Sunday Service 3.21.2021

GATHERING MUSIC                        Jig Fugue                      Buxtehude

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                   

No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war.

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884-1962

PRELUDE                            O pastor animarum          Hildegard of Bingen

OPENING DEVOTION                               Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179

Holy Spirit, the life that gives life: You are the cause of all movement. You are the breath of all creatures. You are the salve that purifies our souls. You are the ointment that heals our wounds. You are the fire that warms our hearts. You are the light that guides our feet. Let all the world praise you

MUSIC                                Jesu, Joy of Our Desiring                  J.S. Bach

SCRIPTURE READINGS

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

               John 1:1-14 and Psalm 104

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING                                                       Hildegard of Bingen

REFLECTION                      Hildegard of Bingen              Rev. Kim P. Wells

First a bit of a precis about Hildegard of Bingen.

She was born to a noble family of Germany. The 10th child. She had her first spiritual visions at 3 years of age. She was given to the church at age 8, entrusted to the care of Jutta at a nearby Benedictine monastery. Was she given as a tithe or did they give her to the church because she was weak and sickly? She took vows as a nun at age 15.

When Jutta died, Hildegard was elected to take over as head of the convent. Then she went on to found two additional convents. They were noted because the nuns were permitted to wear white robes and to let their hair grow long unlike other convents where the garb was black and the hair was shorn.

Hildegard is known for her many endeavors. Among them:

– writing her spiritual memoirs in three volumes

– producing various other spiritual writings including Biblical commentary, sermons, and poetry

– embarking on a preaching tour when she was 60, and women were forbidden to preach to men. And then making three more such tours.

– writing several books about nature and natural medicine

– writing numerous songs for use in church. She is the first named composer of liturgical music. Up until Hildegard, music was attributed to anonymous.

– writing a morality play that was a precursor to opera

– using many illustrations and drawings that augment her writing with descriptive images

– extensive correspondence which included dukes and kings and popes

– challenging the corruption in the church of her day accusing priests of being adulterers and thieves

– using feminine imagery for God

– giving the first known written description of female pleasure during love making

– inventing a language to be used by the nuns called lingua ignota complete with its own alphabet

Hildegard was declared a doctor of the church and

made a saint of the Catholic church in May of 2012.

Let us join together in prayer:

It has been a rough year. This pandemic has really taken us down. Us, the human race. Us, our country, Us, as a community and a church. Us, as individuals. Could we have imagined just over a year ago that when we shut down it would be for so long? Could we imagine not going to work for a year? Not having church for months? Could we imagine not flying for a year? Not going to school in person for months? Not seeing family and friends in person? Not eating out? Not going to concerts, plays, and other arts events? Not going to sports events? Not going to the movies. Not seeing the veterinarian? My dogs have seen our vet in the past year, but I haven’t. Could we have had any idea that we would become so familiar with Zoom, and Facebook live, and other virtual platforms? Whether we wanted to or not? And there is all of the economic upheaval in people’s lives. The siege on the medical sector. And the social isolation and disruption to relationships. And let us not forget, let us never forget, all of the deaths. The grief and loss and pain. So many, many people. Gone. In every country in the world. Our tragically shared bond. [Pause]

But Covid is not the only thing that has withered our spirits in the past year. There was the exceedingly acrimonious, toxic election. That whole process was traumatizing. The horrific tenor of the discourse. The lies. The accusations. The threats. The delusions. The lust for power and money. It was a heinous display of the weakness and self absorption that the human character is capable of. We could even use the word evil. It wasn’t just disgusting, it was dis-heartening; it was shame-full. And the bile continues to poison our common life.

And still our spirits wither over the hateful, violent racism that defines our country. I was reading something written in the early 1960’s about police violence against people of color and the fear it engendered. I had to stop. Sixty years later. Decades. Generations later. And we continue to breed the conditions that perpetuate those actions. And other racist hate crimes like the killings in Atlanta this week.

And while attention is growing, and people are trying to change, lives are still not being lost but being taken by racism. Racial violence. Racial inequity in health outcomes. Racial inequity in education. In access to healthy food. In exposure to environmental hazards. And on and on and on. In every sector of society, there is racism. Including in religion. And it is toxic to everyone. We are all withering from the virus of racism, of course some more than others, but still it is negatively impacting everyone in America. This dis- ease affects us all.

And the backdrop for all of this and more is the unraveling of the very environment around us. Global warming. Sea level rise. The storms and weather events that are disrupting lives in new proportions. This too, whether we know it or not, eats away at our spirits.

And where do we seek solace? Medications? Opiates? Other drugs? Gaming? Social media? TV? These are powerful forces. Forces that can be toxic and can further wither the spirit as well as the body. I have heard several people say to me in recent months that they have intentionally fasted from news and from Facebook and other social media because they felt it eating away at them. So they stepped back from what can poison the soul.

So what can a twelfth century nun who had bizarre apocalyptic visions beginning at age 3 have to say to us today with our complexities and problems so different from the concerns of her day? First let me say that Hildegard of Bingen lived in a time of greedy power grabbing and corruption in the church and in civil affairs which were grossly intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Our election situation would not have shocked Hildegard. We also want to note that Hildegard lived in a time of extreme societal stratification and classicism as well as sexism. People were by no means equally valued. Money talked then as it does today. So Hildegard would understand oppression as we call it. She had to tell her superiors in the church that God told her to write down her visions or else the church would have banned them because women did not write books. Certainly not of a theological nature.

In a time when there was much to wither the spirit, like our time, Hildegard is perhaps most renowned for the concept of greening. Veriditis. This is her concept of the Divine life force. The Divine energy that imbues all of creation and all of life and connects everything into an interrelated whole. The Divine, the spiritual, the material, nature, humanity, the Trinity, it is all integrated. There is no separation.

We listen as Hildegard describes this greening force:

The earth is at the same time mother,                                                                                                                        she is mother of all that is natural,                                                                         mother of all that is human.

She is the mother of all,                                                                                               for contained in her                                                                                                           are the seeds of all.

The earth of humankind                                                                                        contains all moistness,                                                                                                   all verdancy,                                                                                                     all germinating power.

It is in so many ways fruitful.                                                                                        All creation comes from it.                                                                                           Yet it forms not only the basic                                                                            raw material for humankind,                                                                                   but also the substance                                                                                       of the incarnation                                                                                           of God’s son. [Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, Gabriele Uhlein p. 58]

This concept of greening, the moistness, the verdancy, the germinating power, conveys the life force, the fecundity, the fertility, the potential for growth and vibrancy in the natural world. But veriditis is also the power of life, relationship, agency, growth, action and awareness, bestowed by God to the human spirit. It is the Divine that greens us. That gives to us the potential to live and to thrive and to be co-creators with God of a world intended to flourish and thrive and bear fruit.

