It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …
from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
In many ways it’s been a great summer. Kate and I have had some wonder-filled adventures for which I am truly grateful. We spent some time in our kayaks, exploring the Maine coast and camping along the shore. We sat around a campfire with friends at dusk, listening to the call of loons echo across a mountain lake. These are precious moments – the best of times – but I have to tell you, I’ve never felt as unsettled as I have this summer.
Experiencing the wonder and awe of nature’s majesty is something I never want to take for granted. I need those experiences of connection with the ocean, the woods, and the mountains to feel my “right size” in the universe. I also know that I’m constantly being conditioned to disconnect from my natural self – to become a cog in the wheel of commerce that relies on my “need” for more to enhance their profit. And, I know that our way of life is destroying so much, causing so much suffering. When I try to hold all of this, I experience a kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s hard to embrace the wonder, joy, and beauty of a sunrise paddle along with the sadness and helplessness that can lead to downright despair when I think about the consequences of rising water temperatures and sea levels for sea mammals, birds, and people. And so these experiences in nature that I cherish have become a double-edged sword – the best and the worst of times.
Wendell Berry writes:
It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it?
How will we bear it? Our consumer culture, what Richard Powers calls The Suicide Economy, is counting on the masses being so overwhelmed –feeling so helpless and in such despair – that we continue to feed our addiction to things, regardless of the long-term consequences. Distracted, we turn away from our feelings – both joy and sorrow – and become numb to the suffering and the danger of continuing to feed the machine.
Joanna Macy is a Buddhist teacher who has incorporated principles of systems theory and deep ecology into Buddhist teachings and practices. She says that our ability to respond to danger relies on a feedback loop between our experience and our feelings. When we become numb to what’s happening around us, the feedback loop gets blocked, leaving us unable to respond. She writes:
The very danger signals that should rivet our attention, summon up the blood, and bond us in collective action, tend to have the opposite effect. They make us want to pull down the blinds and busy ourselves with other things. Our desire for distraction supports billion-dollar industries that tell us everything will be all right so long as we buy this car or that deodorant.
Joanna Macy believes that to become unstuck we must learn to work with these difficult feelings that keep us on the consumer treadmill. I tend to agree with her. And I wonder what it would be like to begin the journey of trying to get unstuck. I know it’s not a journey any of us can make on our own. We need each other – now more than ever.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
If we are a drop of water and we try to get to the ocean as only an individual drop, we will surely evaporate along the way. To arrive at the ocean, you must go as a river.
This community is our river. The fellowship we share can give us the strength and the courage to look at what’s happening and share both the joy and the suffering of our kinship with all beings. Our theme for September is “Fellowship and Voice”. Together we’ll look at what it means to be in fellowship with one another – at UUCM, in the larger community, and in the community of all beings. What does it mean to have a voice in those communities? Where is the boundary between having the freedom to express oneself and the responsibility to listen – to be curious, to be changed? Do we know how and when to advocate for ourselves and when to speak up for others?
Those of you going to Ferry Beach will have an opportunity to connect with an animal, plant, or natural feature (e.g., a mountain or a swamp), and speak on their behalf in a Council of All Beings. We’ll spend some time Saturday morning embodying our beings through mask making and movement exercises led by Jackie Davis.
Our worship on Sunday morning will include the Council of All Beings – an opportunity for you to speak on behalf of the being you’ve chosen – or perhaps I should say, “the being that’s chosen you”. Maybe you’ll speak for the trees, like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, or for a whale, a bat, a river, a butterfly, a flower, or a bug. Together we’ll listen to the wisdom our four-legged, winged, crawly, flowery, woody, and other kin have to share with us.
Even if you are not at Ferry Beach, you’ll still have the opportunity to explore fellowship and voice through your senses. On September 15 we’ll come together in fellowship for our annual Water Ceremony ingathering. Together we’ll celebrate water as the source of life, a precious resource with which we are blessed with abundance. We know that’s not true for everyone. And as the Earth heats up there will be more people, more beings, who don’t have enough water. Again, how do we hold it all? How do we face it? I’m not sure exactly, but I know we are called to face life as it is, embracing the best – and the worst.
I sure am glad we have each other and that we can make this journey – wherever it leads – together.
Read previous monthly messages from Rev. Carol