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Believing What We See

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Interim Minister, Reverend Carolyn Price



Boughs of holly. Evergreens. Mistletoe. Whatever our beliefs, we see these everywhere this time of year. Why is that? What might we yet learn from these ancient symbols? And how do they relate to what poet Theodore Roethke wrote when he said: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”


10:42:59 Let us share, and a brief time of reflection
10:44:26 Unitarian Universalism has a number of sources.
10:44:32 Our sixth source is nothing short of revolutionary in this once mainstream religion, in which we now proclaim our openness to learn from, and i'm quoting spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate
10:44:52 the sacred circle of life, and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature, and quote.
10:45:05 Our 6 source includes the oldest religions on earth and yet retains relevance.
10:45:14 Today. Today we'll talk about the winter souls disability and some religious and cultural historians date the celebration of this winter solstice as far back as perhaps 30,000 years ago.
10:45:32 The thinking is something like this: in an effort to make sense of life and to survive in those harsh conditions these early humans looked to where they could see to the sky, the water, the land, the horizons on every side for direction and
10:45:54 for hope. In the coldest, darkest time of the year.
10:45:59 They saw the evergreens giving color to an earth gone drown.
10:46:06 And so they came to believe that plants like these harried within them.
10:46:15 Somehow a unique life force that allowed them to live even in the absence of light and warmth.
10:46:24 These trees and plants that did not die became symbols of hope.
10:46:28 That winter could be endured, and that they might survive the darkness and the cold for another year.
10:46:38 Red berries like the holly. Today we have the California toy on berry filling in, but they were sacred because their brightness promised more than what the people could see in those frightening rather bleak days of
10:46:55 December the trees and the berries became part of what the author Wallace Spenter, would go on to refer to as the geography of Hope, which is a favorite term of mine, and you will hear more about it.
10:47:13 Another day. But these are the places and the points that help humankind to believe that all will be well.
10:47:21 Despite evidence sometimes to the contrary. so of course they decked the halls with them as we do.
10:47:32 Still, these early people understood the power of nature to shape our lives, to give us direction, and to point us out of darkness.
10:47:45 Our sixth source traces its roots to these people to Drewas or Pagans.
10:47:53 It suggests that we ask ourselves now what points us towards light or hope.
10:48:01 At this time in his history, where, what might we look to?
10:48:05 C. beyond the trials of a time. These points, be they in the evergreens, or berries or hills, are here in the sight of one another, they can help us find our way again to use religious language they can redeem us and
10:48:27 grant us peace. You don't need to call yourself an earth-centered person theologically.
10:48:38 I do not, for example, in order to find meaning in this way of thinking, this time of year for the earth-centered people is represented by the direction of the North.
10:48:55 It equates to this season, winter, and also to the life stage of the elder, which it is possible a few of us here have reached.
10:49:06 It can also encompass a human experience of reaching the end of a long, important project.
10:49:15 A period of time, or even of our walk on earth this season, which is heralded by the winter solstice this year.
10:49:26 This coming Wednesday is revered because it acknowledges completion and a hope in endings that may be followed by not yet known, but good beginnings.
10:49:41 It is marked by the attributes of courage and generosity, and it carries within it the human abilities of insight and compassion.
10:49:57 It is a sacred direction and a sacred season. Now it is tempting to believe that early human beings, faced with harsh uncertainties of life.
10:50:12 Then would view the earth and what they saw only in a purely utilitarian way, as that which, if they worked and worked, would grant them food and shelter.
10:50:28 And another day of life. Of course, to an extent this is true.
10:50:35 Survival will always be the need of the highest order.
10:50:39 But these people did more, it is believed they looked around and not only for survival, but for meaning that's a human impulse.
10:50:53 Despite the difficulties of life. Then they came to recognize beauty and even to honor it.
10:51:03 The oldest spiritual writings that are known on earth include songs and poems of praise to beauty.
10:51:13 Early human rights include tributes to the primacy and potency of beauty on earth.
10:51:22 Walls of caves were decorated, altars festooned, and research tells us, bodies adorned in honor and exultation of beauty.
10:51:38 This seemingly ancient power and presence of beauty in human culture is, I believe, a Testament to our ability to think and to feel deeply, and to keep faith in a sometimes difficult world.
10:51:58 The priest, poet, and social activist, Amnesto Cardinal might have been speaking to a room full of Unitarian Universalists in all our theological and cosmological diversity.
10:52:14 When he said, quote, We can argue about the meaning of the universe.
10:52:19 We can argue about the reason for the universe. But, he concluded, we cannot argue about the beauty of the universe and quote, So we added that 6 source in 1,995, recognizing that despite a lot of
10:52:42 controversy, and I expect some of you are around that.
10:52:45 A lot of controversy. There was truth in honoring these cycles of the earth and nature and the seasons that mark our time on earth.
10:52:57 A number of people argued, then, that this source compromised our hard one.
10:53:05 Reliance upon critical thinking and science, and we are rightfully proud of that.
10:53:11 But in the end the body of Unitarian Universalists were swayed by an understanding that when we look only with the eyes of reason, we run the risk of losing, of losing sight of the abiding mystery and wonder of
10:53:30 the natural world, and of closing ourselves off to that beauty.
10:53:37 And of course beauty is not only on the surface in the trees, the berries, the mountains, the rivers.
