• Sermons


    Lost and Found (given September 11, 2022)



    September 11, 2022 


    “Lost and Found” 


    Today’s gospel reading is about loss, but also, after much searching, finding what was lost. The stories are beautiful in their
    simplicity, but deep in meaning.


    Let’s first look at the concept of “lost.” A wonderful aspect of this concept is that it can have many meanings. In Jesus’ two examples, what is lost is a valuable coin- for us it would more likely be a credit card- and a sheep- and for us, a favorite pet may fit better. The item is valuable enough so that we stop right away to look for it. So, value is important as well as some expectation that our search will be fruitful.


    But, loss may be more open-ended. It could be lost innocence, for example. Or the death of a loved one, who is never coming back in physical form to us. How do we conceptualize “finding” in these cases, if at all?


    Before addressing these and other questions, I’d like to share some stories of lost and found. Given that today is September 11, now the twenty-first anniversary of that terrible day in 2001, I looked for a story of lost and found from that day.

    Will Jimeno, a rookie Port Authority Police officer who had responded from his post in midtown Manhattan and was on the concourse level of the World Trade Center: I heard a humongous boom. I saw a fireball the size of myhouse, and I'm just standing there looking up — everything's shaking like an earthquake. At that point I just got picked up and slammed. I was thrown onto my back. A wall fell on my whole left side. I don't know how to describe it except that it seemed like a million freight trains coming down on us. Then, all of a sudden, everything went silent. And I found myself in a pitch-black cavern, and I couldn't move. I was there with Sergeant John McLoughlin, who was pinned under debris, and Officer Dominick Pezzulo, who had some room to maneuver. Dominick started trying to get this concrete off me. He really couldn't. He tried pulling it off me for 15 minutes, 20 minutes. That's when we heard another boom. And it was now the other tower coming down on us. And at that point I figured we were going to die. I look over to Dominick, and something had hit him and sat him down, literally like a rag doll. I could see red coming out of my fellow officer's mouth. At that point he just said, “Willie, I'm hurt bad.” He goes, “I'm dying, bro. Don't let anybody
    forget that I died trying to save you guys.” And I said, “Dominick, I would
    never let anybody ever forget what you did."

    I was just really distraught. Sergeant McLoughlin and I kept fighting on for several more hours. I remember thinking, I'm done. I just wanted the pain to stop. I said, “God, thank you for 33 great years. Thank you for my beautiful wife, Allison. Thank you for my four years with my daughter, Bianca. And thank you for letting me be a police officer. I came here as an immigrant from Colombia, and I thank you for bringing me to the greatest
    country on earth."

    Then I saw something. You could call it a vision, you could call it a dream— whatever you want to call it. I see a person walking toward me, a glowing
    white robe, no face, brown hair. In the distance is a pond with trees, real
    tranquil. I snapped out of the dream with this renewed sense of fighting. I
    said, I'm going to give it everything I've got to try to survive. If I don't,
    I'm going to die in peace, knowing that I gave everything and didn't give up.

    All I can say is that the next several hours were horrific. Around 8 that night, I heard voices above us in the distance: “United States Marine Corps, can anybody hear us? If you can hear us, yell or tap.” And I started yelling at the top of my lungs. We were literally in the epicenter. We actually had both buildings fall on us.

    So these two brave Marine reservists and a civilian broke through the lines when they weren't supposed to. They found us. They were shining a flashlight
    down on my hand, but they couldn't see me because we looked like concrete. When I waved my hand, he said, “I got you." They brought me out of the hole, and that's the first time I cried that day. Because I couldn't see the buildings. And I said, “Where is everything?” And
    the firefighter said, “It's all gone, kid.” I later found out that Sergeant
    McLoughlin and I were the only two people to survive from underneath the World Trade Center.


    Will Jameno was truly lost that day. Sadly, many were not found alive. 2753 died in the towers as they burned and collapsed and others died at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. They are still identifying some of the remains. So much loss. I remember our college opening an emergency blood donation center for the survivors when we hoped there would be many more. Will was found and many rejoiced. But what about those who lost a family member or
    friend that day?


    A friend of mine lived about twenty blocks from the World Trade Center, close enough to see the plane flying toward its unsuspecting target. After the disaster, only residents were allowed to enter lower Manhattan. New Yorkers pulled together to help those inneed. A few days after this horror, he was in a store just outside the restricted area. Someone yelled out, “Anyone here have access?” My friend said yes and people filled his cart with items to take to
    those in need. Through this disaster, New Yorkers found a renewed spirit of community.


