© Rev. Kurt Kuhwald 2005. All Rights Reserved.
A sermon delivered at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 20, 2006

The origins of this sermon began in the spring of '05 when the Rev. Doug Kraft of the UU Society of Sacramento, asked me to go out to the delta, from my home in the Tenderloin, and deliver a sermon to the congregation he serves there, I knew in a matter of seconds what I wanted to talk about. I soon realized that this was a sermon that I wanted to take on the road. So here I am.

I also knew what I wanted to talk about because since the present US Administration's militaristic response to 9/11, I have increasingly struggled to find hope in what seems to me to be a world-wide, radical slide into chaos, an exponential increase in the use of violence, and a public celebration of greed, the scale of which has never before been seen in human history.

I also knew what I wanted to talk about because I had recently been gifted with a piece of writing, sent to me via email by an activist friend, that had a visionary and healing power, that raised hope in my heart, that directly addressed my sense of hopelessness and helplessness, that spoke to my need, our deep human need, to know that our existence matters, especially in times of great social upheaval. The piece was written by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, activist, mystic, Jungian analyst, author of the seminal work, Women Who Run With the Wolves.

The litany of the upheaval we now face world-wide is, I am sure, well known to all of you, you people who care about democracy, you people who abhor the use or initiation of violence to solve problems save only in the most extreme and immanently destructive of cases, people who wisely believe that hate fuels hate and not healing, people who understand that openness of heart and a wide welcome to others is not weakness, but rather strength - and that that kind of hospitality affirms and encourages everyone's integrity.

So . . . rather than spending my time reiterating the ever compounding acts of rapaciousness, the vast disregard for life, the ecological myopia and ignorance, the shockingly naive and inescapably sadistic belief that torturing other human beings is ever legitimate or that a torturer can escape becoming dehumanized . . . rather than dwelling on all of that we now face, and heaven help us, the growing folly that ignores the reality of blowback in international relations, I want to turn to the reading I received, by Estes, and dig into the wisdom, as well as the challenge, she offers us.

It is important, very important, of course, to understand the nature of the disorder that is swelling over the world, but it is equally important to seek the sources of what feeds our hope, what vitalizes our courage, and what speaks to the powers of creativity that lie at our hearts' center. It is especially important, in times such as these, to steep ourselves in words of goodness and clarity, of simplicity and depth.

But, briefly, before I read from Estes' words, I need to share with you some of my thoughts about sermons, sermons delivered live, up close and personal, from this little cabin of truth-telling we call the pulpit. As a form of verbal expression, as a form of public communication, sermons are a "hot" medium. (TV and films are cool mediums. Radio? Radio is a luke-warm medium.) What I mean by calling sermons "hot" is that when you listen to a sermon delivered in person you cannot help but be engaged: the speaker is "in your face." When you watch someone on TV, on the other hand, the person is removed, distant, they are electronically rendered into a domain of abstractness and separation that is prone to misinterpretation; in much the same way, for instance, that difficult interpersonal problems are rendered unmanageable on the internet.

Sermons are "hot" because they represent one of the most fundamental ways humans have devised for passing truth; sermons are "hot" because they are one of the surest tools humans have used to survive on this often violent planet: That is, direct, face-to-face story-telling. Sermons are direct, face-to-face engagement with the presence of persons, the embodied, vibrant, inescapably living presence of persons, alive in the one who speaks as well as those who listen.

Now there is a critical implication embedded in the fact of a sermon's engaged "hotness." That is, the engagement of a sermon means everyone is involved, both speaker and listeners. What this means is that a sermon requires more than just listening. Just as theatre, live dramatic performance, requires more than just viewing, sermons require effort not only on the part of the person speaking, but also just as importantly on the part of those listening. Sermons are not entertainment. Rather, they are a form of human work: psychic, mental, emotional, personal, spiritual work. And it is a work that is done in the very special context of relationship, a relationship that requires clear and honest expression and deep, deep attending.