Hildegard is continuously relying on Divine power, God the Holy Spirit, Christ, the Trinity, as the greening power that enlivens humanity. She sees the greening as a gift that God is seeking to give to humans. To bless them. So that they can bless God and the world through creativity and fertility and bearing fruit.

The greening power is for the greater good. It is not to make money, another kind of greening. Divine greening is not to gain power for the individual. It is not for self promotion. For self gain. Divine greening is for the health of the individual as well as the health of the community and the planet. It is all connected and integrated.

As spring arrives, we see the green emerging around us even here in Florida. Nature seems to know how to submit itself to the greening. With people it is more complicated. But we are so in need of this power of re- creation, of new life. Especially after a year, yes, can you believe it, a full year, of a pandemic and all of the restrictions and hardship and death that has come with it. We are in a season of readiness for new life.

And here Hildegard inspires us to receive the gift we are being given simply because we are alive and human. Like nature, we are being given the power of greening, of renewal, and growth, not only biologically but spiritually. We have been given the capacity to grow and thrive and transform. We have the greening power to make us resilient against threats like the covid virus. We have the greening power to help us confront the evils of racism and greed and oppression. We have the greening power to empower us to work with nature for the good of creation itself. This is being given to us. Provided for us.

In one of her visions Hildegard tells us:

God says:                                                                                                       In the shaking out of my mantle                                                                     you are drenched,                                                                                       watered,                                                                                                    with thousands upon thousands                                                                           of drops                                                                                                         of precious dew.

Thus is humanity gifted. [Uhlein, p.109]`

We are being given this greening power. Moist. Verdant. Fecund. The perfect medium and conditions for growing and thriving

We engage this greening power when we live our lives with fullness and authenticity. It isn’t just about work and service and constant sacrifice. Hildegard celebrates a life of engagement and awareness. You could call this greening power an anti-depressant, not in a medical sense, of course. Greening is about involvement and fulfillment and taking delight in all of life. Not watching. Not spectating. Not consuming on social media. Not being taken in as a brainwashed follower. Hildegard encourages us to think for ourselves and trust our experience as she learned to trust hers even when it put her at odds with the authorities around her. She tells us:

We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light.

Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.

Here we are in a morass. Like fish or birds in an oil spill. Mired in a toxic environment, and Hildegard is reminding us of the Divine power of greening, that is seeking us, seeking to enliven us, seeking to make us thrive and flourish and bear fruit. The greening power of the Divine is seeking to make its home in us. To enter us. And be expressed in our living. This is a message of great consolation and hope.

We are in trying times and there are many challenges that face us. But Hildegard is reminding us of the power that is within us to meet those challenges with resilience, to be true to Divine Light, to ourselves, and to Creation. It is the power, the force we see in the greening of the oak trees, and the new shoots on the mango trees, and the fecundity of the garden rife with kale and tomatoes and carrots and peas. It is the greening power of the rain that pours forth to clean and nourish the earth. It is the power of the sun to awaken and inspire. And the moon which marks the seasons. This greening power is within us. To give us life. To give the world life.

We close with a blessing from Hildegard:

Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world— everything is hidden in you.

Amen.A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ

UNISON READING                                                      Hildegard of Bingen

Listen: there was once a king sitting on his throne. Around Him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour. Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground, and he commanded it to fly. The feather flew, not because of anything in itself but because the air bore it along. Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.

MUSIC                            Sonata 16, Mov.2 K545                        Mozart

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING  

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                                  Vivo                                 Schroeder

        Prayer of Dedication                                          Hildegard of Bingen

Be not lax in celebrating. Be not lazy in the festive service of God. Be ablaze with enthusiasm. Let us be an alive, burning offering before the altar of God.  Amen.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER               Lo How a Rose         German trad.

(LUCC Choir virtual recording)

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Fathering and Mothering God, lover of us all, most holy one. Help us to respond to you To create what you want for us here on earth. Give us today enough for our needs. Forgive our weak and deliberate offenses, Just as we must forgive others when they hurt us. Help us to resist evil and to do what is good. For we are yours, endowed with your power to make the world whole. Amen.                                                                                    

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                             Hildegard of Bingen

Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.                                                 

*POSTLUDE           Herr Gott, Dich Loben Alle Wir (Old 100th)       Walther

Sunday Service 3.14.2021

GATHERING MUSIC     Basse et Dessus de Trompette   Clérambault

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                   

A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy such desires.

Bhagavad-Gita, Hindu Scripture

PRELUDE                        Feuilles Volantes #1                      Duparc

OPENING DEVOTION                              Simone Weil,1909-1943

God rewards the soul that thinks of God with attention and love, and God rewards it by exercising a compulsion upon it. . . . We have to abandon ourselves to the pressure, to run to the exact spot whither it impels us and not go one step further, even in the direction of what is good.

MUSIC                        Il Pleut Bergère                 French folk song

SCRIPTURE READINGS

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

               Luke 9:23-25 and John 12:24

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING                                                   Simone Weil

REFLECTION                       Simone Weil

Simone Weil remembers a story that her mother told to her when she was 4 as she was recovering from an operation for appendicitis. The story is called Marie in gold and Marie in tar. A little girl was sent by her stepmother into the forest. She reached a house where she was asked: Do you want to enter by the door in gold or by the door in tar? “For me,” the little girl replied, “tar is quite good enough.” This was the right answer and a shower of gold fell on her when she went through the tar door. When she got home with all of her gold, the stepmother sent her own daughter into the forest for gold. The girl found the same house and was asked the same question: Do you want to enter by the door in gold or by the door in tar? She chose the golden door and was deluged with tar. [Simone Weil: A Life, Simone Petrement, p.9]. Weil later commented that this fairy tale had had an important influence on the rest of her life.

And that is clearly evident. Weil always had sympathies for the least and the lowest in society. As a child, 9 or 10 years old, in 1918 and 1919, she declared her sympathies for the Bolsheviks. She had sympathies for those who were humiliated in the Treaty of Versailles after World War 1. On a family vacation to the Alps in 1925, Weil befriended the chambermaids, the porter, the desk clerk, the bellhop and other hotel workers. She told them that they worked too hard and that they should organize and form a union. Her sentiments offended other guests at the hotel.

Throughout her life, she always had empathy for the victims.[Petrement, p. 23-24]

Weil was from a well-educated, cultured family. Her father was a doctor. She and her brother were extremely intellectual from a young age. Weil became a philosophy professor at a young age and embraced her vocation as an intellectual and a teacher. But she did not sequester herself in an ivory tower. In addition to teaching young people in school, she taught classes for laborers at night and on the weekends. She devoted herself to the labor movement and to helping any cause that was about honoring the humanity of the lower classes. She wrote countless articles, participated in demonstrations, took in refugees, and was constantly helping people. She was committed to changing the systems – financial, political, and social – that led to the abuse and degradation of people.

