Open Our Eyes

Sarah Richards
November 5, 2017

Open Our Eyes

The poet says,

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water

to solace the dryness at our hearts.

 

The fountain is there among it’s scalloped

grey and green stones,

it is still there and always there

with it’s quiet song and strange power

to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.[i]

Have you seen it? Have you felt it spring in yourself?

It seems that many, many of us are saying there is no water to solace the dryness at our hearts these days. Our most recent former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy says,

“When I began my tenure as surgeon general I did not think that I would be talking about loneliness and emotional well-being. But when I was traveling to communities across the country I found that loneliness was a profound issue that was affecting people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. This is true in urban areas, in rural areas, in the heartland of the country and on the coast.”[ii]

According to Dr. Murthy, there is scientific evidence that loneliness has a similar effect on life span as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, that it is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia. And rates of loneliness have doubled over the past 30 years.[iii]

That this epidemic of loneliness is occurring in these times of super abundant communication and social media connections makes me think of the line in the country song, “[We]…go through life parched and empty, standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst.”[iv]

Dr. Murthy encourages us to see emotions as a source of power as opposed to weakness, and to cultivate emotional well-being. He talks about a variety of simple practices, including “contemplative practices like gratitude and meditation, and social connection.” He has focused his attention on the workplace, which makes sense, given the amount of time people spend at work, with co-workers. But here we are in our faith community, where our covenant states in part: “We seek truth and growth together, nurturing each other’s spirit and sense of reverence.
We respect all individuals and strive to create a world where all are treated with love and dignity.”

It seems that we too have a role in cultivating emotional – and spiritual well-being, within and beyond our congregation. The first simple thing we can do is, open our eyes—as the hymn says, open our eyes to see that life abounds, open hearts to welcome it among us. That’s actually two things – to notice abundance and then welcome it in and share it. Dr. Murthy worries that “many of our communities are being driven by fear. It’s partly because of the things we read about in the news that give us pause about the state of the world. And, he says, it’s also because we haven’t really prioritized cultivating positive emotions that emanate from love.”[v] [I think it’s pretty cool that the former Surgeon General – a science guy – is advocating cultivating positive emotions that emanate from love.] In the conclusion of her book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett makes a very similar observation from a very different, non-public health perspective:

“Our world is abundant with quiet, hidden lives of beauty and courage and goodness. There are millions of people at any given moment, young and old, giving themselves over to service, risking hope, and all the while ennobling us all. To take such goodness in and let it matter—to let it define our take on reality as much as headlines of violence—is a choice we can make to live by the light in the darkness….Taking in the good, whenever and wherever we find it, gives us new eyes for seeing and living.”[vi]

Open our eyes to see that life abounds, open hearts to welcome it among us. In this month’s CUF Links newsletter column, I pose some questions for us to contemplate as a people of emotional and spiritual abundance. What are the places where you find an abundance of beauty, or power, places that you feel yourself calmed or invigorated physically and emotionally? Who are the people that you have met, known, lived with, who have “given themselves over to service” in ways large and small? People whose example moves you to a similar generosity of spirit? What are other signs and sources of abundance in your life?

I invite you now into a moment of meditation, feel free to sit in silence, or to write on the blue insert some of your thoughts about those questions (projected above).

In focusing on our spiritual and emotional resources, I do not mean to ignore the material scarcity that people in our community and our congregation experience. But loneliness is not only, or even principally caused by material deprivation, and its antidote is not money or things or even the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers. To cultivate positive emotions that emanate from love, to take goodness in and let it matter—to let it define our take on reality may be a very challenging life style change for many of us.

Take the poor woman’s neighbor in our Time for All Ages story – even if she really couldn’t have shared any of her soup, she could have said some kind words, given a hug, shown compassion—but her spiritual and emotional resources were too limited. I would like to think that I would never begrudge a neighbor the aroma from my soup, but there have been times when I’ve let fear in the form of cynicism, or anxiety, or anger, sweep me into scarcity mentality to justify ungenerous behavior. Fortunately, we have recently been thinking about what it means to be a people of courage, so the idea of taking risks in the pursuit of living our values is not so scary. In this case, the risk is to be hopeful in a time of great cynicism, to see what we are doing and who we can be as a people of abundance in a culture of insatiable desire and consumption. What are the signs of abundance – people, activities, feelings – that you’ve experienced here at CUF? What are the sources of abundance that you see sustaining this congregation now and in the future?

I invite you now into a moment of meditation, feel free to sit in silence, or to write on the blue insert some of your thoughts about those questions (projected above).

Just last Wednesday evening, a little miracle happened – at least, it was a miracle to me. One of my absolute favorite singer-songwriters for the last ten years, Kelley Hunt, played in a tiny bar in Murphysboro, within walking distance of our house. I – and many in the crowd, I’m sure – felt transported by the music in the moment. So many great songs – but because I’ve got the theme of abundance on my mind, the one that especially spoke to me that night was “Let It Rain.” It starts, You feel broken, all alone. Your failures cut you to the bone. But listen…listen to me. You think you have nothing, nothing to give. Your well is empty, no reason to live. But you have everything, everything you need. In the chorus, she says, It is all given to you, now who will you give it to? Pass it on, pay it forward, let it rain.[vii]

Let’s take a last moment to meditate on the signs and sources of abundance in our lives, and especially here at the Fellowship. How, as a people of abundance, might we pass it on, pay it forward, let it rain.

Don’t say, don’t say there is no water

to solace the dryness at our hearts.

 

The fountain is there among it’s scalloped

grey and green stones,

it is still there and always there

with it’s quiet song and strange power

to spring in us,

up and out through the rock.[viii]

Friends, in those moments we feel resigned to “Go through life parched and empty, standing knee deep in a river and dying of thirst” may we remember that fountain is there. And may we open our eyes to see that it abounds all around us and within us, too. May we see how we are cultivating positive emotions emanating from love, and how we are passing them on. May we pay it forward.

Amen.

 

 

[i] Levertov, Denise. Excerpt from “The Fountain.” Poems: 1960-67, http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2013/03/15/denise-levertov-the-fountain-2/ accessed 10/30/17.

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/10/04/this-former-surgeon-general-says-theres-a-loneliness-epidemic-and-work-is-partly-to-blame/?utm_term=.61f4b303c8e2 accessed 11/2/17.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_Knee_Deep_in_a_River_(Dying_of_Thirst) accessed 11/2/17.

[v] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/three-questions-vivek-murthy/ accessed 11/2/17.

[vi] Tippett, Krista. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. New York: Penguin Press, 2016, p. 265.

[vii] Hunt, Kelley. “Let It Rain” from The Beautiful Bones CD, 2014.

[viii] Op Cit, Levertov.