Stories to Sustain Us (Reflection)

Sarah Richards
November 20, 2016

Stories to Sustain Us (Reflection)

I can’t remember who started our family Thanksgiving tradition of “Thankful-fors” but I know it was when my nephew was little, so almost twenty years ago. Maybe your family has this “Thankful-fors” tradition, too. Before eating the big dinner, each person says what they are thankful for. Usually the person is thankful for the food, and then often they go on to the gathering of loved ones around the table, then maybe to more personal feelings -or more expansive – out into the world gratitudes. Generally, the length of thankful-fors depends on how hungry the person is…

Over the last two weeks, our “thankful-fors” might have come slower to mind—I admit that I’ve gotten stuck on some “resentful-fors” and “worry-fors”. But our Unitarian Universalist tradition calls us to look to its sources to sustain us: how can we not be thankful for the “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life?”

How can we not be thankful for the “words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love?”

When we are able to enact those words and deeds of prophets—long dead and very much alive–instead of getting stuck decrying the powers and structures of evil, we can be thankful.

When we are able to be attentive to those words and deeds that we can say and do right in our neighborhoods, classrooms, workplaces and homes, we can be thankful.

And we can show gratitude for the communities and organizations across the country and right here in Southern Illinois that support us in our work for justice with compassion.

Surely, we are thankful for what we have here at the Fellowship –all of the generosity of vision, effort, and resources that have yielded a harvest of community support and action. In the days, and weeks, and years to come, let us not only be thankful for what we have now, what we have harvested, but let us be mindful and grateful for what is to come, what we are planting now.

Just a few days ago, Judy Aydt introduced me to a saying that expresses this attitude: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” I had to look up where it came from – the story is amazing and affirming. It’s listed as “Mexican Proverb” – an English translation from the Spanish, it was used on posters for many years in the Zapatista movement—but they borrowed it from another, quite different source. It was adapted from the lines, “what didn’t you do to bury me/but you forgot that I was a seed” from a poem by a Greek poet named Dinos Christianopoulos. His poems expressing same sex love and criticism of traditional poetry were shunned by the literary powers that be for decades.[i] Both the original version—the defiant cry of an artist, and the adapted version—the collective promise of resistance; can inspire us in our work for spiritual growth and justice in the world.

Another story from the past week: a colleague told me of an interfaith conference call, in which Sikh activist Valarie Kaur introduced a prayer by saying:

In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark.

But my faith dares me to ask:

What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?

What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?

….What if this is our Great Contraction before we birth a new future?

Remember the wisdom of the midwife: “Breathe,” she says. Then: “Push.”

Now it is time to breathe. But soon it will be time to push; soon it will be time to fight — for those we love — Muslim father, Sikh son, trans daughter, indigenous brother, immigrant sister, white worker, the poor and forgotten, and the ones who cast their vote out of resentment and fear.[ii]

When we sift through all of the voices competing for our attention to listen for these kind of stories–words and images transmitted and translated and adapted across time and space that give us hope and inspire us to action—when we listen and heed these prophetic stories, we are sustained for the long haul. For that we can be thankful.

So as we enjoy the harvest – represented by this bread made and shared today, and the food we eat every day – as we breathe, getting ready to push–may we remember and be thankful–that we are the seeds for the harvest to come.

Amen.

[i] http://jhfearless.com/2014/11/they-tried-to-bury-us-they-didnt-know-we-were-seeds/ accessed 11/18/16.

[ii] http://valariekaur.com/2016/11/a-sikh-prayer-for-america-on-november-9th-2016/ accessed 11/19/16.