    Here's a lighter story of lost and found from my experience. I used to have a greyhound companion called Joey. Joey was a gentle, wise soul who helped me and others in so many ways. As he grew older, I liked to take him places to walk where he did not need to be leashed. So, one fall day, we ventured to Moreau Park in the Adirondacks. It was late fall and many leaves covered our path. So much so that I suddenly realized that I was
    disoriented and had no idea how to get back to my car. Joey understood immediately, made eye contactand started walking a certain direction. He looked back often to make sure I
    understood I was meant to follow. After what was probably only about 15 minutes, but seemed longer, I recognized where I was. He also recognized this and got behind me again. Led to safety by my furry companion.


    As part of preparing for this sermon, I asked via Facebook for friends to share stories of lost and found. Here are two that were shared:


    C shared: “AsI sat next to the river deciding how I could drive my car into it and never look back, I realized I had lost my sense of who I am as a wife, mother,
    daughter, and friend. I could never get back where I was at, at that moment but
    what I could get back was my life. I could work through all these thoughts of
    suicide, these thoughts of no one caring, these thoughts of "I am not
    loved" and I could take back what was mine, MY life. My phone rang, it was
    my husband, "where are you, come home." So I did. I told him what I
    was going through and that I didn't know where to turn. He told me to call
    someone. So I did. I googled therapists and picked up my phone. Over the past
    couple of years now I have been able to talk with my therapist and learn new
    techniques of thought changing to deal with my depression. I have learned that
    even though my surroundings (sometimes) can cause me to start having those thoughts, that is not who I am. I am a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. I am
    powerful, strength, love, and most importantly I am me!”


    And, B wrote,” My mom passed away after living with dementia for several years... it was 3 years after my dad and my oldest sister passed away. She was lost and we were lost... we lost our dad, sister and in a way, our mom. And Mom was lost in her own way. My younger sister and I made all of the arrangements. My daughter read the frequently read poem at funerals - Gone from my sight. A lovely and fitting poem. Days after the funeral, my sister, daughter, husband and others all went to Pemaquid Point, Maine, to have her ashes join my dad's and sister's. Boy did she have a lot of ashes. It was a very calm day so the next day my sister and I went back to Pemaquid so I could make sure the ashes went to sea. We were sitting quietly on the rocks, just sitting in the stillness. It was quite foggy out. In the
    distance, a three-masted schooner came into our sight. And just like that it
    was gone. Amy and I stayed quiet for a minute or so and looked at each other.
    Yes, we both saw that. So we lost our Mom - she was lost to us and really to
    herself... but she was found and welcomed by my dad, sister and who knows else.
    It was a powerful experience and helped us understand the loss and feel better
    about the end of her journey.”


    What do these stories reveal to us about the experience of being lost? Being lost seems to involve a sense of separateness- losing one’s orientation with others and/or with the world. Will Jameno speaks powerfully about his hours of separateness where he believed he would not survive much longer buried out of sight by rubble. I was disoriented in the woods. C felt separated from her family and friends. And B’s mom had already been distanced from her family before her death.


    A loss also uproots us, wrenching us away from the familiar and comfortable. I sat once with a husband whose wife was in hospice care. He tearfully recalled the moment he went into the empty house he and his wife and shared for many years. The loss of her presence really hit him then, realizing that she would never come home.


    In many of the examples I have given, the original loss cannot be found in its previous state. But, our find may be a transformation. C worked with a therapist to transform her dark thoughts into ones that strengthened her to be able to face her demons. B and her sister found an image of a ship disappearing a comfort in their time of grief. Will Jameno, changed by his near-death experience, probably lived a different life because of this pivotal moment.


    And, note that in each of these stories, “found” involved some form of reconnecting- to others, to our world. Crushing the myth of separation.


    But, that reconnecting cannot be forced. C needed to come to a realization within herself that transformation of her dark thoughts was possible. I and my dog
    needed to have already established a trust between us for our connection to
    work. We also need to be open to what“found” may mean. I know sometimes I get stuck in what is lost forever and am unaware of the possibilities for transformation around me. Patience is also a good attitude as we work through grief and consider next steps.