Throughout her life, Weil continued to actively form relationships with people of the lower socio-economic classes. And she devoted herself to the labor movement. She took a year off from teaching to pursue factory work so that she could personally experience that life. And at another time she took time off from teaching to work in the agricultural sector to personally experience that kind of life and work. She also went to Spain to participate in the Spanish Civil War. Weil put great store in personal experience. And throughout her life, though her ideas, her views on labor, her political inclinations, and her thoughts about pacifism emerged and changed, she did not change in her commitment to those who were victims, who were treated in any

way as less than. She gave her time, her intellect, her energies, and her money constantly to uplift others.

This commitment can also be seen in how she chose to live: Always in meager circumstances, unheated rooming quarters, sleeping on the floor, eating the food of someone poor, or a refugee. She could never feel comfortable indulging herself or
even taking care of herself when she knew that others were suffering or without. In fact, this aspect of her authenticity and integrity may have contributed to her death. She died with
tuberculosis in London in 1943, just 34 years old. She was there working with the French Resistance during World War 2. While she was being treated, she refused to eat any more than she thought a person in France would have to eat. It was minimal. And so starvation was a contributing factor in her death. Some thought that she intentionally starved herself to death to call attention to the suffering of others. This has not been fully resolved. But in any case, she was true to her principles.

In the preface to her biography of Weil, her dear friend, Simone Petrement, tells us, “To write of her life means to deal with her work, for the bond between her life and her thought was inconceivably close. Nobody has more heroically endeavored to bring her actions into accord with her ideas.” [Petrement, p. viii]

And here we turn to religion. As Christians, we might say that of Jesus: That he heroically endeavored to bring his actions into accord with his ideas. That is how we think of Jesus. His life and his values, his ideals, completely aligned. That is how we, as

Christians, define healing and wholeness. The alignment of our beliefs and our actions. Our journey in this life is to bring together our behavior, our choices, our lives and our moral values, our ethical commitments, and our beliefs. The closer our values and our actions align, the more we feel whole, healthy, at peace. The greater the gap between our moral commitments and our behavior, the more we feel dis-ease, the more troubled our spirits.

Weil sought to close that gap in her life. From an early age, Simone Weil was seen as someone whose values and behavior were aligned and they embodied her concern and her commitment to the less advantaged sectors of society.

When she was a child, a nurse who had been employed by her father, observed, “Simone is a saint.” Indeed this was said about her repeatedly throughout her life. [Petrement, p. 16]

A saint. And yet, what were Weil’s religious commitments, her spiritual sensibilities? Weil was raised in a family that was agnostic, non religious, with an ancestral heritage in Judaism. According to the dictates of Naziism and the anti-semitism of the World War 2 era, Weil was Jewish. But as she points out when she is denied a teaching post because of her supposed religion, she has never been in a synagogue. So, can she be considered Jewish?

As an adult, Weil studied many religions. She read their sacred texts, often in the original language. She finally read the Old Testament and was dismayed at what she found. The God of violence and vengeance. Weil read the New Testament and found that much more aligned with her sensibilities of concern for the downtrodden and the universal family of humanity. She studied cultures and philosophers, ancient, modern, and everything in between. She found beauty and truth in all of them.

But in her later years, she found herself drawn to the Catholic church, a core component of French culture. She liked to visit churches. She adored Gregorian chant and made the effort to hear this haunting music especially on holy days like Easter. Weil had three intense mystical experiences that solidified her commitment to Catholicism. She experienced the presence of Christ. She was moved by the crucifixion and the passion of Christ and was envious that Christ was given the opportunity to suffer for others in that way. She recited the Savior’s Prayer, in Greek, each day and found her spirit transformed. She engaged in spiritual direction with a Catholic priest who became a dear friend.

And yet. Weil was never officially baptized. She never joined the Catholic church. And thus was never welcome to partake in the sacrament of holy communion though she longed to do so, to unite herself with the body and blood of Christ, to be with him in his suffering and death.

So, we must ask, why someone so Christlike herself, did not feel she could in good conscience, align herself completely with the church? There are several reasons for this and she explains them.

Weil was concerned about the power and influence of the church as a social structure. She tells us:

“What frightens me is the Church as a social structure. . . I am afraid of the Church patriotism that exists in Catholic circles. . . There are some saints who approved of the Crusades or the Inquisition. I cannot help thinking that they were in the wrong. I cannot go against the light of conscience. If I think that on this point I see more clearly than they did, I who am so beneath them, then I must admit that in this matter they were blinded by
something powerful. This something was the Church seen as a social structure.” [Petrement, p. 452]

Weil did not want to associate herself with the Church as a social structure that may be involved politically or patriotically, in ways that were in conflict with her morals and values. And this certainly happened during the World War 2 era.

Weil was also concerned that by officially committing to the church, she would be compromising her intellectual integrity and circumscribing her intellectual freedom. She tells us:

“. . . my vocation imposes upon me the necessity of remaining outside the Church, without so much as committing myself in any way, even implicitly, to her or to the dogmas of Christianity, in any case for as long as I am not quite incapable of intellectual work. And that is in order that I may serve God and the Christian faith in the realm of the intelligence. The degree of intellectual honesty

that is obligatory for me, by reason of my particular vocation, demands that my thought should be indifferent to all ideas without exception. . . ;it must be equally welcoming and equally reserved with regard to all of them.” [Petrement, p. 471]

So, in order to maintain her intellectual integrity and to use her intellect in service to the greater good as she felt called to do, she felt that she needed to remain outside of the church.

Weil also felt constrained against joining the church through baptism because she felt there were many things outside the Christian tradition and before the Christian tradition that were of God, and that she loved, and she did not want to devalue them by making that which is Christian pre-eminent. She tells us:

“So many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence. All the immense stretches of past centuries, except the last twenty, are among them; all the countries inhabited by colored races; all secular life in the white peoples’ countries; in the history of these countries, all the traditions banned as heretical. . . ; all those things resulting from
the Renaissance, too often degraded but not quite without value.” [Waiting for God, Simone Weil, p. 32]

Weil felt that aligning herself with the Catholic church would require her to devalue or discard things of other cultures and eras that she loved and felt had value to humanity.

Finally, it was her conception of the universal love of God that kept her out of the church. She felt that all of humanity was equally loved by God. All created in the image of God. And yet the Catholic church, supposedly universal, defined people as in or out of the church, two groups, at least, and necessarily one of different value than the other. So, she tells us:

“The children of God should not have any other country here below but the universe itself, with the totality of all the reasoning creatures it ever has contained, contains, or ever will contain. . . . Our love should stretch as widely across all space.” [Petrement, p. 470]

She also tells us:

“. . . nothing gives me more pain than the idea of separating myself from the immense and unfortunate multitude of unbelievers. . . .” [Petrement, p. 45]

So, Weil is devoted to the spirituality and ritual of Catholicism, she embraces the values and morals and teachings of Jesus, she experiences the presence of Christ, she is passionate about the universal unconditional love of God, she honors the image of God in very person and the sacredness of all life, she accepts the forgiveness and potential for growth and transformation of Christianity, she values history and the intellect, and she cannot join the actual church. She felt that she had given her life to Christ, or that Christ had taken her life, but she could not join Christ’s church.

This should give us pause. There is obviously a gap between Jesus, the teachings of Christianity, and the actual human institution of the church. That will always be. And we should always be paying attention to that.

The concerns that Weil expresses also concern many of us. The alignment of certain expressions of the church with patriotism that betrays the teachings of Jesus. The cooperation of the church with systems of abuse and degradation. An anti-intellectualism associated with the church. The exclusivism in the church.

The principles upheld by Weil are things that many of us also value. And I think that many of us are here in this church because we are looking for an expression of Christianity that Weil
could embrace. And we are looking for a community in which to celebrate those values. A community in which to nurture and grow in those commitments. We are looking for support and solidarity on our journey as we seek to integrate our values and beliefs with our actions and choices. We, too, are seeking integrity, authenticity, and wholeness. We are seeking healing from the fragmentation, the hypocrisy, and the lies that surround us. We are committed to creating new systems and power arrangements that end oppression and abuse and degradation of people as well as the earth itself.

And we also want to offer all that we have been given toward creating a world of peace and dignity for all.

We are part of a different expression of Christianity. A way of following Jesus that leaves the exclusivity and patriarchy and cultural superiority behind. We are part of an expression of Christianity that celebrates the intellect as a divine gift. We are part of an expression of Christianity that is not limited by parochialism but celebrates the universal unconditional nature of Divine Love. It is an expression of Christianity needed today, for us and for our future. And maybe it is the kind of Christianity that could have been embraced by Weil.

Simone Weil was very much shaped by her time and her experience. She lived through two world wars. She participated in the Spanish Civil War. She lived through the advent of
communism in Russia. And she was shaped by her life circumstances, born to a French doctor’s family, plagued by health problems including debilitating headaches and perhaps
anorexia. She was dedicated to sharing the suffering of others, all the while taking risks and making choices that caused suffering for those that loved her, her friends and family, especially her parents. And through it all, she sought to live with authenticity and integrity. She sought to align her core commitments and her choices. She sought to live her life. Fully and freely.

In an article about her reviewing her life and work, scholar Stephen Plant tells us: “Those who write about Simone Weil (1909–43) use strikingly similar vocabulary, describing her as ascetic, brilliant, enigmatic, a genius, heretical, mad, mercurial, an outsider, passionate, prophetic, revolutionary, spiritual and

troubled.” [History of Western Philosophy of Religion, Simone Weil, by Stephen Plant, University of Durham, pp 199-210, accessed at
https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/history-of-western-philosophy-of-religion/simone-weil/43059285EC8C47075E8F75ECD78E9B8C ]

These same things have also been said of Jesus. May we, too, live our lives fully and freely. And may we seek to create a faith community that supports us on our journey to wholeness. Amen.

UNISON READING                                                     Simone Weil

Except the seed die. . . It has to die in order to liberate the energy it bears within it so that with this energy new forms may be developed.  So we have to die in order to liberate a tied up energy, in order to possess an energy which is free and capable of understanding the true relationship of things.

MUSIC                                 je ne cuit pas                    Machaut

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory         May We See Your Radiant Face              HKJ

USF Chamber Singers, Dr. John Richmond, dir.

Prayer of Dedication                                   Simone Weil

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.  It is given to very few minds to notice that things and beings exist.  Since my childhood, I have not wanted anything else but to receive the complete revelation of this before dying.”  May we dedicate ourselves to paying attention.  Amen.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER         Je T’appartiens                    Bécaud

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Our Father who is throughout the universe, Let your name be set apart. Come your counsel. Let your desire be, as in the universe, also on earth. Give us bread for our necessities this day And free us from our offenses, As also we have freed our offenders. And do not let us enter our worldliness, But set us free from error. For belongs to you the kingdom, power, And song, from ages to ages. Sealed in faithfulness.   Amen. 

Aramaic version

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                       Simone Weil

We must not wish for the disappearance of our troubles but for the grace to transform them.                                                             

*POSTLUDE      Prière des Orgues (from “Mass for the Poor”)   Satie

Sunday Service 3.7.2021

This post includes the bulletin and music from last Sunday’s service.

GATHERING MUSIC        Kyrie from “Missa de Angelis”                           HKJ

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                         Earl Waters, liturgist

When I walk through thy woods, may my right foot and my left foot be harmless to the little creatures that move in its grasses; as it is said by the mouth of thy prophet, They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.                                 

Rabbi Moshe Hakotun

PRELUDE                 Attende Domine from “Roma”                      HKJ

OPENING PRAYER           St. Francis of Assisi, 1181 or 1182-1226

Most powerful, most high, most holy, most supreme Lord, you alone are good, and all goodness comes from you.  May we give you all praise, all glory, all blessings and all honour.  And may we offer back to you all the good things which you have granted to us.  Amen.

MUSIC                       Salve Regina from “Roma”                           HKJ

SCRIPTURE READINGS

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

               Luke 9:1-6 (selected verses) John 17:13-23 (selected verses)

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING                                                   Francis of Assisi

REFLECTION                 St. Francis of Assisi     Rev. Mardie Chapman

This week we do not have a text copy of the sermon.

UNISON READING                                                     Francis of Assisi

You are holy, Lord, the only God, You do wonders. You are good, all good, the highest good, Lord, God, living and true. You are love, charity. You are wisdom, You are humility, You are patience, You are beauty, You are inner peace, You are joy. You are our hope and gladness. You are justice, You are moderation. You are all our riches; You are enough for us. You are beauty, You are meekness. You are the protector, You are our guardian and defender; You are strength, You are refreshment. You are our hope, You are our faith, You are our charity; You are our delight. You are our eternal life: The great and wonderful Lord, God Almighty, Merciful Saviour.

