Wholeness and Connection

Sarah Richards
February 12, 2017

Wholeness and Connection

When I was growing up, I was often told that I looked like my grandma’s mother and that I have a “Hitchman chin.” I was born too late to know my great-grandma, but I’ve seen pictures, and I definitely have the same chin as my great aunts, so I believe it. I know my sense of humor comes from my dad, too. Anyone else inherited a physical or personality trait that identifies you as a descendent of a particular ancestor or branch of the family tree? You may feel pretty similar to your family members, or you may feel like “who ARE these people – we have nothing in common!” You may identify more with certain friends, or groups who look different but feel more like you than family.

When you think about it, since we are products of our parents’ DNA, there’s nothing “original” in our biological make up – it’s the particular combination that makes each one of us unique. I think it’s much the same with the social and psychological parts of our identity as well – it’s how we sew parts together, how we fit different puzzle pieces together that makes us who we are, our whole selves. I invite us all into a moment of meditation on identity:

“The self is not one thing, once made, unaltered.
Not midnight task alone, not after other work.
It’s everything we come upon, make ours:
All this fitting of what-once-was and has-become.[i]

—–

“We are one, after all, you and I;
together we suffer, together exist,
and forever will recreate each other[ii].”

—–

“A Person is a puzzle
Puzzles have lots of pieces that fit together to make a colorful picture. A person is a puzzle. A puzzle is a mystery we seek to solve. Sometimes, from the inside, it feels like some pieces are missing. We are puzzles not only to ourselves—but to each other. The mystery is that we are whole, even with our missing pieces. Our missing pieces are empty spaces we might long to fill, empty spaces that make us who we are. The mystery is that we are only what we are—and that what we are is enough.[iii]

Take a moment to think about your own identity, the different threads, puzzle pieces, that make you who you are. Who are the people who have helped to shape who you are, your identity?

Feel free to draw a picture or write some words on your valentine to someone who has been important in helping you be your whole self.

—–

Who remembers the story of The Ugly Duckling? That duckling, big and awkward compared to the other ducklings, ran away from home because everyone in the farmyard – the other animals, and even the farmer – were mean to him for being ugly, for being different. As seasons passed, the Ugly Duckling traveled far, trying to fit in – to find himself – with wild geese, chickens, even a cat. Finally, feeling very sad and very ugly, he made his way to a pond, looked into the mirror-like water and saw reflected a beautiful swan – he was happy and felt good about himself for the first time when he recognized his swan self, and was accepted into the group of swans. I wonder what the lesson of that story can be for us UUs? Some of us feel like the Ugly Duckling, finally finding people who recognize and accept us; but all of us, together can be the farmyard ducks who shun people who are different, we can be swans, accepting those who are just like us, beautiful and graceful. But we UUs are encouraged to re-write the story all together. We recognize that our community is beautiful not because we’re all the same but because we’re different. Our tradition itself has many different sources – like the roots of a family tree.

These sources give us a sense of the diversity of our theological identity as UUs.

  • 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 which create and uphold life;
  • 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;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Rev. Kathleen Rolenz said, “Throughout history, we have moved to the rhythms of mystery and wonder, prophecy, wisdom, teachings from ancient and modern sources, and nature herself.”[iv]

ALL of these very different sources are part of Unitarian Universalist identity – all of them. So ideally, UU community identity is like an alternate universe farmyard, where all the animals see beauty and value in each other, and in the diversity of their community. That is the community identity that both our principles and our sources hold up not as a mirror reflection, but as a vision of what can be.

And what about the identity of this particular UU community, CUF? Of course we’ve changed over the years, just as we do as individuals. I got my sense of humor from my dad, but there have been a lot of other influences over the decades—Amy Shumer and Samantha Bee are recent examples. Our CUF covenants give us some pretty good clues to our communal identity. Let’s read our affirmational covenant together to bring them to mind:

We are the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship

With compassion we honor our whole selves, each other and our beloved community.

With intention, we choose to walk together in fellowship.

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.

We believe all people have strengths and wisdom, and are able to contribute to our faith community.

We give action to our faith through service and the pursuit of justice in the wider world. Every act of service, lovingly performed, matters.

We value diversity in its many forms and welcome with open minds and hearts, all those who come among us.

That is a really important point for us to think about – we might see our identity as formed by our members, CUF folks over the years. But what about those who come among us, who are from other faith communities? How does our interaction with other congregations shape our own CUF identity? I know that there have been a number of formal and informal connections between CUF and other Carbondale congregations, like Rock Hill Baptist – that relationship developed into the MLK Community celebration. It helped to make us who we are as a faith community today. This morning is the first half of an exchange with the Sufi community of Carbondale, and I’d like to invite Sheikh Din to say a few words about this connection.

—–

Friends, taking the time to understand who we are, our whole selves, and who we’re connected to is essential grounding in these bewildering times in which we live. Let us give thanks to those who have nurtured – or driven us into being our whole selves. Let us be thankful for this complex and ever evolving community, and for all those who come among us.

Amen.

[i] Shaffer, Nancy, excerpt from Reading 251 in Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition UUA: Boston, MA, 2015, p. 82.

[ii] De Chardin, Pierre Teilhard, Reading 133 in Lifting Our Voices: Readings in the Living Tradition UUA: Boston, MA, 2015, p. 45.

[iii] DeWolfe, Mark M. in Come Into the Circle: Worshiping with Children, by Michelle Richards. Boston: Skinner House Books, 2008, pp. 162-3.

[iv] https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/sources accessed 2/10/17.