    Since 2020, with the pandemic providing all of us with our own versions of loss, we are challenged to define the new normal. What have we found in the past two and a half years that we may not have found if COVID had not uprooted our way of life and disoriented us?


    I invite you to reflect on your own stories of lost and found. What lessons can we gain fromthese experiences?





    June 20, 2021 

    Rev. Betty Hurley 


    The subject of today’s sermon is forgiveness. Since all religions address this subject, I will incorporate quotes and approaches from several of them into my talk. The director of my seminary, Diane Berke,gave workshops on this topic and has written a book, on which I depended
    heavily as I prepared this sermon.


    My first experiences with forgiveness were as a Catholic, where Jesus tells us to forgive our brother “seventy times seven.” Growing up, forgiveness seemed to be a passive act, more a backing off than an act of strength. As I’ve read further and, especially, explored this topic with my heart, I’ve come to a different understanding of forgiveness. I will highlight insights from that journey throughout my sermon.


    Here’s a quote from Rumi:


    A certain preacher always prayslong

    and with enthusiasm for thieves and muggers that attack people on the street… He doesn’t pray for the good, But only for the blatantly cruel,

    “Why is this,” the congregation asks.


    “Because they have done me such generous favors.

    Every time I turn back toward the things they want,

    I run into them, they beat me, and leave me nearly dead

    in the road, and I understand,again, that what they want

    is not what I want. They keep me on the spiritual path.

    That’s why I honor them and pray for them.

    Those that make you return, forwhatever reason,

    to God’s solitude, be grateful to them.”


    I chose this poem because I love Rumi and because it wonderfully points to the seemingly contradictory aspects of forgiveness.


    In her book, “Forgiveness as a Path of Awakening,” Diane Berke looks at the parable of the prodigal son. In this story, the son of a wealthy father takes his inheritance to a faraway land and squanders it. He soon finds himself penniless, friendless and sleeping with the pigs. He decides to return to his father, telling him that he no longer deserves to be his son, but wishes to be one of his servants. Instead, his father greets him with open arms and calls for a feast to be prepared to celebrate his return.


    This story can be interpreted in many ways. Some may focus on the father, the patriarch, bestowing forgiveness on a child. Some may embrace the message as an excuse for poor behavior. When you first heard this story, how did you interpret it? And does anyone remember seeing this parable performed at SPAC by the New York City Ballet?


    Diane Berke suggests we look within. Have we, like the Prodigal Son, come to see ourselves as separate from others and, perhaps, the Divine, and unworthy of true love? Do we often harbor fear-- fear of loss, pain, failure, illness,
    aging, death. Do we blame and attack others or ourselves for our pain?


    An important theme in the approach to forgiveness that will come up later is the necessity for self-forgiveness. The prodigal son had not forgiven himself before he returned home. His father’s welcoming words encouraged him to take this next step.


    And then there’s the elder son, angry that his father held a feast to celebrate the return of a brother who had behaved so badly. The reaction of the elder son is based on a belief in scarcity. If his brother is given a feast, that means less for him. How often have we expressed anger or frustration when we think others are getting benefits we feel we deserve more?


    In this story lives a road map for our forgiveness journey. Like the prodigal son, we need to realize that inner peace and joy cannot come while we see ourselves as separate from others. In addition, we need to see ourselves as worthy of love. We’ll call this acceptance and love of self as self-forgiveness. And, like the elder son, we need to tie others’
    happiness and worthiness to our own.


    Let’s take a closer look at self-forgiveness. According to the Course in Miracles, on which Diane Berke based many of the ideas in her book, projection makes perception. In other words, we see what we expect to see. Even beyond that, we expect to see what we want to see. Here’s a fun story to illustrate this:


    Two friends meet who’ve not seen each other in some time, “Henry, how you’ve changed!” the first man exclaims. “You used to be so heavy, you’ve gotten so thin – your hair was so thick and dark, now it’s all gray – you used to be tall, you’re so much shorter. What happened to you, Henry?” “I’m not Henry. I’m Bob,” the second man replies. “My God,” says the first, “you’ve even changed your name!”


    Not only do we often project our perceptions onto someone else, we often do the same to ourselves. Wayne Muller, in “How Then Shall We Live” states “The way we name ourselves [that is, the definitions we accept in our minds about who we think we are] colors the way we live. Who we are is in our eyes.”


    Who do you think you are?