MUSIC                       Pange Lingua from “Roma”                                    HKJ

MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING and COMMUNION OFFERING

Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory         Sanctus from “Missa de Angelis”              HKJ

        Prayer of Dedication                                   Francis of Assisi

Almighty, eternal, just and merciful God, grant us the desire to do only what pleases you, and the strength to do only what you command.  Cleanse our souls, enlighten our minds, and inflame our hearts with your Holy Spirit, that we may follow in the footsteps of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER      Happy Are the Lowly Poor                  HKJ

(USF Chamber Singers recording) 

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Our Creator, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION (unison)              Clare of Assisi, 1194-1253, adapted

What we hold, may we always hold.  What we do, may we always do and never abandon.  But with swift pace, light step, and unswerving feet, may we go forward securely, joyfully, and lightly, on wisdom’s path.  Believing nothing, agreeing with nothing, which would dissuade us from our resolution.  Or which would place a stumbling block for us on the way.  So that we may offer our promises to the Most High God, in the pursuit of the sacred goals to which the Spirit has summoned us.  Amen.

*POSTLUDE          Lauda Sion Salvetorem from “Roma”              HKJ

Sunday Service 2.28.2021

GATHERING MUSIC                   Nimrod                              Elgar

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE            Barbara Donahue, liturgist

Hate It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet

Maya Angelou, poet, 1928-2014

PRELUDE             All Things Bright and Beautiful         Shaw & Monk

OPENING PRAYER                 Julian of Norwich, 1343 – after 1416

This is the reason why we do not feel complete ease in our hearts and souls: we look here for satisfaction in things which are so trivial, where there is no rest to be found, and do not know our God who is almighty, all wise, all good, God is rest itself. 

MUSIC                             I’ll Fly Away                              trad/HKJ

SCRIPTURE READINGS

Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

Deuteronomy 30: 11-14 and Matthew 22: 34-40

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING                                              Julian of Norwich

From Revelations of Divine Love, also known as Showings

REFLECTION                  Julian of Norwich     Rev. Dr. Sally B. Purvis

Julian of Norwich. Reading Julian, thinking about Julian is like visiting a foreign country, a very foreign country where everything is different, sights, smells, tastes, customs, assumptions. In many ways you’re in a different world. And like foreign travel, the only way remotely to understand even a bit of Julian is to let go of expectations based on our experiences and culture. We’re going to a different place.

Who was Julian? We know very little about her. Unlike the very public figure of Teresa of Avila whom Kim talked about last week, Julian’s biographical details are very sparse. We’re not even sure her name was Julian! Here’s what we do know.

In 1373, a 30 year old woman lay on what she thought was her death bed. A priest was called to give her the last rites. As part of that sacrament, he held a crucifix so she could see it, and the crucifix came to life with blood pouring down Jesus’ face from the crown of thorns, and he spoke to her. That was the first of 16 revelations, or showings, as she called them, that she experienced lying on that bed.

Julian probably wasn’t a nun, but after she recovered her health she became an anchorite at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. That means that a room was built onto the church, with a window into the sanctuary so that she could see the services and another to the outside so that her physical needs could be attended to by servants and others who helped her, but there was no door. No door. She entered the room and was enclosed, and she stayed in that room for the rest of her life. I invite you to spend some time imagining that later this week-maybe while you’re outside.

Shortly after she was enclosed, she wrote down her revelations and some commentary on them, and she called them “Revelations of Divine Love” in sixteen showings. We now refer to that account as the short text. Then twenty years later, she wrote another account of the revelations and added interpretations and insights that she’d gained over those twenty years of contemplation and prayer, and that became the long text.

She referred to herself as a “simple, uneducated creature,” and perhaps she didn’t have the classical education in Latin and Greek that was the standard at the time, but she was clearly an amazing thinker. And, she was the first person ever to publish in the English language. She wanted her experiences and her reflections to be available to everyone. She says at one point that she doesn’t want attention drawn to herself but to the revelations from God that she was given but that were given for everyone.

As the years went by, Julian wasn’t entirely a recluse. She had interactions with church officials and other contemplatives, and as her reputation for wisdom grew, she had many people come to her for spiritual guidance. But most of her time was spent in prayer and contemplation.

So what did God show her and tell her? LOVE and more love. Endless, all encompassing, intimate love of God for God’s creatures. Jesus was happy to die for us, but not in order to pay a debt to God that humanity couldn’t pay, which is the classical doctrine of atonement. No, Christ’s suffering was an expression of his love, to join us in our suffering, so that there is no distance between us. God is ALL love. Unlike the God of the 14th century church, and unlike the God some of us were raised with, there is no wrath in God, no anger. In the longer text, she even claims that God doesn’t offer forgiveness because there is no anger in God, so nothing to forgive. Humans need to forgive themselves and one another, but God doesn’t forgive. LOVE. Everywhere. All the way down.

Julian likens our relationship to God to clothing we put on. Touching our bodies, our most private selves. Intimate. Elsewhere she writes, “At one moment my consciousness was taken down on to the sea bed, and there I saw green hills and valleys, looking as though they were covered in moss, with seaweed and sand. Then I understood this: that if a man or a woman were under the wide waters, if he could see God (and God is constantly with us) she would be safe, body and soul, and be unharmed, and furthermore, he would have more joy and comfort than words can say.” Even at the bottom of the sea, we are held by, safe with God.

I hope you aren’t starting to imagine that the world of 14th century England must have been a wonderful place, peaceful, calm for Julian to receive such visions. On the contrary – the 100 Years’ War was raging, and the Black Plague killed 3/4 of the population of England at its height in the 1340’s when Julian was a child. 3/4 of the population. And the plague didn’t end then though it receded. With those numbers, everyone lost someone or someones, so grief filled every heart. The church was was very powerful, and like all powerful institutions, it was also corrupt. Poverty was extensive with power and wealth in the hands of a few. Like now. Very much like now. Maybe not entirely foreign. And yet out of this turmoil and injustice came revelations of love so profound, so encompassing, so universal that they seem, well, otherworldly.

Let’s try to move a little closer to the visions. God manifests as every loving relationship we know, sister, brother, friend, spouse as well as parent. Julian has a long exposition about God as mother, feeding us with her very self, holding us close, comforting us, protecting us. And God is our father, love through and through. Imagine that everywhere we turn, in every circumstance and situation, we are entirely surrounded by love, clothed in love, called by love. There would be no need for fear. All would be well.

As intimate as many of Julian’s interactions with God were, she was always mindful that it was GOD speaking to her, revealing truths to her. In one vision, God showed her a small round thing, the size of a hazelnut, resting in the palm of her hand. She realized that that nut, that small round object, was “all that is made.” God was all the rest. And the nut continued to exist because God loved it. It was held in being by God’s love, vast, unimaginable. Perhaps you’ve had a glimpse of that vision at the sea shore or in the mountains or the desert, the small scale of human existence. Julian was clearly aware of it.

