Sunday, November 5, 2017: All Soul’s Service

THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:

“And if you don’t know this dying and birth you are merely a dreary guest on earth.”

(by Goethe)

PRELUDE:

“Deep River” (arr. Larry Shackley)

WELCOMING WORDS:

Nita P.

 

 

CALL TO WORSHIP:(by Robert French Leavens)

Holy and beautiful the custom

Which brings us together,

In the presence of the Most High

To face our ideals,

To remember our loved ones in absence,

To give thanks, to make confession,

To offer forgiveness,

To be enlightened, and to be strengthened.

Through this quiet hour breathes

The worship of the ages,

The cathedral music of history.

Three unseen guest attend,

Faith, hope and love.

Let all our hearts prepare them place.

INTROIT: “Find a Stillness “ (Transylvanian Hymn Tune)

LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Sammy and Luke M.

Chalice of light

Brighten our days

Chalice of warmth

Open our hearts

Chalice of memory

Renew our hope

And guide us in love this day.

(by Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson)

OPENING HYMN: “Here We Have Gathered” (#. 360)

OUR COVENANT:

Love is the doctrine of this church,

The quest for truth is its sacrament,

And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,

To seek knowledge in freedom,

To serve humankind in fellowship,

To the end that all souls

Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.

This is our great covenant,

One with another, and with our God.

SONG OF ASPIRATION:

From all that dwell below the skies,

Let songs of hope and faith arise,

Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,

Through every land, by every tongue.

Amen.

CHILDREN’S TIME: “Our Altar of Memory” with Rev. Anita

SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:

Go now in peace, go now in peace;

may the love of God surround you,

everywhere,

everywhere

you may go.

EXPLORING ABILITY: “Why it Matters to Me” Josh S.

I work for a company that designs and builds complex databases. One of my work cohorts, David, is 47 years old. He has Cerebral Palsy, which makes his bodily movements spastic. He cannot walk; a motorized wheelchair is the only way he can move around. His speech is quite difficult to understand. He has learned to work his computer, so that he can be highly productive despite his spasming arm and hand movements.

After a few years of getting to know David, and listening to his discussions with cohorts, I grew to admire and trust his lucid and quick technology insights. Increasingly I choose him to be part of my most complex client engagements.

Slowly at first, I even included him in conference calls with clients. Clients tell me that listening to him is challenging and exhausting. I sit in on such calls to interpret and clarify his thoughts for clients. Initially I feared that clients might not be able to understand him, and that they might not appreciate my bringing such a “layer of confusion” into conference calls. However after a few such calls I clearly saw that clients value David’s input as much as I do.

He has coded some of the most complex database tools that I have ever provided to clients. His creations are elegant to use, succinct, bug free, and stand the tests of time. His mind is like a “steel trap” remembering everything from endless Linux command line syntax, up through complex “application frameworks”, and server software environments. His use of the English language to describe deep technical issues, as well as organization behavior workflow issues, is wondrous.

Perhaps David’s most lovely business trait is that he is genuinely passionate about giving clients the most inexpensive long-term solution.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of working with David is that he does not trust cohorts and superiors to have his best interest in their minds. Sometimes, multiple times in one day, he defaults to thinking he is being passed over by cohorts. This causes anxiety throughout the organization, as well as deep within David. I wonder what parts of his unusual life have “encouraged” him to have such “self-preservation” responses. There are probably many of them, and they are probably very powerful. For example, David recently told me that so many people have given him “false praise”, over his entire life, that he is never sure if someone is actually telling him the truth. He and I discuss this openly, but I still do not totally understand.

One day a few years ago David got wind of the fact that I was personal friends with the owner of a company that he desperately wanted to work for, a company that specializes in one of his GEEK passions. He asked me to set up an interview with that person, with the intent of his getting a new job. I told him that I would consider his unusual request, and then I ruminated on it for a few days.