10:53:46 Many of you will remember, Emily, that young woman in Thornton Wilders play our town.
10:53:54 It often shows in the winter. Maybe some of you have seen it.
10:53:58 Emily dies into childbirth if you don't remember but she has given special dispensation to go back to life.
10:54:06 To return to the world and visit her family. She chooses the day of her twelfth birthday.
10:54:15 The stage directions tell us how the stage becomes gradually light, and then lighter until it's very light.
10:54:24 The brightness of a Chris winter day emily walks then through her town she's looking at the trees sunflowers, even the white on the fence in her front yard, and she sees the beauty of it all of it
10:54:42 as if for the first time when she spots her mother she calls out Mama, i'm here i'm here, and I love you.
10:54:52 I love you so I love everything I just can't look at everything enough.
10:54:59 But her mother can't hear her it is only When emily speaks again as that twelve-year-old that she was many years ago saying she's lost her hair ribbon.
10:55:16 Then her mother can hear her even then her mother doesn't turn from the dishes.
10:55:21 She just tells Emily where the ribbon is and that it's time to open her presence.
10:55:29 But this spirit, Emily, she doesn't care about presence anymore.
10:55:36 She wants all that. her mother stop what she is doing, and turn around and see her Really see her?
10:55:44 She cries out to her mother, She wants to warn her that not long after this birthday her brother will die, and the family will suffer so.
10:55:58 Now she says now, at this moment well we're happy let's just look at one another.
10:56:06 But her mother cannot hear her and Doesn't Look and finally Emily can't stand it anymore.
10:56:16 It goes so fast, she says we don't have time to really see one another.
10:56:24 We don't have time to really Look around and she asks to go back to her grave.
10:56:35 There is a native American approach to what emily calls they're looking around us that is taught to youth when they come of age.
10:56:47 It is called learning to see. The instructions must be given by an elder.
10:56:55 They go. something like this I'm paraphrasing you must learn to look at the world twice.
10:57:01 First, you know. bring your eyes together in front until you can see each droplet of rain on the grass, so you can see the smoke rising from the anthill in the sunshine.
10:57:17 Nothing should escape your notice. but you must learn to look again with your eyes now at the very edge of what is visible.
10:57:28 You must see dimly if you wished to see things that are dim, visions missed.
10:57:38 Clouds, images, shapes, which seem to flash by you in the dark or in dreams.
10:57:45 You must learn to look at the world like this if you wish to see all that there is to see.
10:57:57 When have you looked like this, or seen like this, seeing things that were not really visible or clear?
10:58:08 What happened to grab you that kind of saying, Then what did you learn?
10:58:16 This type of seeing is closely related to intuition, and to trust to seeing within beyond the obvious.
10:58:27 And we are not all born with the ability to see this way.
10:58:31 So it can be learned. We can all lose this ability for a day or a year or more, just because of what can happen to us while we are living.
10:58:47 And yet for tens of thousands of years people before us have learned to see like this.
10:58:56 They have learned to see in the process of the evergreens and in the light from the radiance of the holly.
10:59:07 Some have seen that way in the beauty of the hills or the canyons, or the rivers or shores, and for others these places of beauty and light live in the sacred space of the human heart, where memory abides surely I
10:59:29 think. and this is why I put so many children's songs in today. we can see it in the eyes of our children.
10:59:38 Maybe any child. we can see it in our partners, our family, our friends.
10:59:46 We can see it and feel it when we touch hands really touch hands.
10:59:51 I see it in some of your faces this morning, joined here in fellowship and care, whatever we call it.
11:00:05 And however we do it, it is how we discover light in a dark time is how we learn to see and hold the beauty that is around us.
11:00:17 Plato called this, seeing with the I of the soul for the Sufis.
11:00:23 It is with the eye of the heart. Well, the taoist speak of the inner eye. But what this is not what this is not is a blind optimism or a sightless faith.
11:00:40 This is an approach to seeing that bears witness, not only to the splendor of the world, but also to its pain and injustice.
11:00:51 James Baldwin, the author who helped the world begin to see the truth about the damage done by racism and homophobia.
11:01:01 He had this kind of vision. It was what made him become a writer, because that was the best way that he knew to, and i'm quoting him, deal with all the anguish and despair and all the beauties of the
11:01:22 world, and quote this kind of seeing searches for points of beauty and light in the very places where we would not expect to find them like this.
11:01:36 It happened at the end of World War Ii. in a bombed out building in Germany.
11:01:45 Allied soldiers found these words etched into a basement wall where a hidden room had been written.
11:01:52 Roughly there by one of the victims of the holocaust.
11:01:58 He or she or she had put there in uneven large letters.
11:02:05 I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine.
11:02:09 I believe in love, even when it is not shown. I believe in God, even when God does not speak the light and the beauty of this planet, our planet have sustained humanity for tens of thousands of years as people have learned to believe what
11:02:33 they see even in darkness and times of trouble, as the winter souls just nears, and our earth turns toward the light of the sun.
11:02:46 Again. Let us turn now together in gratitude and song to the beauty of this earth.
11:02:59 It is him number 21 for the beauty of the earth.
11:03:05 Let us sing it together along to this lovely music video.
11:03:10 Thank you. Youtube.
11:03:27 Of you, this of the skies
11:03:43 Around us lies so a's this is up
11:03:56 Joy of the for heart and minds delightistic being set
11:04:17 Is this for you.
11:04:24 One.
11:04:30 The night tree and sun and moon and stars of light, so so
11:04:51 Why not system, child in ship, or thoughts and mild