First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County

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The Blessings of Belonging

June 3, 2018
Rev. Dr. Sandra Fees

This month we begin an exploration of what it means to be a people of blessing. The idea of blessing often gets associated with key life events. We baptize or dedicate a child, bless a new home, consecrate a marriage, do a blessing of the animals ceremony, or pray over the dying. Blessings are offered at vigils and public ceremonies. Often for these occasions a minister or another religious professional is called upon to officiate.

We bless to acknowledge the sacredness, the specialness, and the mystery of these occasions. There are other times of blessing. A blessing is offered at mealtime or prayer before bedtime. There are so many ordinary moments when life, people, nature, animals, or experiences bless us or we bless them. A child laughs, a poignant song comes on the radio, a stranger helps us out. These moments grace our lives, bless us. Some of them may be so much a part of the day that we don’t even recognize them as blessings at all. They may slip by with so little fanfare that we barely stop to notice them, to take them in, to let them wash over us like a balm, giving us courage and strength and joy.

I know that distractions, busyness, anxiety, loneliness, fear, a sense of failure, and the times when I feel inadequate can all get in the way of my appreciation for everyday blessings. Those are actually the times I am most in need of recounting them, of recalling them and allowing them to recall me to myself.

I’ve also noticed the urge for something bold and big, which can get in the way too. I expect a blessing to be a grand event, something that feels especially special. The writer Brian Andreas wisely notes that “It’s hardest to love the ordinary things . . . but you get lots of opportunities to practice.” I think he is referring to this way of seeing the ordinary things as just that, as ordinary, as though they are somehow less important, less meaningful, have less to offer us. We easily recognize that the vacation to a place we’ve long dreamed about, a graduation party for a beloved family member, or attending a fun outdoor festival blesses our lives, but what of the everyday?

The magnificence of the divine creation blesses our lives, but what of the cloud? Kent Nerburn says our constant urge for more can become a curse as well as a blessing. It can cause us to neglect the mystery of the small stuff. He says,

Where does it come from, this strange unquenchable human urge for “more” that is both our blessing and our curse? It has caused us to lift our eyes to the heavens and thread together pieces of the universe until we can glimpse a shadow of the divine creation. Yet to gain this knowledge, we have sometimes lost the mystery of a cloud, the beauty of a garden, the joy of a single step.

We must learn to value the small as well as the great. . . .

Do we really need much more than this? To honor the dawn. To visit a garden. To talk to a friend. To contemplate a cloud. To cherish a meal. To bow our heads before the mystery of the day. Are these not enough?

Sometimes, it seems, we ask too much. Sometimes we forget that the small graces are enough. (Small Graces)

Just imagine if we learned to bow before the mystery of the day. Just imagine being blessed by those simple moments.

In 1967, the poet, short story writer, and activist Amiri Baraka wrote a poem-song that does just that, that offers advice for honoring the small graces. He writes:

Walk through life
Beautiful more than anything
Stand in the sunlight
Walk through life
Love all the things
That make you strong,
be lovers, be anything
For all the people of
Earth

You have brothers
You love each other, change up
And look at the world
Now, it’s
Our’s, take it slow
We’ve got a long time, a long way
To go,

We have
Each other, and the
World,
Don’t be sorry
Walk on out through sunlight life
and know
We’re on the go
For love
To open
Our lives
To walk
Tasting the sunshine
Of Life. (Answers in Progress)

Amiri Baraka was born Everette LeRoi Jones. Later, he went by LeRoi Jones, and yet later adopted the name Amiri Baraka. Interestingly, the Muslim term Baraka means “divine blessing.” Baraka was best known for his confrontational writing. It was often designed to shock and awaken people to the concerns of Black Americans. In the piece I’ve shared this morning, Baraka illustrates what it means to live a good life, a rewarding life. He says, “don’t be sorry . . . walk on out through sunlight life,” as if to remind us to value the small graces, which aren’t so small after all.

This week I took up a challenge to create a blessing list. My list includes my cat Shadow wrapping her front paws around my neck and hugging me. It includes starting my day on the back porch, listening to the birds and chanting to Snatam Kaur and drinking coffee.

This week I celebrated a birthday and on the day of my birth I reflected on my parents who loved me, shedding some tears for my missing them now that they are dead, wishing I could spend time with them. They were tears of sorrow. But to have such intense feelings for those who cared for me and who cared about me in a special way, is a blessing. The tears were bittersweet.

I also was blessed with birthday cake—boston cream pie—my favorite.

My week’s list of blessings included a phone call from my sister and reading poetry by Brenda Hillman and lunch with friends. It also included a long walk along the Tulpehocken, seeing my purple irises now in full bloom and the pink peonies newly opening, and being able to do many of these things with my partner Chris.

It surprised me that it took me a little time to get warmed up in making my list. Some things seemed too mundane. But that’s the point. They are the small graces. Savoring a cup of coffee or watching the kids across the street ride their bicycles are small and healing moments of joy, of life’s kindnesses. As I began to write my list I noticed more and more that could be added to it. Each item reminded me that I am glad to be alive, that this world is sacred and beautiful, that I am loved, that what I do matters, that who I am matters. And don’t we all need such reminders.

John O’Donohue writes, “May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.” That’s the kind of week it was. The voice of blessing, the voice of God, the birds, loved ones, whispering in my heart. Even and especially on the days when I was dealing with more difficult situations and emotions. I needed to hear that whispering voice. O’Donohue also writes, “May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.” Writing that list helped me see that’s the kind of week it was. It was a week in which I was embraced in belonging. I felt connected and grateful.

Brian Andreas says it can be hard to love those ordinary blessings. I actually have come to believe it’s easy to love those ordinary blessings. What’s hard is to give them their due and to allow them to enfold me, to gather me. But, as Andreas notes, there are many opportunities to practice. There are many opportunities to learn to appreciate the small graces. Every day, in fact.

What is blessing your life? What would you include on a list? I invite you to take a moment right now to consider quietly to yourself one or two things you would place on a list of ordinary blessings.

There’s an insert in your order of service this morning. I encourage you to take that sheet home with you. For the next week write 2-3 ordinary blessings on it each day. Be sure to include the blessings you’ve called to mind here today. Try to make these simple things, daily things. Then at the end of the week, spend some time reviewing what is on your list. Are there patterns emerging? Music, food, people, nature, or something else? Take some time to consider how those simple things are blessing you? Maybe you’ll decide to extend the practice to the whole month of June or perhaps indefinitely.

The point is to learn to give those ordinary things prominence in your life. Hold them, savor them, name them.  The point, as Baraka writes, is “to open our lives, to walk tasting the sunshine of life.” To be blessed is to open our lives, to open our hearts, to know we belong and to know we are beloved.

Dear Beloveds, may it be so.