    According to Diane Berke, our ego often projects a mistaken belief about who we are. It tells us in so many different ways that we are separate, fearful, unsafe. Because we are separate, we have to be ever vigilant of our belongings and protective of them. Others are not to be trusted. We really cannot trust ourselves.


    An alternative view is that we are basically good and we are loving, lovable and whole. We are safe and fulfilled.


    Two of the UU Principles connect with this alternative view. The seventh principle, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” speaks to
    our connectedness and against ego’s message of separation. The first principle, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” says, in effect, that we are lovable and whole.


    Thich Nhat Hahn has this beautiful way of describing our wholeness and connectedness, or inter-being:


    “When we look deeply at a flower, we see all the non-flowerelements there, such as earth, sun, minerals, the gardener, and so on. If we look deeply enough, we see that the whole cosmos has come together to manifest as this miracle. The flower is full of all the elements of the cosmos – time,
    space, the sun, rain, even your consciousness -- everything. But the flower is empty of one thing. It is full of all things, but it is empty of one thing: a
    separate existence. It is empty of any separate entity called self.


    We are like the flower. Every one of us is a miraculous flower in the garden of humanity. If you look deeply into yourself, you will see that you possess everything.”


    An important aspect in the process of self-forgiveness is accepting responsibility for our own choice to identify with the ego’s definition of who we are. “We need to become willing to let go of blaming the world, other people, circumstances, or the past for the way we view ourselves now.“ We acknowledge we have the power and freedom in this moment to “choose again” – to identify with the view of ourselves as loving, lovable and whole. But, we do not demean ourselves for the error. Letting go of blame of ourselves is a crucial step in the process.


    And a process it is. We will need to remind ourselves againand again, situation by situation, that forgiveness is a choice. It is a choice to align ourselves with the view that we are lovable and connected to others. It is the choice for our own healing and peace of mind. And it is a choice that is always within our power to make.


    Forgiveness, therefore, is an inner process. And, we are back to projection is perception and that we have a choice. According to Diane and the Course in Miracles, we have two mutually exclusive choices—either we see a symbol of separation – of guilt, punishment and fear – or we see an opportunity for healing – a chance to become more aware of the Divine (or unknown or however you want to see it) and
    love. The first of these – the ego’s perspective – is a picture of judgment and condemnation. The second – the
    perception of our whole selves (for some, the Divine) – is a picture of
    forgiveness and release.


    Neither of these views is more real than the other. And, they are mutually exclusive- meaning seeing one excludes the possibility of seeing the other. We can go back and forth, but we cannot hold these two views simultaneously. We have to choose. And that choice is possible to make every time we are tempted to
    judge, separate, condemn.


    I recently experienced this choice as I prepared this sermon. I am estranged from my nephew and his wife. They live in Oregon, so we are physically separated. I have prayed for guidance, but when I thought about them, I could feel my heart constricting and re-living my feelings of hurt. My head said, “I wish them well.” But words did not reflect what I was feeling.


    After re-reading Diane’s book, I spent some time on my meditation cushion. And, finally, my heart spoke. I finally felt, deep within, that I was attached to the idea of Eric and Britt being separate from me. In my head, my words spoke of connectedness with all beings, of inter-being. But I was holding them apart, pushing them away. I realized then that the most important step for me was to wish them love. And to love them as they are. I felt a shift. The shift is a beginning, a crack. I need to dig deeper, reflect further. But, I am on a better path. I am choosing a different perception.


    Diane ends her book with a discussion about anger. We all experience anger. I got angry when the chair of my department at work accused me of “egregious overstepping” of my authority. That stung. The hurt and anger can be even greater when the person involved is someone we love. Anger happens. Hurt happens. Problems arise when we project responsibility for our anger outside ourselves.


    First of all, anger is always an ego response. In fact, anger is a completely natural and automatic ego response. So, as long as we have an ego and identify to any extent with the ego, we will get angry at times. The ego tells us we are special and when our specialness is challenged in some way, we will get angry. But, Diane says, we should not view anger as an enemy or a sign of failure. Rather,we should investigate how we can relate to anger skillfully.


    Our first strategy is mindfulness. For, in stepping back and viewing the situation, rather than jumping to action, we can view the situation bringing up
    this emotion more clearly. When we look more clearly, we discover a number of things.


