Our service celebrates the beauty of our faith community and what it means to be part of "the interdependent web of all existence." We reflect on the past church year and look toward the future with music from the UUCDC Choir, a Time for All Ages from DRE Chrissy Bushyager and a reflection from Rev. Peter.
Sermon: "Beauty Everywhere"; Rev. Peter Friedrichs
I don’t know what it was about this past spring, but it struck me as incredibly, intensely beautiful. Maybe it’s because a lot of it was cold and wet and dreary, so when the daffodils, and the tulips, and the azaleas, and the lilacs, and all the other flowering trees burst into being, they stunned me like fireworks. “Riotous” was the only word I could come up with that really described the intensity of their color, how they struck my eye and left an imprint, a visual echo of sorts, on my retina. “Breath-taking” would be another word, I suppose. I doubt all those flowers were any more or any less beautiful than in all the springs past, so I’m thinking that what was different this year was not them. Maybe it was me.
As each week of spring flowed into the next, as the daffodils wilted and the tulips took their place, and as the tulips tiptoed off the stage to make room for the lilacs, and then as the lilacs bowed and browned to make room for the azaleas, I mourned each loss. I wanted them all to stay. I wanted the blooming to endure. I wanted to be bedazzled wherever I turned. But I know better. I know that that not even nature can sustain that intensity. And, so, I take comfort in the knowledge that the cycles of the seasons will pass, and that next year it will all happen again.
Now we’re into a softer season. We look around and all is lush and lovely and green. Have you noticed just how many shades of green there are out there? Not even the biggest box of Crayola crayons can cover it. Maybe if you’re an artist, like our very own Cheryl Schlenker, you know how to make that many greens, but I sure don’t. Summer’s beauty is more subtle, more subdued than the riot of colors we get in the spring. The leaves of the maples and oaks and ashes don’t slap us in the face, they don’t assault our senses the way, say, a viburnum – you know, the “snowball bush” – in full bloom does. So that means it’s up to us. It’s up to us to look for the beauty, to seek it out, to notice it and appreciate it ourselves. To not just walk by it. To not take it for granted.
It’s easy to miss out on the beauty in our lives. Even before every free moment was consumed by a screen, we were distracted. Distracted by the things we needed to get done. Distracted by the stresses and strains of our daily living. Distracted by traffic and by tasks. Now, when we have a few precious moments to breathe, instead of looking up and looking all around us, instead of seeking out and engaging with beauty, we’re looking down at these little weapons of mass distraction we carry with us wherever we go. And even if we do actually encounter beauty somewhere along the way, what do we do? We grab our phones and take pictures of it, instead of just allowing ourselves to be immersed in it and embraced by it.
Not only are we actively distracted from beauty these days, but we are also lured and tempted by the siren song of worry, of anxiety, of loss, of outrage, of maybe even a little bit of hatred. There’s certainly no small supply of reasons to grieve and mourn these days, from climate change to gun violence to a President who tweets a torrent of vile messages almost hourly. If we’re not careful, we can be consumed by such things, and blinded by grief and rage to the beauty that always surrounds us. It’s so easy to lose sight of that. To forget that. That beauty is everywhere. That we are always able to access it. That no matter where we are or what we’re doing, we can find something that’s, somehow, beautiful. We don’t need the riotous beauty of spring to be aroused and embraced by beauty.
If you don’t believe me, let’s try an experiment. Hold up your hand in front of you and look at it. Look at it closer, in more detail. At first you might be thinking, “It’s just my hand.” Or you might be thinking, “Look at how wrinkled it is” or “Why are these veins sticking out?” or “Wow, my knuckles are all knobby.” But look closer. And think about what your hand can do. How it can flex and bend and hold things. Think about how sensitive your fingertips are. Think about how it feels to touch something, to hold someone’s hand. Now look at the whorls and lines of your fingertips. Aren’t they amazing? No one else who’s ever lived and no one who will ever be born will have those exact patterns on the tips of their fingers. They’re yours, and yours alone. Even if your hand is vein-y or knobbly, or hairy, or whatever, it’s beautiful. It is a work of art – a thing of beauty – that is, quite literally, always at your fingertips.
What it all comes down to is paying attention and having intention. If we believe that beauty is everywhere, we can find beauty anywhere. Even in the places that feel bent or broken or just plain plain, or even, on their surface, ugly. This is how the poet John O’Donoghue puts it. “When we approach [life] with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty of things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us… Beauty is mysterious, a slow presence who waits for the ready, expectant heart.”
This, then, is our task: to approach life reverently, with a ready and expectant heart. We must always be ready to embrace and to be embraced by beauty. It is our task today and tomorrow and for the summer and for all seasons. Not just when we’re slapped in the face by beauty in spring. And so, as we prepare to take leave for whatever the summer may hold for us, I invite us all to seek out, to take refuge in, to hold and behold and be held by the beauty of our lives, the beauty in our lives, the beauty we can make of our lives. Let us now take in some beautiful words, words that I have verified from several sources to be from the Navajo tradition, which come to us as a gift of beauty. Let us pray…
Closing Prayer from the Navajo Way Blessing Ceremony: