Monday, January 3, 2011

Finding Abundance Within - Worship Service Jan. 2, 2011

I thought I would post my reflections on abundance from the all ages worship service yesterday

Call to Worship   

Happy New Year to all of you!!!  

We begin the year by reflecting on abundance.  During the month of January here at Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists we will be reflecting as a faith community on what is abundance, how do we recognize it and how do we live into it and share it.  Abundance – not just enough but more than enough; abundance that feeling of at there is more than enough for me, for you, more than enough to share with everyone. 

Now it is said that we preach or teach best what we most need to learn and I am thinking this is very true for me about abundance.  Of course the danger of preaching on what one what one most needs to learn is that one is still learning and therefore knowing what to say, can be challenging. 

We live in a society that thrives on scarcity, the very opposite of abundance.  The very premise of our advertising and media is to make sure that we are never content with what we have for then there would be no need to buy anything.  I am reminded of the mirror of Erised, from the very first Harry Potter book. This mirror allows the person who gazes in it to see their deepest desire.  The inscription above the mirror reads I show not your face but your heart’s desire.  Albus Dumbledore tells us that the content or happy person would see only him or herself as they are in the mirror.  I think few of us would see only ourselves in the mirror.

It is hard when money or time or energy feels scarce, and most of us experience that kind of scarcity.  At times it is difficult to believe that it is enough just the way it is.  It is a nearly universal premise of religion that the abundance we seek is within us and that if we can’t find what we are searching for within, then we will certainly never find it without.  Easy to say and quote when things are going along well not so easy when things are not.

I know that too often I prey victim to that there is never enough money, or time or energy -  that all I see around me are undone tasks, and that life is just a whole series of problems.  Not much abundance there!

So what are we to do it?  How are we to appreciate what we have?  To believe that who we are and what we have to offer are enough?  That actually there is more than enough, that our true selves are exactly what is needed.  Come let us explore together the abundance within!!!

Believing We Are Enough    

Hosea Ballou preaches that God will save all people just as they are.  A radical notion in the Calvinist/Puritan society in which Ballou lived, that preached that only a very few would be saved.  A radical notion still in a world in which evangelical ministers stand on street corners shouting about how bad and terrible we are and that if we don’t come to believe as they believe then God will not love us, God will not save us.  A radical notion in light of advertisers that say only if we have this item, this trip, buy this program can we be enough, have enough. 

The Universalist message is a radical one, the holy, the Divine, the sacred is not just for a few special people but for everyone.  The message that God’s love is abundant – that there is more than enough for everyone  - everyone without exception.  An amazing notion that we are enough just as we are, what a gift, what an amazing gift.  A gift so big that we almost can’t grasp it – the fact that there is enough love in this world, that the holy loves so abundantly and so without exception, that there is enough for everyone!!!  There is even enough for me.  The holy does not require that we embark on long arduous self-improvement projects, spend endless hours in prayer and meditation, in self-discipline and in cleaning ourselves up.  All that is required is that we be ourselves, our authentic selves. That who we are and our unique gifts are all that is required.

The message of the Universalists is like the lesson of the Mirror of Erised. See the danger of the mirror is that people had gone mad sitting in front of thinking it was real, could it be real, if they just reached out a little further they could touch it and then maybe, just maybe it would be true.  Harry himself gets caught up in the yearning for his heart’s desire.  He nearly gets caught out of bed after hours, he doesn’t even realize that Dumbledore is the room with him because he is so caught up staring in the mirror – seeing the loving family that he never knew.  The message was not Harry’s heart’s desire, to know a loving family, where he belonged was not a legitimate, and even very good desire.   Yet the mirror showed him his parents, who are dead, and a reality that Harry can never have.  Dumbledore reminds Harry that no magic can bring back the dead. The lesson of the mirror of course is that when we are content within ourselves, then the mirror reflects that back to us.  The problem with not finding abundance within is that we find ourselves longing for a reality that we can’t have, a reality that isn’t possible.