    First, that anger is painful. It hurts. Second, anger, if not suppressed or fueled, is transitory. This realization is most helpful and anexcellent reason to practice mindfulness. Rather than say or do something that we later regret, stepping back and refusing to either suppress or act out, even for a minute, can really change the dynamic. And, thirdly, anger isalways a reaction to our perception and interpretation of an event – to the meaning we give it – and not to the event itself. Therefore, taking the time to reflect on that interpretation can and often will improve our response.


    After we have turned to mindfulness, we are then more ready to make a choice. Most often, we don’t seem to have much choice about getting angry. But we certainly have a choice about staying angry.


    Diane suggests we start small. Here’s an example. As you probably know, I have moved. I bought the land for my new home over a year ago. Last year, at a neighborhood association meeting I attended via phone because my home was not built yet, a neighbor suggested a parking policy that I found unacceptable. I suspected othersalso did not like the restrictions in it. I was able to express my concerns diplomatically and open the door for others to suggest alternatives. I decided from that interaction that I did not like this person.


    I’ve now moved into my new home and have been inviting neighbors over for drinks on my deck. I hesitated about inviting this person over, but decided I did not want to stay with my dislike. I had him and his wife over, bringing to the afternoon a beginner’s mind. It worked. We’re not close friends, but my attitude is much improved. And I feel much better!


    There is, of course, much more to say about forgiveness and difficult relationships. I’ll end here, though, with a poem that addresses forgiveness:




    To forgive is not to forget.

    To forgive is really to remember:

    That nobody is perfect

    That each of us stumbles when we want so much to stay upright

    That each of us says things we wish we had not said

    That we can all forget that Love is more important thanbeing right.


    To forgive is really to remember:

    That we are so much more than our mistakes

    That we are often caring and kind

    That accepting another’s flaws can help us accept our own.


    To forgive is to remember:

    That the odds are pretty good that we might soon need to be forgiven ourselves

    That life sometimes gives us more than we can handle gracefully

    To forgive is to remember:

    That we have room in our hearts to

    Begin again

    And again

    And again and again.


    And a quote from Kent Nerburn, from his book, “CalmSurrender”:


    What more do I need to know about forgiveness? It is an embrace, across all barriers, against all odds, in defiance of all that is mean and petty and vindictive and cruel in this life. It is a wind blowing warm through the cold regions of our heart, embracing us all, and lifting us in hope and promise
    toward a vision of what we may yet become.


    May it be so.

    What's Faith Got To Do With It?


    June 11, 2023

    What’s Faith Got To Do With It?

    You may have noticed the connection between the title ofthis sermon and the death of Tina Turner. Everywhere I turned someone was playing “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” And, the corresponding question, “What’s Faith Got To Do With It?” fit well with the theme in today’s readings.

    In Romans, Paul speaks of the faith of Abraham, who,although he and Sarah had no children and were elderly, Abraham still believed that he would be the father of many nations. And we have two daughters in the Gospel- the woman who had beenhemorrhaging for twelve years who was healed after she touched the edges of Jesus’ cloak and the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader, who was believed dead, but stood up when Jesus took her hand.

    The older woman’s faith and courage is especially impressive. And, it must have been animportant story for Jesus’ followers because it is found in all three gospels. Because of her bleeding, she was declared unclean. And, if she touched a person, she made that person unclean and he or she had to do a ritual to become clean again.

    So, what gave this woman the courage to go ahead and touchJesus’ cloak? Clearly, she believed it was worth the risk. And, because of her faith, her touch pulled healing power from Jesus, enough so that he felt that healing power go out of him. Jesus turns to her and says, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.”

    So, what is faith? How would you define faith for yourself? As I reflected on how I viewed and felt faith, I decided to reflect on people I’ve met whom I identified as people of faith.

    The first person who came to mind was a patient at Albany Med. It was my first night on call and the chaplain I was shadowing left me alone after fifteen minutes.


    I got better at this, but, on that first night, all I had was a name and a room number. I learned over time ways to go into the computer system and get a little more information before going for a visit. This day, knowing very little about what I would face on the other side of the door, I said a short centering prayer and walked in. Before me was a middle-aged man with friendly eyes and a big smile. He greeted me warmly and shared that he was paralyzed from the waist down and therefore was a regular visitor to the
    hospital because of health complications. But, he quickly added that he had a wonderful wife and friends and felt blessed. He then asked me to share about myself and I shared that this was my first night on call as an interfaith
    chaplain and he was my first visit. He exclaimed, “Well, that must be why I am here tonight! Please let me pray for you!” And he proceeded with this beautiful prayer for my future work as a chaplain. We shared some more and then I prayed for him and his family. I floated out of the room and the rest of thenight went amazingly well.