With the powerful messages of her revelations, Julian wrestled during those 20 years of contemplation over the question of sin. She wasn’t delusional – she knew that there were very bad things happening. She ends up telling a parable about a lord and a servant. It goes like this: A lord is seated and a servant is standing nearby. The lord looks at the servant with love and the servant shows reverence to the lord. The lord sends the servant on an errand and the servant, and I quote, “leaps forward and runs in great haste, in loving anxiety to do his lord’s will.” But the servant falls into a hole he didn’t see and is badly hurt. He groans, and moans and tries to find a way out, not noticing that the lord is very near and could help if he but asked.

In this parable, sin is an accident that happens in the exuberance of doing something good and not noticing where we’re going. And then we forget that what we need to be healed is near us if we’d but look. All we need to do is notice that help is at hand. Julian even claims that there’s a part of every soul that’s impervious to sin, a part of every one of us that sin can’t reach.

God is also our source of prayer. AND, according to Julian, our prayers bring God pleasure. She says to pray even when you don’t feel like it, even if you think prayer won’t come, because you’re bringing God pleasure. Our prayers bring God pleasure. Wow. The loving relationship is always there, always holding us, always delighting in us, even when we’re totally unaware of it.

In Julian’s revelations, it’s as though we are always and everywhere swimming in a sea of love, walking in a cloud of love, We are immersed, embedded, soaked by God’s love. It’s the truest thing about us.

The revelations are amazing. Pure love, all the way down. Can we claim her revelations as a truth we can access, even believe? Maybe not, but there are some clues for us along the way.

First, we need to remember that Julian thought she was on her death bed when the revelations occurred. Her insights were born in suffering. I would never suggest that anyone seek out suffering or that we wouldn’t alleviate suffering whenever we can. But there’s a sense in which our culture sometimes almost seems embarrassed by suffering, as though it ’s somehow unseemly. I’m so glad that our president is acknowledging the loss and grief that Covid-19 has caused and is causing us as a nation and doing so in such a personal way. Rather than turning away from suffering, we can honor it, even as we work to diminish it. And suffering can be , often is, an occasion for reflection, not shameful at all but a part of life. For Julian, God is always with us there.

Second, it’s not an accident that after she recovered physically she chose to lock herself away. She needed to be alone with these revelations, with the God who had offered her such intimacy, to give herself every chance to be present to God. Like St. Augustine, Julian talked about how much trouble we cause ourselves by trying to fill the God-shaped hole within us with other things. Power, money, too much food, too much alcohol or drugs, even being busy with too many good deeds – you can add to the list. My teacher, Henri Nouwen, talked, wrote, preached about the toxicity of distractions, and that was back in the early 1980’s before there were smart phones and tablets. But distractions have always been with us. We humans are masters at creating them and just terrible of getting rid of them. Yes?

It’s as though we are afraid of what we’ll find if we focus too hard, if we truly do nothing for too long, if we become still. What will we do with the tattered remnants of our dreams that appear in the silence, or the regrets that buffet us like a strong wind? What will we make of the broken relationships with the sharp edges that still threaten to wound us? What about the ghosts of guilt that dance around us and through us?

Listen to Mary Oliver’s poem “A Visitor”:

“My father, for example, who was young once and blue-eyed, returns on the darkest of nights to the porch and knocks wildly at the door, and if I answer I must be prepared for his waxy face, for his lower lip swollen with bitterness. And so, for a long time, I did not answer but slept fitfully between his hours of rapping. But finally there came the night when I rose out of my sheets and stumbled down the hall. The door fell open and I knew I was saved and could bear him, pathetic and hollow, with even the least of his dreams frozen inside him, and the meanness gone. And I greeted him and asked him into the house, and lit the lamp, and looked into his blank eyes in which at last I saw what a child must love, I saw what love might have done, had we loved in time.”

Isn’t this part of what we’re afraid of? Some version of this poem? Too little love, too late, or not at all? That the love we really need will never find us? Love that we can’t quite reach or that can’t quite reach us?

What if, instead of staring at each other, looking for something that can’t be there, what if Mary and her father had turned and together looked for God. Perhaps even that would have been too late, but perhaps not. And in that turning, even the past might be reinterpreted, and love, love that may have been there all along, would emerge.

Sin is an accident, not the core of who we are, not our guiding motivation. And help is nearby. Love is nearby. All we need to do is notice and reach out. Wherever you go, Love is there. Whatever you do, Love is right beside you, clothing you, holding you.

As when we visit a foreign country, Julian’s revelations offer us another vision, another way to see the world and others and ourselves. They tell us not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of God. Not to be afraid of ourselves. Not to be afraid of the silence that is a destination filled with beauty and hope. Not to be afraid of life or suffering or the depths of the sea because God is always with us, in us, around us.

If we can’t manage all that, then at least we can speak to ourselves and one another, gently and with conviction, the words that Jesus spoke to Julian: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

AMEN

UNISON READING                                                Julian of Norwich

At the same time, our Lord showed me a spiritual vision of his familiar love.  I saw that for us he is everything that we find good and comforting.  He is our clothing, wrapping us for love, embracing and enclosing us for tender love, so that he can never leave us, being himself everything that is good for us, as I understand it.

MUSIC                     I Will Give My Love an Apple               trad/HKJ

MISSION STATEMENT The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                    As a Doe Longs                             HKJ

    USF Chamber Singers, Dr. John Richmond, dir. recorded 1980s

        Prayer of Dedication                                Julian of Norwich

And thanksgiving is also part of prayer.  Thanksgiving is a new inward awareness, accompanied by great reverence and loving fear, when we apply ourselves with all our might to whatever action our good Lord inspires, rejoicing and giving inward thanks.  And sometimes thanksgiving is so abundant that it breaks out into words and says, “Good Lord, thank you, blessed may you be.” Amen.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER      The Turtle Dove             trad/HKJ

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Our Creator in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                

Jesus said to her, “Sin is befitting, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”  May you embrace and express the love that you are, that created you, that you are created to be and do, trusting in that love, that all shall be well. Amen.

*POSTLUDE                       Sine Nomine     Vaughan Williams/ (descants)HKJ

*All Julian of Norwich quotes are from Mary C. Earle, Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love – Annotated and Explained

Sunday Service 2.21.2021

GATHERING MUSIC       Sancho from Cervantes Portraits                HKJ

WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS

LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE                        Claire Stiles, liturgist

Unless the widening gap between the rich and poor is arrested, and if possible reversed, the very peace and stability of any society will be seriously jeopardized.

Akin J. Omoyajowo, contemporary Nigerian bishop

PRELUDE                                   De Colores                     Spanish trad.