Without question, it is my spiritual duty to provide this talented, and deeply challenged, human with access to doing the work of his dreams. However, this was a three-edged sword!!! ONE, strangely I found that I was very willing to solicit my other friend to hire him, not knowing what might befall David in that new environment. TWO, I stood to lose one of the best working relationships I have ever had. THREE, my boss would probably be furious if I got David hired by a competitor. I would have regretted not sharing my intentions with my boss, and so I discussed my intentions with him, and . . . was not surprised that he heartily endorsed the idea.

David had that interview, a few years ago now, but alas… to date has not yet been hired by the dream company… although it would not surprise me if that does come to pass. David continues to have little trust of cohorts’ motivations. He continues to be at the top of my list of the greatest people I have ever worked with. My relationship with David is one of the most rewarding paths that I walk.

OFFERTORY: “Draw the Sacred Circle Closer” (by Adolphus Hailstork)

CREATING OUR ALTAR OF MEMORY

(Rev. Anita will light a candle for the victims of the terrorist attack in NYC)

MUSICAL INTERLUDE: “To My Old Brown Earth”

(by Pete Seeger, performed by Alistair M. and Music Director Tara Tresner-Kirsch)

MEDITATION AND PRAYER

MUSICAL MEDITATION

READING: from “Growing Up” (by Russell Baker)

At the age of eighty my mother had her last bad fall, and after that her mind wandered free through time. Some days she went to weddings and funerals that had taken place half a century earlier. On others she presided over family dinners cooked on Sunday afternoons for children who were now gray with age. Through all this she lay in bed but moved across time, traveling among the dead decades with a speed and ease beyond the gift of physical science.

Where’s Russell?” she asked me one day when I came to visit at the nursing home.

I’m Russell,” I said.

She gazed at this improbably overgrown figure out of an inconceivable future and promptly dismissed it.

Russell’s only this big,” she said, holding her hand, palm down, two feet from the floor. That day she was a young country wife with chickens in the backyard and a view of the hazy blue Virginia mountains behind the apple orchard, and I was a stranger old enough to be her father.

…she was (a) formidable woman….She ran after squawking chickens, an axe in hand, determined on a beheading that would put dinner in the pot. She ran when she made beds, ran when she set the table….She ran.

But now the running was over. For a time I could not accept the inevitable. So I sat by her bed, my impulse was to argue her back to reality. On my first visit to the hospital in Baltimore she asked who I was.

Russell,” I said.

Russell’s out west,” she advised me.

No. I’m right here.

Guess where I came from today?” was her response.

Where?

All the way from New Jersey.

When?

Tonight.

No. You’ve been in the hospital for three days,” I insisted.

I suggest the thing to do is calm down a little bit,” she replied. “Go over to the house and shut the door.

Now she was years deep into the past, living in the neighborhood where she had settled forty years earlier, and she had just been talking with Mrs. Hoffman, a neighbor across the street.

It’s like Mrs. Hoffman said today:’The children always wander back to where they come from,’ ” she remarked.

Mrs. Hoffman has been dead for fifteen years.

Russ got married today,” she replied.

I got married in 1950,” I said, which was the fact.

The house is unlocked,” she said.

So it went….

She had written a letter three years earlier which explained more than “hardening of the arteries.”

If I seemed unhappy to you at times, I am, but there’s really nothing anyone can do about it, because I am just so very tired and lonely that I’ll just go to sleep and forget it.”…

Now, three years later, after the last bad fall, she had managed to forget the fatigue and loneliness and, in these free-wheeling excursions back through time, to recapture happiness. I soon stopped trying to wrest her back to what I considered the real world and tried to travel along with her on those fantastic swoops into the past.

HYMN: “Comfort Me” (# 1002)

HOMILY:

Precious and Beloved

The Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson (copyright)

 

I have a friend who is about ten years older than am I. She had a rough week. She lost her keys one day. Another day she received a call from her dentist’s office. She had missed an appointment to have her teeth cleaned – an appointment she’d made six months before.

When she met someone in the grocery store who had greeter her, “Hi Sharon[1].”, she could not, for the life of her, place who that woman was or remember her name. It wasn’t until she was driving home that she realized the woman was the teller at her bank.