    During seminary, we had speakers each weekend to present a topic. Nikki, my fellow seminarian, and I both remember Allan Lokos, a Buddhist. Over a year before he met with us, he was involved in a fiery plane crash in Asia. He had pushed his wife out of the fiery plane and was following, but his foot got caught and, before he got freed, he had
    major burns on much of his body, including his legs, hands and head. They
    dragged him to a place for help, but the doctor and several subsequent doctors
    said there was no hope of him surviving such burns. But his wife insisted, saying, “You don’t know him” and finally two surgeons in New York decided to try. When he met with us, he had been through many surgeries and still had special gloves on his hands.

    So, what gave him the strength to live through that unimaginable pain to the other side? He was a practiced meditator and believed that allowed him to go to a quiet place deep within for healing.

    Lokos does not regret that day. He sees it as presenting an opportunity. Because of his injuries, he has a personal experience of deep suffering and can now share with others what he has learned about life through almost dying in a most painful way. And, as his nerves regenerated in his body, he continued to experience pain for many years. As Nikki and I listened to him, his deep faith touched us deeply and our encounter with him has stayed with us.

    I’ve met the third person of faith a number of times. Her name is Miabei Starr. One of our requirements for seminary and for remaining a minister in good standing is participating in several workshops each year. I’ve attended several workshops of Mirabei’s. She has a challenging life story. When she was a teenager on Long Island, her brother died from a brain tumor. Her parents, stricken with grief, sold the house, bought a van and took the rest of the family on a trip out west, camping in Mexico for almost a year and finally settling in Taos, New Mexico. In 2001, her daughter Jenny stole the car and drove over a cliff, killing herself. Mirabei has embraced her life of loss and is committed to helping others who are living with grief and loss. Her openness about her experience of loss
    has helped many. She has written many books and her translation of Saint John of the Cross and discussion of the dark
    night of the soul is masterful. Her book, “Caravan of No Despair” is an intimate story of her journey through grief
    after her daughter’s death. She calls the experience “my most powerful catalyst for transformation, my fiercest and most compassionate teacher.” 

    From the gospel and these three individuals of faith, do we see any commonalities? All of them share a deep determination and grounding. I suggest that their grounding is faith itself. It is what kept Lokos alive through pain that would have been unbearable for many. Faith kept Mirabei on the transformational path through grief. Faith helped my patient face each new physical challenge from a body that greatly restricts his movement. And faith kept the hemorrhaging woman determined over twelve years to find a way to heal.

    Another commonality in the three people I have actually met is their joy. They would not claim that they are always happy, but each of them were joyful. In a previous sermon, I shared the words of Bishop Tutu in the book co-written with the Dalai Llama, “The Book of Joy.” Joy is a complicated emotion that acknowledges suffering, but does not permit that suffering to cause feelings of anger and bitterness. According to the Archbishop, “Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.” And, he continued, “Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”

    And, faith is in the moment, unlike hope, which looks to the future for better times. Hope has its place and what I’m talking about is a balance between living in the moment while also acknowledging that there is a future one needs to plan for. Faith keeps us active in the present, even when that present is painful.

    For me, this joy, this grounding is based on trust, which many see as an essential component of faith. As tough as things get, a person of faith has a deep trust that God, the divine, the universe, may not save us personally, but is committed to goodness. People of faith have an impermeable safety net. As a believer of this safety net, I need to release my belief that I am in full control of my destiny. I have a responsibility to behave lovingly and with gratitude, but much of what happens to me and around me is not in my control and I need to stay grounded in my faith that wrapped in mystery is an
    entity that will continue to move in a positive direction.

    My trust and faith lead me to action. Some say faith is trust in action. Faith does not lead me to stay in my comfort zone and say, “I
    believe all will be well.” Faith gives me the strength to take risks, face danger and love beyond rationality. Faith not only pulls me through challenging moments; faith pushes me into risky situations. As Jesus said to the woman,“Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” Our faith challenges us,
    heals us, comforts us and stands with us. Praise God for giving us such a wonderful gift.