OPENING PRAYER                                    Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582

MUSIC                             Pues Si Vivmos                              Haugen

SCRIPTURE READINGS Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.  

John 14:1-4 and 1 John 4: 19-21

For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.

MYSTIC READING              A Seed of Love                       Teresa of Avila

REFLECTION                     Teresa of Avila                     Rev. Kim P. Wells

What could a Catholic nun from Spain who lived inthe 1500’s possibly have to say to us today? Her times were so different than ours. Her concerns and context so alien from ours today. Surely it was a simpler time without all the complexities and

distractions that we face. Ah, to just have to pray in a convent all day! How hard was that?

Yes, like mystics of every age, Teresa of Avila is known for cultivating the life of prayer. She may be best known for the image of the interior castle or mansion. In her book with that title she begins by telling us, “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” She goes on:

“Let us now imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; and in the center and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.”

Teresa then outlines 7 rooms that lead to the center, which is flooded with light, and where there is intimate communion with the Divine. It’s a beautiful path of contemplative prayer. But, hey, we have apps for that kind of thing today.

So what is it about Teresa that may speak to us? I find her story compelling and illuminating. She was born in Spain to a comfortable family. It was in the aftermath of the triumph over the Moors. So the Catholic church was clamping down hard on compliance with its authority. The Inquisition was in

full force. The society was very class oriented.

People with money had power and got favored treatment in all settings. In her youth, Teresa herself was popular. She was attractive, lively, winsome, charming. Her family and friends took delight in her. So how does she end up going from being a privileged child to a persecuted nun to the patron saint of Spain, all within in her lifetime?

Well, Teresa’s mother died when she was a teen and that rocked her world. And her family was of Jewish heritage and converted to Catholicism to avoid the

Inquisition. So they were extremely devout. And something significant, a traumatic experience, occurred in her teens and we don’t know the nature of the situation. Teresa became very sick, actually several times in her life, with illness that threatened to kill her and lasted for many months. Somehow, through all of this, Teresa made her own path. A path that I believe still speaks to us today.

For one thing, despite the highly stratified society and the strict hierarchy of the church, Teresa had an egalitarian heart. Even her book Interior Castle, is a way of prayer that is accessible to everyone. You don’t need a special guilt prayer book or a priest or to seclude yourself away from day to day tasks for long periods of time. A luxury many cannot afford. So this is a way of prayer that can be practiced by anyone.

She begins with the assumption that every single person, as a human being created in the image of God, has this precious castle within. She tells us, “Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it. We don’t remember that we are creatures made in the image of God. We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.” This is not a special gift only for some. It is not associated with money or success or piety. Everyone has this castle within and everyone has access to this castle through what is referred to as mental prayer. We might say contemplative prayer. In other words, it does not require a certain prayer said by a certain authorized person. It is not mediated by the institutional church. It is a process for uniting with God that is available to literally everyone. She describes it this way: “Mental prayer is, as I see it, simply a friendly intercourse and frequent solitary conversation with Him who, as we know, loves us.” She makes things very accessible to everyone.

Another way we see her egalitarianism is in the way she ran her convents. It was the custom for wealthy women who entered the convent to offer large dowries to the convent. This was a source of revenue for running the convent and supporting the Catholic church. Those who donated more money got better, more spacious quarters, domestic assistance, more perks, so to speak. Teresa did not agree with this. She felt that everyone was equal in the eyes of God so when she couldn’t affect reform in the convent she was in she set about founding a new convent in which everyone had the same accommodations and food and work and seclusion.

No exceptions.

Teresa felt that money and wealth got in the way of people being treated equally as they should be because everyone was equally beloved in the eyes of God. We are still struggling with this today – in society, in the justice system, in schools, in health care, in the church, in basically every sector of our culture. Money talks!

This is something that the church as well as society needs to be keeping in mind today. We have an underclass, an invisible-to-most class of people in this country that are not part of the mainstream. Teresa sought to eliminate those divisions, especially in the church. She comments: “How friendly all men would be one with another, if no regard were paid to honour and money! I believe it would be a remedy for everything.” Amen to that! Teresa sheds the light of the equality for us today. And we need to follow that light.

Teresa also has a word for us about materialism and consumerism. She saw not only how money undermined equality, but she saw how material wealth could become an impediment to intimacy with God. Material concerns, appearances, a sense of self importance, these things got in the way of pursing union with God. And since she grew up with wealth and comfort, she spoke from experience. Later in life when she has come into her own, after her second conversion and her dedication to founding new convents, she comments, :Thank God for the things that I do not own.” She saw the pitfalls and problems associated with wealth and class and how they could distract from wholeheartedly giving your life to the pursuit of Love.

We certainly need to be reminded of this today. Yes, we have the highest standard of material wealth ever known in human history, but what is the state of our connection – to each other, to Divine Love, to Creation, our beloved Mother Earth? All of these relationships are suffering while our material standard of living increases. These two things are not unrelated. We are seeking from material comfort what it cannot provide – love, connection, intimacy, emotional security. And that pursuit of more and better and newer is distracting us from what does satisfy – connection and relationship. And all of this is fueled by capitalism and the lie that we will all benefit materially and that will make our lives better.

Teresa knew better. She tells us: “Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”

In her convents and monasteries, the monks and nuns had what they needed, and they provided this for themselves and each other. There was no favoritism based on status or wealth. It was a model embodying God’s inestimable love for each and every person. This is a message we need to be reminded of today.

Teresa offers another important insight for us today. She was a big proponent of self-knowledge. In her Interior Castle, she advocates exploring the many rooms and mansions that eventually lead to the Divine center. Countless rooms, really. And Teresa is very much an advocate for exploring them all. She places a high value on exploration, asking questions, getting to know oneself, and Christ and God, intimately. She very much promotes self knowledge, self awareness, and self discovery. For women as well as men. But she cautions: “It is of great importance, when we begin to practice prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.” This kind of independent thinking was not encouraged in her time especially for women. But she seems to feel that in getting to know yourself, you are coming to a better understanding of God and God’s grace and generosity and strength in your life. You see better what God is doing for you. And can then have a greater appreciation for God’s love, its breadth and depth. So she believed that self-examination would lead you closer to God. She believed people should explore, examine and investigate their own hearts. Don’t just take the word of an outside authority, a priest. Don’t just adhere to theological dogma presented by the church. Explore and examine for yourself. Know yourself.