We can think of many examples in our own lives.  Maybe we believe that we would have enough if we just won the lottery and money was no longer a concern.  Maybe it is a lost opportunity from the past – if we had just taken that road instead of the one we did.  Maybe a person we lost touch with.  It is not that the desire is bad, it is when the desires fills us with a sense that of scarcity – a sense that our lives are incomplete, that we are incomplete, that we lose touch with that sense of abundance. 

The task of knowing who we are and that we are enough is the work of a lifetime. It is a process. 

I think it is something we know strongly at times and forget at others.  It comes and it goes.  We learn it and then we have to learn it again, in a newer, deeper way.  It is not that how we knew it before was wrong, we just know it differently. Like I said preaching on what we most need to learn, means that I am not sure whether or not we can continuously hold on to the knowledge of who we are and that who we are is enough.  I wonder if we need to keep learning it – learning it new ways and in new situations. I wonder if we don’t ever reach a place and say there “I know that I am enough.  I know that my gifts and my true self is exactly what this world needs.  I know that there is more than enough love to give and that I am a part of it.”  I think we learn it, then we learn it some more, we learn it this new way and that our whole lives become an unfolding of the abundance that is us. 

Living in Abundance   

How are we to live in abundance?  How can we more often tap into that abundance that exists within us?

Well earlier I said that the Divine does not require hours of meditation and prayer, arduous spiritual practices and that is true – the message of the Universalists is that we are loved just as we are and that God’s love is abundant - given freely to all without exception.  And spiritual practices that are continually arduous are probably not very conducive to cultivating one’s soul.  Not that spiritual practice shouldn’t be challenging – if it weren’t challenging it wouldn’t be a practice but like with any practice, it is more likely to be a productive one if we actually WANT to do it..even when we don’t.  For even with things we love – playing an instrument, writing, meditating, cooking..all require practice and we won’t always want to.  Meditation, prayer, time alone, worship in community, service, all of those are practices that can lead to us learning and living into that sense of abundance. They are all ways of reaching deep within ourselves, of connecting to our true, authentic selves, to the Divine within each of us.  The more we tap into that true self, the more we live out of that true self.

Many have learned about the abundance in their own lives by living in service with others. Please notice that I said with others and NOT to others. Service only TO others can actually lead to us only seeing scarcity and not abundance.  Too often in our service, we forget to be in relationship.  To serve with others, means that I recognize the abundance as well as the need in another. If all I see is another’s need, and not the abundance and I only seek to fill the need, then I may close myself off to what gifts that person has to give.  What needs that person may be able to fill.  When all we see are the problems, challenges, needs in others, just like when that is all we see in ourselves – than the world becomes a place of scarcity – a placed filled with problems to be solved.  We learn from each other.  We learn by serving and we learn by letting ourselves be served.  Then we can see the world as a place of abundance, as a place where there is more than enough for everyone.

It is easy to focus on the problems and I am not advocating that we stop paying attention.  I am saying let’s pay attention to how we pay attention – if we pay attention only to the problems and the lack of will and resources to fix them that is all we will see; if we only see through rose-colored glasses – refusing to see any problems, refusing to see that there is need anywhere than we live in very self-centered way – focused only on gratifying our own ego but if we see both the needs and abundance – then we can see that the abundance is there, that it exists everywhere and that we might even be able to see how to meet the needs from the abundance that already exists.

Living in Abundance means holding on those moments in our lives when we have experienced it – like in our meditation today.  Living in abundance means living and serving in relationship with others.  Living in abundance is remembering that our deepest needs and desires can never be filled by external things. It is remembering that the content person looks into the Mirror of Erised sees oneself as they are and knows that is enough.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What is religion if not ethics - Between the Lines - Illawarra Mercury

So this article was posted on Facebook. Religion and ethics have certainly been split apart over the years. Even in theological schools ethics is taught separately from theology - even in so far as ethics being one department or specialty area and theology another.

I do like the author's point about not choosing between the two. Also with the decline in ethical behavior any effort to help people live more ethical lives is welcome.

What is religion if not ethics - Between the Lines - Illawarra Mercury

Lots to think about for this New Year!