    Radical Joy For Hard Times


    June 4, 2023

    For four evenings in May, I participated in a workshop through my seminary that was led by Trebbe Johnson called, “Attending the Earth.” Trebbe is the author of the book, “Radical Joy for Hard Times.” I found her approach to our endangered earth compelling and decided to share her ideas and my experiences with you today.

    Some of you may be familiar with Joanna Macy, who is passionate about addressing how we are mistreating the earth we inhabit. In her book, “Despair and Personal Power,” Joanna asserts that it is not sufficient to discuss the present crisis on the informational level alone, or seek public attention with horrifying facts and figures. She says we need to help each
    other process the information on an affective level. Trebbe begins there and goes farther, urging us to develop a deep attachment with our troubled world. She says, “Love is not enough to save the world, but recognizing that a strong attachment exists between me and the great big complex, beautiful, troubled mesh that I never leave and never leaves me is
    a beginning.” One analogy she uses is how the residents of Avatar in Pandora can literally plug into the consciousness of their winged horselike creatures- not as masters commanding beasts of burden, but as copilots.

    So, how does she suggest we develop this strong attachment with this world we never leave and never leaves us? To begin, Trebbe says we need to accept reality. She quotes Sarah Edwards and Linda Buzzell, who, in their book, “Waking-Up Syndrome,” describe
    accepting dire ecological change as “more like a process of accepting a degenerative illness – a chronic permanent state that will continue to worsen.” And, Trebbe compares it with the final step in the grieving process, where one accepts the reality of a loss. But, she also states that acceptance does not mean one is content with what has happened. This acceptance is not the same as complacency.


    An example of this acceptance is a memorial in Strathewen in Australia at the site of a bushfire that killed twenty-seven people. The monument contains five concentric circles of slate and sandstone that radiate out from a round stainless steel cap or dome. Three smaller domes are stationed at the outer rim of each circle, each with a bench beside it. The domes
    symbolize drops of rain or tears; the circles represent the ripple effect of the fire on the community. The use of rings represent the stages of recovery from fear and grief to hope and regeneration. This is a monument not just to look at but journey through. The beginning of the journey is acceptance of the reality of their loss.

    Trebbe states, “In response, I must declare again and again:The place I love no longer gives me the things I loved about it. But I will not live in exile from it, either physically or mentally. I will acknowledge that, although concerns of health and safety may force me to avoid the place with my body, in my consciousness I will not abandon it – and I will not delude myself
    into thinking that I have left the problems behind in that site-specific ruin. I will fight apathy, ignorance, false optimism, and gloom. I will choose reality, no matter what I choose in addition, and I will dance with that reality as if my life depended on it.”

    Over the four weeks of the workshop, our assignment was to visit a wounded part of the earth. During our first visit, we focused on acceptance. As part of the exercise, it was important to pick a place we could actually visit, rather than imagine the location. And, we were to seek out a place that was wounded. Suggestions included an area where every tree had been cut, a polluted river or a burned out area.

    During our visit, we were instructed to engage in what she called “gazing,” which she described as being open and aware while not feeling a need to interfere, judge or fix. We were to make ourselves as open as we could, to what was around us, in as porous
    a state as we could. We then were to write in our journal about the experience.

    I admit to choosing a convenient spot- Cayuga Lake which is steps away from my home. I chose it because its temperature has warmed over the past few years and it now has
    regular sightings of harmful algal blooms. These blooms are not algae, but actually harmful bacteria and one description of them is pea soup. The lake also has far more seaweed growth each summer.


    So, I went to the lake and sat there, mourning the reality of what we have done to harm it. I gazedout at the lake and let it envelop me. I immersed myself in the sounds of
    waves, rustling trees and singing birds.


    For the following week, Trebbe asked us to go deeper in our connection with our chosen area. She wanted us to engage in what she called “duologue”, which is a theatrical term
    for a dramatic conversation in which two characters generate all the action. In this case, it would be ourselves and some entity within the space we had chosen. In this duologue, I would attune to what is around me and, at the same time, to what is within.


    So I returned to lakeside. I was immediately drawn to a cottonwood tree that is very close to the lake. I call it my “lollipop tree” because my neighbors actually wanted it cut
    down and the person who was cutting down other trees that were where my house
    was to be suggested climbing it and trimming off the lower branches. I sat down on a rock next to the tree and settled in. I began by apologizing forthe loss of lower branches. She responded by saying it hurt, but she has remained healthy. I told her how beautiful she was and how much I enjoyed looking at her from my house.

    As part of the duologue, Trebbe suggested two questions toask our entity- “What wounds do I carry?” and “What beauty do I carry?” When I asked what wounds I carried, the tree responded, “Lost relationships.” And I had to agree- I still mourn relationships that have ended over the years. Then, I asked, with some trepidation, “What beauty do I carry?” The answer touched me deeply: “The way you love.”

    I’ve shared this story with some friends and some of them had facial expressions similar to what I see on some of you. Trebbe suggested that we not be overly concerned about the source of our responses, whether within me or directly from the tree. As UUs who believe in the interconnected web of all life, can we ever really identify a separate source?

    The Romans actually were aware of each place possessing its own particular presence, a dynamic animate force the Romans called the genous loci, or soul of place. The personality of this genous loci is formed by the entire human and natural history of the place and continues to express itself in the kinds of experiences people have there. My lollipop tree has a strong genous loci!

    Trebbe reflects in her book, “When I confront the reality of my hidden relationship with a place, I learn more about who I am and what matters to me- it makes room for approaches to how to live with what has happened, new ideas for taking actions to prevent the situation from worsening, and new insights into my relationship with this and other places in my life. I
    realize that these shadowy places, not just in myself but in the world, are actually intrinsic, vital parts of the whole.”

    My duologue with my lollipop tree has stayed with me and I smile at her every time I look out my window at her. For our final visit, we were asked to develop a short ritual to offer at our chosen place. I decided to take my native american drum with me. As I settled in, I decided I wanted to capture the tree’s heartbeat on my drum. It took a few tries, but I and the drum finally settled in on what felt right. As I was leaving, I felt a call to take a stone with me. I did that and it now resides on my altar where I meditate each morning.

    This final visit corresponds to the stage in Trebbe’s bookwhere one finds beauty in the wounded place. Trebbe writes, “Through the jagged cut of grief flows, when I least expect it, the balm of beauty. It opens me to compassion, connectedness,courage and even joy.” The tree’s heartbeat gave me true joy.

    Kant spoke of the difference between a moral act and a beautiful act- A person takes a moral act because he or she has to, but takes abeautiful act because he or she is driven by love to do so. Giving a gift to a wounded place is a beautiful act.

    Here’s an example she gave of finding beauty in a wounded place: The photographer Emmet Gowen creates ariel photographs that have beauty- showing symmetry, mysterious spirals. The description, however, shows a darker side: petrochemical sites, nuclear test sites, weapons storage depots. Through his photographs, he deliberately forces his viewers to hold together the balance between ugly and beautiful truths.

    So, what have I learned from this experience? My approach to the results of our collective wounding of our beautiful earth has changed. I still see practical actions that will restore broken places as urgent and essential, as Trebbe does, but I agree with her that insisting that all our relations with the natural world produce some measurable results is to
    materialize that which is sacred.

    To facilitate more intimate connections with wounded places,Trebbe has instituted a Global Earth Exchange. The next one is actually June 17. More information can be found at Radicaljoy.org.


    On that day, groups are asked to seek out a wounded placeand do the following:

    1. Go to a wounded place.

    2. Share your stories about what the place means toyou.

    3. Get to know the place as it is now.

    4. Share what you discover.

    5. Make a gift of beauty.


    Stories of the experience can then be shared on the website.

    Can acts of beauty actually heal places? As part of exchange, three women used seaweed and driftwood to make a design of a sea turtle on a beach where loggerhead turtles laid their eggs, but had been driven away by off-road vehicles and other human activity. To their surprise and delight, turtles began laying their eggs near the sand turtle.

    Rather than moving to create a sustainable environment, Trebbe chooses to work toward a treasured environment. For her, learning to live with wounded places is a mission threaded with finding and making beauty.

    She ends her book with this challenge:

    The future will require heroes and heroines who are not just brave but joyful as well, not just productive but relentlessly creative, not just capable of organizing effective actions but of acting spontaneously to comfort, give compassion, act generously, make beauty, and share joy. We must live, as revolutionaries have always lived, with the knowledge that our actions may produce few results –and that the effort itself is worth everything. We must strive for the impossible – and continue to strive. Then we reconnect, as people for millennia have known it essential to do, not only with the ground beneath our feet, but with the ground
    beneath our hearts.


    May it be so. Blessed be.