                 By John O’Donohue “Eternal Echoes” (read by Muncie McLeod)

May you listen to your longing to be free.
May the frames of your belonging be large enough for the dreams of your soul.
May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart that something good is going to happen to you.
May you find a harmony between your soul and your life.
May the mansion of your soul never become a haunted place.
May you know the eternal longing which lives at the heart of time.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you never place walls between the light and yourself.
May your angel free you from the prisons of guilt, fear, disappointment and despair.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.