But those three events in one week got her frightened. She made an appointment to have a test of her cognition. She feared she was developing dementia. In fact, she was terrified. So frightened, that she didn’t even tell me of her fear until the results of her tests were in – that her cognitive capacities were within the range of normal. She was not losing her faculties. She was not demented. Then, in the giddy exhilaration of relief, she called me. She started to laugh over how scared she had been. But it wasn’t funny.

We so frequently identify our selves with our minds that the idea of losing that capacity, may seem to us like a loss of self. In our imagination, it can become a living death. In our imagination. While we rarely would think that we had lost our self if we lost an arm or a leg, our equating of our mind and our personhood is common.

Steve Martin made a movie a ways back – a comedy called “The Man with Two Brains”. It is about a man who falls in love with a woman – well actually the woman’s brain. It is in a jar in formaldehyde, and they communicate by thought. The only way it works at all, even as a comedy, is because it is playing on the ridiculousness of our equating our self, with our brain.

So it is true that many of us carry a fear that we will develop dementia, and we will become a body without a self, that there will be no inherent worth and dignity left in us. It will have vanished with our lucid thoughts. It is a mistake, my friends. What I call a category error. We have brains. We are not our brains. Just because we do not have an exact way to capture scientifically the totality of who we are, is not a valid reason for dismissing that such a thing exists. Our religious traditions have tried to remind us of this using other language – spirit, and soul. The three month old infant who cannot tell us what day of the week it is, or who is the president, is filled with spirit, or soul, or whatever it is that makes us human and precious. And Russell Baker’s mother at eighty, or you or I when we cannot tell you who is the president or what day of the week it is, are still human and precious and beloved by God. Inherent worth and dignity are not lovely sentimentalities casually tossed onto our list of Unitarian Universalist principles. They are the bedrock and foundation of our Universalist heritage.

This isn’t to say that we do not feel loss and grief, a deep sadness as we watch a beloved parent, aunt, uncle or friend slowly drift away from us into the other mind of dementia. It hurts. It hurts when we cannot have a coherent conversation with the person we so desperately want to engage. It hurts when someone we’ve known our whole lives cannot remember who we are – or cannot believe we are who we say we are. It is sad and lonely when the world in which they now live is so different from our own.

I take a cue from Russell Baker who decided that rather than lose his mother to her unhitching from his world, he would do his best to enter and engage her in hers. To do the time travel with her, and feel the connection with the full person she was, including the person she was before he knew her, even before he was born.

So while it is true that when someone we love develops dementia, they are residing in a different reality from our own it is not true that they no longer exist. It is true that we need to grieve the loss of the relationship we had, but not true that they are gone. And even when they can no longer do any of the activities of daily living by themselves without assistance, we can be assured that they are still infused with inherent worth and dignity, because that is what inherent means – they cannot be taken away. We can rest assured that they are beloved by God, or by whatever you call the living force of the universe that flows through them and through you and through me, holding us without qualification, precious, necessary and beloved.

And so we conclude our six weeks of exploring diversity through the lens of Ability. Next week we begin exploring the topic of Age. But the truth we have illumined through these weeks of exploration, is a truth that will serve us for all of our topics, nourishing the deep spirit of our lives. The truth that the living force of the universe that flows through each and every one of us, inclusive of our differences, holds and sustains us all without qualification, held precious, necessary and beloved, until the end of our days.

May it be so. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN: “Blue Boat Home” (# 1064)

EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):

We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,

the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment.

These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

BENEDICTION

CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE:

May the long time sun shine upon you,

all love surround you,

and the pure light within you

guide you all the way home.

POSTLUDE: “Weep No More” (adapted from David Childs)

(So that those who choose to stay and listen to the Postlude can hear it well, we ask those who choose to leave to do so quietly.)

Please greet your neighbor, and join us in Parish Hall immediately following the service for coffee and conversation. All are welcome!

[1] Her name changed to protect her privacy