This stood her in good stead as she faced the challenges of her time and context. When she lived, the Moors had been driven from Spain and the Catholic church was reasserting its dominance. The Inquisition was in full force. Think McCarthyism or Salem Witch Trials. Teresa’s parents were of Jewish heritage and had converted to Catholicism to avoid the Inquisition. But they were still suspect. So Teresa was watched. And she was investigated. She wrote several books to explain her life and activities and beliefs to the church authorities. They also did not like it that she wanted to found more strict convents. She was challenging social and religious norms. Besides this would cost money, money that would not be going to the current interests of the Catholic church. The church was also suspect of people who had visions or ecstatic spiritual experiences. This kind of manifestation can be a threat to the established power structure. Were these visions from God or the devil? This had to be determined. And Teresa was known for her manifestations because they sometimes occurred in a public setting. She wrote in a letter to her brother:

“You should know that for more than eight days I’ve been in such a state that, if it were to continue, I would not be able to attend to business. Since before I last wrote to you I’ve begun having raptures again, and they’ve been a problem because they’ve happened several times in public, and even during matins. It is no use resisting them, or pretending that nothing is happening. I get so embarrassed that I want to hide, anyplace at all. I pray wholeheartedly to God to stop making this happen to me in public, and you have to pray too, because it’s a real nuisance, and it doesn’t seem to help me at all in prayer. Lately I’ve been seeming almost as if I were drunk.”

Wouldn’t a mystic be grateful for these ecstatic occurrences? Isn’t this the prize of mysticism? Wouldn’t this give a mystic cache? Maybe. But not if it attracts the attention of church authorities who already find you suspicious for a variety of other reasons. So Teresa was not welcoming of her public ecstasies.

But when challenged, Teresa could explain herself, fully and freely, because she knew herself. She had explored her heart and her mind. She knew her loyalties. She knew her devotion to God. And she could speak of these things. She was not hemmed in by the ideas given to her by others, including the church. And because her explanations were so sincere, and honest, and humble, who could argue?

It was all about the love of God and showing that love and living that love. What could church authorities say to a mere woman who declared: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and to do that which best stirs you to love.”

This is another aspect of her teaching that speaks to us today. Today everyone is so busy and distracted that they don’t take time to think, to explore, to know themselves. We accept the messages that society sends us about who we are. About what matters. About what is right. And leave it at that. For all of our freedom, we are really caged in our thinking. Teresa advocates thinking for yourself. Knowing yourself. And not just blindly accepting what society or the church is indoctrinating you to think.

Another thing that we see in the life of Teresa is engagement with the world along with devotion to prayer. She did not just stay in her cell all day. She did not remain cloistered in the convents that she founded though she provided that opportunity for others. She follows her own path. She listens and does what she is supposed to do with her life. She finds balance, of a sort. Doing what God wants, entirely, and accepting that even though it kept her very busy!

Teresa was an itinerant traveler in Spain, seeing to her convents and monasteries. There were issues and conflicts and problems that had to be dealt with. It was like running a business with franchises. And on top of that, Teresa had suffered from ill health since she was a young adult. She had bouts of sickness that sometimes lasted years. And there were her books to write. And responding to the Inquisition. And keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and family. So she was very busy. At one point she confronts God about her busy-ness:

“How is it, my God, that you have given me this hectic life and so little time to enjoy your presence. All day, people are waiting to speak to me, and even during meals I have to keep talking to people about their concerns and needs. During sleep itself I am still thinking and dreaming about the problems that wait for me tomorrow. I am doing all this for you, not for myself. My way of life is more tormenting than reward, and I only hope that for you it is a gift of love. I know you are always beside me, yet I become so busy that I forget you and ignore you. If you want me to keep up this pace, please make me think about you and love you, even during the most hectic activity. If you do not want me to be so busy, please release me from it and teach me how others can take over some of my responsibilities.”

Well, it may the 21st century, but certainly many of us can relate to that! And why was she so busy? I would suggest two reasons. First, Teresa herself tells us: “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love for they enkindle and melt the soul.” She was committed to love. To showing love. To living love. To giving love. And there was much need in the world for love then as there is now.

But I don’t think that is the sole explanation for Teresa’s business. I think it was also her personality. She was well-suited to being engaged in the world. She was personable, charming, a good communicator, and self-effacing. She was very good at seeming cooperative and innocent, as women were acculturated to be then, and maybe now. She won over the church leaders and her detractors. She herself said, “God save us from gloomy saints.” I don’t think Teresa was gloomy! By the time she wrote Interior Castle, near the end of her life, she was known as La Santa of Spain, the saint of Spain, and revered by even the king.

So Teresa loves, she is intimate with God, she serves others, on terms that do not deny her individuality and personhood, but that honor her uniqueness. As she told others: “Trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” I think it is that trust that led to her remarkable life and that shows us a path for the living of our days.

Really to me it is her life itself as much if not more than her specific teachings on prayer that shines with wisdom for us today. How she manages sickness, piety, conflict with the church, gender bias, relationships, and engagement with the world. She is really a marvel! She surrenders her life to God, not to be made weak but to be made strong. She once said, “You pay God a compliment by asking

great things of Him.” Well, I think Teresa was giving God a lot of compliments!

May the same be said of us! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sources used for this reflection and service:

Woman Prayers: Prayers by Women from Throughout History and Around the World, Mary Ford- Grabowsky

Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul, Cathleen Medwick

The Harper Collins Book of Prayers: A Treasury of Prayers Through the Ages, compiled by Robert Van de Weyer

Invincible Spirits: A Thousand Years of Women’s Spiritual Writings, complied by Felicity Leng

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila, translated and edited by E. Allison Peers

Under Her Wings: Spiritual Guidance from Women Saints, Kathy Bence

Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics, Carol Lee Flinders

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, Mirabai Starr

UNISON READING             A Love Song                          Teresa of Avila

Majestic sovereign, timeless wisdom, Your kindness melts my hard, cold soul. Handsome lover, selfless giver, Your beauty fills my dull, sad eyes.

I am yours, you made me. I am yours, you called me. I am yours, you saved me. I am yours, you loved me. I will never leave your presence.

Give me death, give me life. Give me sickness, give me health. Give me honour, give me shame. Give me weakness, give me strength. I will have whatever you give. Amen.

MUSIC                             Pescado de Hombres                         Gabarain

MISSION STATEMENT The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:

  • Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
  • Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
  • Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.

MORNING OFFERING   Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.

       Offertory                      Follow Me                                           HKJ

        Prayer of Dedication                             Teresa of Avila, adapted

Christ has no body now but ours. No hands, no feet on earth, but ours. Ours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Ours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Ours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.

MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER       Wendeyaho           Native American/HKJ

COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER

Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name. May your day dawn, your will be done, Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test, But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power, And the mercy are yours, now and forever.  Amen.

*BENEDICTION (unison)                                           Teresa of Avila

Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing dismay you. All things pass God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. Those who have God find they lack nothing. God alone suffices.

*POSTLUDE         Don Quixote from Cervantes Portraits                HKJ