© Jackie Porter 2004
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
November 28, 2004

Just a few days ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, our national holiday in which we pause after our harvest time to take stock of our lives giving thanks for our blessings and good fortunes. It is usually a time for the family to gather together if at all possible and share a feast from our bountiful harvest.

As children, we learned the story of our nation's first Thanksgiving when the Pilgrim fathers and the Indians came together to feast and give thanks that they had made it through the winter. When I think about it now, it seems important that two groups came together to celebrate, it was not just the Pilgrims.

They would not have survived the winter without another group of people, the Indians, who befriended them. So I guess Thanksgiving has always been about community, and community is a big part of my message this morning.

In our family, we have had a tradition for over 30 years in which we have shared the thanksgiving feast with another family, the Smiths. We had no family in Northern California when we moved here in l964. Soon we found the Smiths in our church and they quickly became our extended family. We had countless times together as we each raised our family of four children. We are a large number now, counting husbands and wives, children and grand children. And everyone still makes a special effort to get home for the celebration. I think they come for the ritual we established years ago. Everyone brings a candle which they put at their place. We go around the table each telling what their year has been like and what they are grateful for. We have had to find ways to keep the food warm because everyone usually has some significant things to say and seem to be grateful to have the time and attention to say it.

But now that the focus of the Thanksgiving Feast is over, I thought it might be a good time to look at how important it is to feed each other every day, not just at Thanksgiving. I believe we are all in great need of being fed, every day.

I'm not talking about the food we eat. Most of us have the means to put food on our tables and even more to share. The hunger I'm thinking of is one we often don't recognize, the hunger of the heart. The need and the longing we hold deep within to be truly seen and known, the need for recognition and loving attention. So this morning I am asking, Is this need real, and if so how do we feed it?

I believe the realness of this need is intimated in our thinking of going home for the holidays.

Being with people we know and care about. We want something home cooked. We hope that our relationships in family or friends maybe will somehow serve up that morsel of love and appreciation for our hearts as well as for our stomachs.

John O Donohue, a Celtic philosopher, says "we long for our nest of belonging in which we are embraced, seen and loved. We long for this. We can have all the world has to offer in terms of status, achievement and possessions yet without a sense of belonging, it all seems empty."

Our recent cultural pattern of separation and the drive for individualism has clouded our soul's need for belonging, our need for attention and support. We have been forced to hide it and pretend it isn't there as we go about our everyday business.

I say "recent" because our parents and grandparents had a different cultural pattern. They were held in a socialized web made up of cultural roles, status and institutional identification. They did not need to "know themselves" because their social family or tribe defined their values and their place in the world.

Our times are different and many of the old support systems are no longer functioning. We are required to carve out our own sense of self, our values and life purpose and stand alone...strong and self sufficient.

Our present culture does not do much to nourish us as individuals and certainly does not nourish community. It is not surprising that we often walk around with a deep loneliness inside. I'm sure this loneliness is partially the result of our highly mobile culture, families moving far apart, extended families replaced by the nuclear family. Our traditional support system of grandparents, aunties, and cousins is a rarity. Very few neighborhoods maintain any form of neighborliness. For 5 years now, we have lived in a gated community of 50 homes in which live very culturally different families: Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, Iranian, Black and Caucasian. I know 2 neighbors and have little in common with either.

I get nostalgic when I look back to see how things have changed. I grew up in a small city, St. Joseph, Missouri and my father owned and ran a grocery store in our neighborhood. He knew everyone by name. A few years ago on a visit to St. Joseph, I ran into Mrs. Galinski who lived two blocks over from my house. She told me her family of 8 children would have starved during the depression if it had not been for my father who regularly sent over food. Friendly family groceries are scarce now. Today we shop in huge cavernous warehouses where you wait on yourself and they have no idea if someone is in need.

Or how many of us personally know our banker? As a child of the depression I remember my mother going down to see her banker for a loan to get a load of coal for the winter. Her signature was all she needed. Today I call the bank and get electronic voice mail which delivers menu options in rapid monotones. I always just hang on hoping that it will finally tell me somehow to get connected with a real person who can maybe answer my question. We don't have to get real, our televisions serve up virtual reality shows to keep us entertained. Our computers have streamlined our lives, we shop online, get books on instead of driving over to East West book store. We correspond on email which is fast and easier than writing and posting a letter. True, I can keep in touch with many more people, but somehow I still appreciate when I get a personally penned card or letter. It seems to remind me of the olden days, when we had more connection with one another.