The work I am asking you to engage in with this piece by Estes is this:

Listen for the underlying message. Listen for the imperative thread that weaves itself through her words. Try not to censure while you are listening. Intellectual analysis, which is necessary, can come later. She uses the word "soul" in what I will read. If that word does not work for you, let the word signify "deep self," or "essential self." I'm asking you to listen for the deep music, the implications that wreath her words like a haunting melody. Listen for the argument that touches you in your depths, in your soul, in your essential self.

These are her words, which I have adapted for our purposes today (I hope and trust they would meet with Estes' approval):

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times.

I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking.

Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is, that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of [courageous] souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward [preoccupation] over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that.

There is a tendency too to fall into...dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know.

Didn't you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater - the deeper voice within? Didn't you ask for grace? Don't you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater, the voice of Life...?

We know that it does not take "everyone on Earth" to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire.

To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.

If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged.

I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember who and what you serve, and who and what called you here.

In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Let me repeat some of her words. Let me repeat some of her words, for they bear repeating. We need to hear them. We need to let them sink in, into our hearts, our minds, our bodies, into the deep crevasses of our psyches, down where our wounds dwell, and deeper still, down where the fire of our lives burns, yearning to be fanned.

Listen, again:

"We were made for these times."

"We have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement."

"We are needed."

"Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times."

"To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these---to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity."

"I do not keep a chair for [despair]; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate."

"When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for."

So powerful her words. So compelling. So troubling, too. What if these words are actually true?

Could it be that your life really matters, and far more deeply than you ever imagined? Could it be true that you are actually being called to play a part, a part that no one else can play? Could it be true that in your deeper self you have been learning and yearning, practicing and preparing to meet on this exact plain of engagement? Could it be, as Joanna Macy, eco-feminist, buddhist and world-renowned workshop leader says, we have either entered the time of The Great Turning, the name for the emerging opportunity to turn away from the destructive, violent forces of Empire to build another world - or we have entered the time of the Great Unravelling, the time in which human kind lost its ability to heal the earth, as it sped into ecological, global destruction? Could it be that the situation in our country, our world, is so grave, so dangerous, that you must challenge your fears and step through them into an active role, into some form of public activism that only you can identify - some public activism that, at its core, draws its power not from your actions so much as from your simple human presence, your presence that is irreducible and unrepeatable? Could it be that your simple, personal presence is that powerful and that needed?

As often happens when I am focused during the writing of a sermon, quotes I am not familiar with begin to appear - passages that speak directly to my task and message. Here's a quote that I saw a few days after I had begun writing this sermon, it is by Emile Zola, the great 19th century naturalist writer: "If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud!"

This piece Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written is one that she has shared out loud for all of us. She ends it with these words, with this hope: "This comes with much love and a prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth."

Could it be that there is a love within humanity, that flows from the very earth itself, that is calling you, and that will sustain you, if you but dare to step forward? Could it be that living "out loud" is what you, too, have been called to do?

My challenge to you, speaking from this place of truth-telling, speaking here in this sanctuary of truth and integrity, speaking from my heart to yours - my challenge to you is to say:

I believe you are being called - as individuals and as a community. I believe this is your time, your time to claim your own strength to do what now needs to be done to bring healing and justice to our beleaguered and hurting planet... my challenge to you is for you to question, fiercely, whatever in you says that it is not possible for you to step out now, whatever in you argues that things are really not that bad, that you are not important enough, that this is all too idealistic.

Whatever inner obstacle speaks up, in whatever form or content, fiercely question it - and then step up on deck. Step up on deck.

May you come to know the deep calm and satisfaction of acting thoroughly and fully in complete accord with your deepest convictions.

May you come to know the deep calm - the deep calm and satisfaction - of acting thoroughly and fully in complete accord - in complete accord with your deepest convictions.

May the vision of peace that you carry deep in your heart stir you, may it stir you with urgency and unrest. May you dare to bring your soul up on deck so that it can shine without restraint.

Ashe. Amen. Ameen . . . Shalom and Blessed Be.
Gracias y Namaste.

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