September 8, 2019: “Trust The Waters”

Ingathering Sunday Homily, copyright Rev. Dr. Susanne Intriligator

MEDITATION
I offer this passage, from a book of meditations written by Rev. Adam Dyer, the new settled minister in Cambridge, Ma. It’s for everyone who’s ever been plagued by doubt, or swamped by fear. In the quiet is an answer. Please listen and relax. Imagine and remember.

“Adrift in My Faith” (Rev. Adam Dyer)

Sometimes I am adrift in my faith,
All at sea.
I must remind myself that not only can I swim,
But I can read the sun and the moon.
I know the smell of the storm on the horizon,
And the buzz of the fly that says, “land ho!””
I am adrift, and I am nearer the shore than my parents
Or my ancestors,
Shadowy figures from books
Whose battered and used-up bodies
Manage to lift me above the waves
To breathe the sweet sea air.
Though waves will rise as high as my brow,
I am able to hold my breath until they ebb
And I can breathe in the sun again.
I am adrift,
All around me an ocean.
I am a land creature by nature
I have no gills or fins or scales
And my blood is warm.
This ocean could consume me
With its temperature,
Its toxicity;
Asphyxiating,
Dehydrating.
It is not my natural element
But it is . . . beautiful and enticing;
An endless plane of silken ultramarine
Piqued in white lace.
It enfolds me every so often
In an embrace.
And I rest, but briefly.
I am adrift.
And the silken sea water glancing
across my skin
Can send a chill
Or lap at my neck.
Much too close, despite its vast expanse.
Oh, how I long for dry land, dry . . . safe . . . land,
Placing my feet on terra firma,
Terra familiar, where I know I can stand
And be seen with my face turned up to the sun, saying,
“Yes! I know I am not a fish!”
I am not the “other,”
I am human and I can swim.
So, I am adrift.
Held aloft by my forebears
Standing above the waves
Walking on water.
I read the sun and the moon
And brace for the storm on the horizon
And lead the way home.
For I have heard the fly buzz,
It is the sound that excites my ear.
I can hear
Ever so tiny and clear,
( . . . listen)
. . . land ho!”

READING

“First Lesson” (by Philip Booth)

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

HOMILY

What Can We Expect?
Lie back daughter,
let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide,
lie out on the stream
Philip Booth’s poem paints lovely picture. A dad and a daughter, a river and a
gentle moment, a lesson as old as time.
Trust the water.
What can we expect of this year to come, as we journey forth together?
What does it mean to be a person of faith, a community of faith?
Many of you will recall that last year at this time, we embarked upon an experiment with Soul Matters, a UU sharing circle that provides monthly themes that we use across worship, music, RE, and our small groups that are centered on spiritual deepening called covenant groups.
The approach worked well for us last year, so we decided to participate again this year. But just just like things here in our church, there’s been a been a Change in Soul Matters, too. A new twist!
Church geeks everywhere squeal in delight —yay!
You see, some SM participants last year said wanted to go deeper, they wanted themes that were more closely connected to the world’s great religions, resources that challenged us to re-examine and refresh our
theological groundings. I was one of those people.
So Soul Matters introduced Sacred Words, which is an extra, alternative theme for every month, with new resources.
At first, Katie and Tara and I weren’t sure about this addition. We looked at the lists, and we thought, this is too complicated. Two themes every month? our people will be confused.
“On the other hand,” I said. “Our people are pretty smart,” I said. (Some of them.) “Maybe they can handle a little complexity.”
Let’s give you an example.
So . . the basic theme for September is Expectation. And that’s great for the start of the church year. This is a fitting time to ask:
• What can we expect, from ourselves and from this community going forward?
• What silent or unspoken expectations do we hold for ourselves or others, and how do they get in our way?
• How do our expectations for our lives differ among the generations, or between different genders, classes or races?
Yes, Expectation is a rich topic, and we’ll be delving into it further across this month.
And at the same time, I’m happy to say that the Sacred Word pairing for September renders it all even richer and more challenging — for the preacher and the people.
The Sacred Word for September is Faith.
How is that different from Expectation? What questions does that pairing bring up for you? What happens in the interplay.
For example . . . if I look out at all your lovely faces, and I say “I have great expectations for this community.”
That’s very different from saying “I have great faith in this community.”
One of them, Expectation, is something I do with my mind. It is a rational decision, or at least it pretends to be.
But faith, faith is something I do with my heart. It’s a choice I make because my heart longs for it, longs for hope, longs for justice, longs for a great turning, for the promise of a future worthy of my children and yours and theirs.
I know UU’s can sometimes have a problem with the word Faith. They can think it means some kind of strict adherence to a doctrine or an imposed belief in some kind of small, punitive God.
But faith is so much larger than that, and so much more mysterious. In fact, even for many religious thinkers, the word faith means the exact opposite of a rigid belief in doctrine.
Frederick Buechner, the Christian theologian, wrote: “Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. A journey without maps.” unquote.
Dr. King, a man of great faith, defined that word in a similar way, with a nod to mystery and courage. Dr King said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”
Do you have that kind of faith?
It seems to me that’s exactly what we need in these dark days, when we often can’t see the staircase.
The philosopher Alan Watts was an Episcopal priest before he became a Zen Buddhist monk. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Watts wrote 25 books, many of them quite influential, comparing ideas among and between the world’s great religious traditions.

In a piece called “Trust Yourself to the Water,” Allan Watts wrote:
Faith is a state of openness or trust.
To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water.
You don’t grab hold of the water when you swim,
because if you do you will become stiff and tight in the water, and sink.
You have to relax,
and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging and holding on.
In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe
becomes a person who has
no faith at all.
Instead they are holding tight.
But the attitude of faith is to let go
and become open to truth,
whatever it might turn out to be.
Trust Yourself to the Water

In our meditation this morning, Adam Dyer writes:

Sometimes I am adrift in my faith,
All at sea.
I must remind myself that not only can I swim,
But I can read the sun and the moon.
I know the smell of the storm on the horizon,
And the buzz of the fly that says, “land ho!””
Even when he’s cold and wet and scared, Dyer can still feel the water support him. In it he feels the presence of ancestors, the great river of humanity, holding him up, lifting him above the waves, so he can breathe.
Trust the waters.

Philip Booth writes:

Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

What can we expect of this year to come, as we journey forth together?
What does it mean to be a people of faith?
Trust the waters.
In time of trouble and confusion, worry and panic,
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, and breathe deep.
Come here, into our circle of care, and be held.
Dip into the river of humanity, those many who came before — the loved ones who made you, the ancestors who built this church and this community, who welcomed you here 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and this morning.
And lie back. Rest easy in our care. Float upon the waters of community.
Trust yourself. And have faith, in all you cannot see, in all you can feel, in all you know in your heart to be true.
The sea will hold you.
Until you can remember.
Not only can you swim, but you can read the sun and the moon. You know the smell of the storm and the buzz of the fly that says Land Ho!
Let go and become open to truth,
whatever it might turn out to be.
Trust the Waters.
Amen and I love you.