Sermon by Sue Browning,
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton.
Service presented with Joshua Long.
Let me begin with a story told by Wayne Dyer in his book Wisdom of the Ages.
“Two months ago my son and I cleaned out a wooded area in front of the townhouse where I do my writing. We clipped bushes and chopped down dead trees and gave quite a drastic haircut to my entranceway. Right in front of my window we left what appeared to be a dead thin tree trunk with discolored bark, standing about three feet high. We decided to dig it out the following day, since we did not have a shovel handy.
One thing led to another and I had to leave town on a lecture tour, and we ignored the dead stick in the ground. When I returned, I noticed some green leaves sprouting from this dried up protrusion and I decided to forgo the shovel. Today as I look out my window there are thousands of green branches, and leaves covering the “dead stick in the ground.”
This tree…the dead stick in the story…was down to its very essence. No sense of adornment left in its appearance. Underappreciated would be an understatement.
And I can imagine, though we will never know, that left in the entanglement of aggressively growing vines, and weeds, and more robust trees and bushes, death may have been the verdict for this bit of God’s great universe.
Yet, we have a story with a different ending. As the layers holding the stick tree back were cleared, and the possibility of life giving forces – light, water, and air – were let in, this one tree had a new opportunity to be…to become.
One challenge for each of us as humans – each of bit of God’s great universe – is to see clear of these entangling forces holding us tightly, at times holding us too tightly.
How do we sort through these forces? How to we cut through influences in our outer worlds, and competing forces in our inner worlds to find our core? How do we do this pruning productively? It can be daunting task. Where to begin? Where to be aggressive in cutting through the clutter? Where to be gentle when nearing fragile and foundational roots and branches?
If our essence – our unique life force – our soul – is at our core, how do we clear enough space to connect with our soul?
Let’s make some effort here together this morning. Let’s do some initial peeling back together.
Let’s start with the outer stuff to help us see where we end and the outer stuff begins. And to be clear, it’s not that the outer, external stuff is bad (or good), but more that there is value in knowing the difference.
Starting big – the greater world – those we don’t know, problems we don’t fully understand, the suffering of many. Let’s set this all aside – not to ignore, but to discover.
In this early pruning, let’s lay aside media – from newspapers, to Facebook, to TV, and movies. Let’s get closer to our own thoughts…
Let’s peel back more outer layers – colleagues, and neighbors, and communities we are a part of ….of course all a part of our essence, and yet, let’s set them aside – not to ignore, but to discover.
And those layers of belongings – from homes to cars, from collections to unmatched socks. Peel these back….and those lists, and calendars…hold them all aside.
For now, even peel back family, and closest friends, and partners…deeply part of who you are, and yet to see what calls to you – just you – for now make some space. Searching for your own essence – your soul – isn’t selfish, but rather necessary, helpful…possibly humbling, and maybe empowering…
This peeling back isn’t new. From the Bible, in Hebrews 12-1 we hear, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
What race is set for you? What helps you see it clearly?
A bit more risk – let’s peel back a bit more. We’re counselled by our forefathers to look beyond our actions – beyond times when we’ve erred, times we’ve sinned. We are not our mistakes - we are accountable for our behavior of course, but we are more than our shortcomings. Set them aside. The flip side also is implied – we are not our achievements. For now, put the resume and accomplishments in the pile.
As we get closer to our own core – our essence our soul, we can ask, what will bring us not only peace and joy, but a sense of purpose. What may get in our way? Possibly what gets in our way is in these piles we’ve set aside.
And now, a time for some gentleness as we look deeper. Maybe this next step is less about peeling back, and more of a noting and naming. What fears and worries rattle your soul? As we search for our authentic cores name these…
What about your likes and dislikes? What are you most grateful for? Could do without?
For some reason the phrase ‘true to myself’ makes me think of President George Bush – the first one. Back in March 1990 he’d been president for just over a year, the NY Times reported:
“President Bush declared today that he never, ever, wants to see another sprig of broccoli on his plate, whether he is on Air Force One or at the White House or anywhere else in the land….”I do not like broccoli,” the President said, responding to queries about a broccoli ban he has imposed aboard Air Force One, …”And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!” (March 22, 1990)
Fun, and too, honest. What don’t you like? (Share at coffee hour)
As we get down closer to our core, our truths can feel raw. To be clear, I’m not advocating unrestrained info dumping of all likes and dislikes, fears and worries. Some holding back has merit, and going with the flow has merit. Often.
Yet, to be in relationships which are healthy and accountable, we are best served by regularly checking in deeply with ourselves and asking: What do I think, and feel, and hope? What is my purpose? To whom am I accountable? How much can I manage?
Often I hear folks (ok, I hear myself) ask, ‘Can I be honest with you?’ or say ‘I’m going to be honest.’ Odd declarations – Are folks dishonest other times? Maybe these words are more code – a heads up that the person asking is about to go a bit deeper – to reveal a bit more than they usually share. Maybe to let you a bit closer to their core.
When free from outside influences and the opinions and disapprovals, and validation by others, what can you name that brings you joy? Where do you see beauty? What if you said these truths aloud – wrote them on a notecard right now – taped it on your forehead? Shared it with the person next to you? How might that feel? What might hold you back? What are the risks you face in sharing? How are they the same or different than another’s?
In this imaging, I find I’m focused on how different I am from another – core to core different – how different our down-deep truths may be. I know we have much in common with others in the universal experience of being human, yet of late the differences are more present. .
I’m aware of how my core has been shaped by my own privilege. The very essence of who I am has been formed in a culture of white supremacy – all around me – all around this world. White supremacy, as I’m using the term, and as it was used at GA and has been emerging in UU (and other) forums can be defined as, “a set of institutional assumptions and practices, often operating unconsciously, that tend to benefit white people and exclude people of color. In 2017, actual “white supremacists” are not required in order to uphold white supremacist culture.” (Source: )
Being white this white supremacy culture is not something I chose and I’m not sure how to understand my soul’s tie to these influences. I know it’s hard to peel off these parts of identity. And yet, in the naming of this force, there is hope. Acknowledging different experiences matters.
Deep, deep we peel to find our essence, or something close. Even at my core I sense my truth doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That deepest parts of me…of each of us….like the ‘stick tree’ in the reading …were formed in the context of the whole – impacted by resources, impacted by place and time, impacted by norms set before us, and impacted by what we continue, and what we end.
I want to sense my own truths deeply – to be in dialogue with my own heart and bring that self to the table – at times confessing, at times offering, at times asking…
Check in deep. Sense the soul – your soul.
And now we start to return to the full reality…sense our interconnectedness, your interdependencies in a fresh way.
At our best, with those we trust, we let souls connect directly, unmediated by our ‘stuff’ – the stuff we just set aside. We come in discovery and reverence to the other.
As Unitarian Universalists our grounding is informed by experience, reason, and tolerance, and and more. In this framework we’re called to be self-aware. What are we letting in? What are we letting go of? What will be our impact on the world?
Having a strong, honest connection to our souls matters. Sensing our source and grounding for this our souls is sorely needed in a world that is saturated with advice and impressions. Peeling back from the news, and Facebook, how might we each state our truths as clearly and simply as we can?
When we are each clear on what we value, and desire, and trust, the better we can live fully with intent and integrity, with joy and purpose.
My wish is that we each take time this summer to look deep, to look wide, and to hold a mirror to our own souls…and from there to trust in the forces of love that feed our souls, and to trust in the power that comes when we connect soul to soul.
May It Be So