I was struck with painful awareness recently when I read something that Anne Simpkinson, editor of "Common Boundary" magazine wrote. She said, "Much of the time we walk around in a state of deep chronic psychological malnourishment and don't even know it". So what deep chronic need are we talking about?

Psychologist Abraham Maslow has maintained that there is a hierarchy of human needs. They begin with basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. After these are met the psychological needs arise, the sense of belonging and the sense of meaning. All of these needs must be met before spiritual needs can be attended to.

Dr. Dean Ornish, a nationally recognized cardiologist is well known for the plan he developed to prevent and recover from coronary heart disease. Most people believe that his program is primarily about food and diet but he identified something else as the most significant factor in healing. He identified love, intimacy, and relationships as being the most significant factor for restoring health. In his book, "Love and Survival: the Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy" he describes in our culture an epidemic of emotional and spiritual diseases of the heart caused, he says, by a profound sense of loneliness, isolation, alienation and depression. He believes that we are in need of adequate amounts of psychologically nutritious communication. And without it we cannot nurture love or develop intimacy. We content ourselves instead, keeping our nose to the grindstone to acquire things and/or amass power.

His Holiness The Dali Lama of Tibetan Buddhism has observed that what he calls "self loathing" is widespread in our Western culture and it is an obstacle to spiritual practice.

And so it is this hidden but profound sense of loneliness and alienation, this self loathing instead of self loving in our culture which I am addressing this morning.

Recent studies have recognized that we have a daily minium requirement of psychological needs and that the level of psychological nourishment we get has an effect on our physical and mental health. Some people may resist this idea and claim that they don't have such needs, believing themselves to be self sufficient. But I believe those needs are in all probability being fed indirectly through addictions to wealth and power in lieu of personal connections. So perhaps we can say that we are all suffering to some degree from a deficit in attention. A deficit in feeling seen and appreciated for what we do, and loved for who we are.

In his book, "Soul Care," John O Donahue writes that we each want to belong, need community. It seems that in a soul sense we cannot fully be ourselves without others. In order to BE, we need to BE WITH. And so we need to find like-minded persons with whom we can share ourselves, drop our masks and be seen as we really are. We need community.

Actually, we each live in several groups or communities simultaneously. There's our work, our neighborhood, our family and relations, and our church. No one community fits all of our longing exactly, meets and fulfills all our needs. We ourselves are the one constant that we take from group to group. And it is we ourselves who can learn to consciously nurture one another, learn to give one another the attention we need. Through the words we speak, the simple words which we speak.

We are fortunate to be a part of this community, Mission Peak, and we think of ourselves as a caring community. The time we have together is usually short and our interactions may be only a greeting, the time measured in moments. But lets take a quick look at the nutritional value of the greetings we gave.

When you met someone this morning, did you start with a "Hi"? Did you add, "How are you?" Did you really want to know how they were? Did you listen to their response? Did you acknowledge that you received the message?

Not everyone recognizes that the way we feel about ourselves depends in part on how others respond to us. But I believe it is true. The receptive experiences of feeling seen, loved, helped and understood nourish and heal our core sense of Self. And we need this food every day. So in our brief time together its important that we know how to communicate with one another in a nourishing way.

I'm certain that this nothing new, but Tracy and I want to demonstrate some patterns of communications, what is and what is not nourishing,.

l) Hey Tracy, "I'm really excited about finally getting to teach my class next week.

Tracy: I'm teaching a class next week too. It's a continuation of the class I taught last semester..


2) Tracy, I'm looking forward to teaching my class next week, I've wanted to teach it for some time.

Tracy:: I sure hope it goes better than the one I taught, what a headache it was.


3) I'm kind of worried that I won't have enough people show up, Tracy.

Tracy: Well, Jackie, that happens sometimes. You never can tell.


4) I'm kind of excited about my new class, really pretty nervous too.

Tracy: "'ohhh yea, I know what you mean."


5)I'm pretty excited Tracy, I'm experimenting with some new material in my next workshop.

Tracy: A new workshop? Gee, what's it about?


6) I'm pretty excited about teaching my new workshop, Tracy. I hope people will come.

Tracy: It seems like you're pretty excited about this workshop, Jackie and wondering about the attendance. Are you really worried about that?


There you have it, words, simple words can be soul food.

By making our conversations nourishing, we can quickly give one another some much needed emotional support whatever community we may be in, family, work, or Mission Peak.

I bring up the subject of words and the importance they have in our lives because of some new and exciting research I've recently found which I believe demonstrates the immense power which words hold.

In Japan there is a spirit called Katadoma or "spirit of words". It is said that soul words reside in this spirit called Katodoma and the act of speaking words has the power to change the world. This is an interesting and very old belief.

The research I want to share with you this morning suggests that Katodoma is true. Words can change the world. Let me tell you about this research. It focuses on water, such a common element that we seldom pause to even think about it unless we are thirsty. Yet it is very important. Our bodies are about 70% water and there is no life at all without it.

Dr. Masaru Emoto is an internationally known Japanese scientist who has discovered that molecules of water are affected, are changed by our thoughts and words. Dr. Emoto became interested in looking at water crystals when he heard as a child that no two snowflakes are alike.

In his new book, "Hidden Messages in Water," he describes his extremely exacting research. When water freezes, the particles of water link together to form the crystal nucleus and when the nucleus grows in a stable way into a hexagonal shape, a visible water crystal appears. Crystals emerge for only 20 or 30 seconds as the temperature rises and the ice starts to melt. He photographs the crystal images in those few brief moments. These images give us a glimpse into a mystical world before only hinted at.

Dr. Emoto shares how he began freezing and photographing water from many places in Japan and then eventually in many countries of the world. He found that natural sources of water produce many beautiful crystals and he found quite surprisingly that the tap water of all Tokyo would form no crystals at all. This due, he says, to chlorine which was been added to sanitize, destroying the structure found in natural water.

In this recent book, "Hidden Messages in Water," Dr. Emoto details how he took ordinary water and exposed it to specific concentrated words either spoken or written on the jar. Then he photographed the crystals which froze in the water before and after the exposure. The crystals revealed unusual changes. Water which had been exposed to loving words froze into brilliant, complex, colorful snowflake crystal patterns. In contrast, water exposed to negative thoughts and words formed incomplete, dull patterns or no crystals at all. I have some examples and there are many more photographs in his book. He found that water exposed to the words "Love" and "Gratitude" formed the most complex and beautiful crystals.

In most places of the world where water rises up from the ground it is considered sacred and to have divine healing energy. And now it seems that perhaps ordinary tap water can be blessed by words and it is changed. In Brazil last summer, I experienced water being used for healing in both of these ways. The spiritual healer, John of God, asks everyone to drink Holy water as part of their healing. It is ordinary water which has been blessed by the entities. Sometimes he writes a prescription for the person to go stand under the waterfall which is on a remote part of the property. I did drink the holy water and brought some home. I also brought home water from Lourdes and Holy Well in Wales. I love the mystique around the healing properties of water. And I also must admit that sometimes my logical mind kicks in and I agree with John, water is water. However, I am pondering all of this anew.

Is it really possible to affect water with a blessing or a curse?

Up until now we have not been able to substantiate and physically see the effect which words have on something. But this new research gives us pause and has certainly got my attention. Understanding the power of words we speak to affect water and knowing that we are 70% water, I believe we must pay attention. The messages, both positive or negative which we give and receive each moment is very likely to have an enormous impact on our lives.

Interesting research. And I realize it will not be meaningful to everyone. But I do hope that I have called our attention to the real need for heart and soul food every day and also the huge potential which words carry.

We once all floated in the waters of our mothers's dark wet womb, feeling totally connected to everything and being nourished effortlessly. We began our soul journey with a traumatic experience which we call birth in which we were thrust out naked and alone on planet earth.

It is true we can't go home again, it is also true that in this universe of exiles, when our paths intersect, we may be present and nourish one another with the words we speak. This is no small thing. It can transform the world.

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