Ruts and Grooves

By Rev. Meghan Cefalu

May 5, 2013 – UUCM Readings:

 

Dust By Dorianne Laux

 

Someone spoke to me last night, told me the truth. Just a few words, but I recognized it.

I knew I should make myself get up, write it down, but it was late, and I was exhausted from working all day in the garden, moving rocks. Now, I remember only the flavor — not like food, sweet or sharp. More like a fine powder, like dust. And I wasn’t elated or frightened, but simply rapt, aware. That’s how it is sometimes — God comes to your window, all bright light and black wings, and you’re just too tired to open it.

 

Things to Think ~ Robert Bly

 

Think in ways you’ve never thought before.

If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message Larger than anything you’ve ever heard, Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

 

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,

Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.

 

When someone knocks on the door,

Think that he’s about

To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,

Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time,

Or that it’s been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

Goethe said: “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden.” I read a human-interest story in the news last week about a church in Moscow, Idaho. Here’s the story:

“Longtime church-goer Gert Rizzoli was so devoted to her spot in the pew at Featherside Congregational church that when she passed away last month, her family received permission to bronze her body and set it in the pew. Now, to the consternation of some church members, her body is permanently located in the aisle seat she occupied every Sunday for forty years.

“She loved gazing at the pastor from that spot, being the first in her row to receive Communion, having quick access to the bathroom,” says daughter Sofia. “It gave her a sense of deep, spiritual comfort.”

But fellow church-goers also remember Gert’s stiff response to anyone who tried to take her place.

One man was shooed away by Gert on several occasions when he arrived early and inadvertently took her spot, he says. Now the bronze statue serves as an irritating reminder of the encounter.

“It’s like she’s still there defending her seat,” he says.

When church members enter the sanctuary now, they can’t help but catch the glare of light off of Gert’s bronzed pate. Visitors find it inconvenient to climb over her, and children have stubbed their toes on her hardened shins.

“She was a Christ-like lady, except when it came to giving up that spot,” says a family friend. “She had a real sense of her turf. To her, it was like the Israelites: Once you get land, you don’t give it up.”

Pastor Len Kerralt, who agreed to the odd memorial, looks upon Gert’s frozen smile each Sunday from the pulpit.

“It’s nice to know at least one person is enjoying the sermon,” he quips. But others still mumble about the nuisance.

“What if more people request the same thing?” one woman asks. “Pretty soon the church will be filled with bronze statues.”  

***

The story is a satire, of course, but still a parable about the danger of becoming hardened if we don’t renew and refresh ourselves every once in a while.

It is remarkable easy to get into a rut. It is natural that once we find a way to do something that works we keep doing it the same way over and over. After all, “Why reinvent the wheel?” we say. And, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We may drive the same route from our homes to the grocery store; make the same ten to twelve recipes for our family’s meals; dress in roughly the same style of clothing for decades. Each of you can probably identify a rut or two in your own life.

Organizations can be even more resistant to change than individuals are. When a new member offers a fresh idea in a committee meeting someone else might shoot it down by saying, “We tried that back in 1984 and it didn’t work.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with habits and customs. I love my morning ritual of making a smoothie and tea and sitting on the couch with my dog curled by my feet to engage my spiritual practice every morning. Parents and teachers know just how much children thrive when they have rituals throughout the day to anchor them. We all need a certain balance between the familiar and the novel. If there is too much upheaval we can lose our bearings and run adrift.

But if there is not enough newness in our lives we run the risk of getting stale. When we do only what we’ve always done, or think only the same thoughts we’ve always thought, our world view shrinks, our lives close in on us. Our vision grows so myopic we can barely even see the well-worn rut we are in.

More concerning though is the fact that when we are in a rut we limit our capacity to experience life. Listen again to the way the poet Ms. Laux said it in this morning’s first poem, Dust:

“That’s how it is sometimes — God comes to your window, all bright light and black wings, and you’re just too tired to open it.” Friends, this life we have been given is a miracle. That we each have our very own perspective is amazing. Consider that when two people see the same piece of art, taste the same dish or hear the same song they can have wildly different experiences.

One of the things I like to think is that we are the perceiving body of the Divine. I don’t claim to know that this is true in any provable sense. But it is fun to think that part of why life has arisen on this lonely planet – improbably suspended among the stars in virtually infinite space – is to experience everything that is possible to experience. The way I imagine it we are like God’s feelers. We are the sense organs for that boundless body of all-pervading Love. Each of us individually and collectively has an opportunity to experience: opulence and poverty, bliss and pain, freedom and bondage, beauty and horror, belonging and isolation, violence and tenderness. Experiencing all that there is enriches life itself.

So, if we get lazy or complacent and allow ourselves to wallow in the comfort of our timeworn beliefs and practices, if we yield to our fear of the unknown and limit our capacity to take in information and have new experiences  – we are essentially saying ‘no’ to life.

So how do we intentionally shake ourselves out of any ruts we’ve gotten into?

Do something you’ve never done before. Ruts are the same old pathways being plodded over and over again. While learning something new actually creates new neural pathways in your brain. Learn to play a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or how to play a new game, or take dancing lessons. Change the radio presets in your car, put the silverware in a different drawer in your kitchen, find a new route to your house, and by all means, challenge your assumptions. Knock down the cobwebs in your mind.

If you haven’t had a new thought in ten years your brain is aching for stimulation. Think new thoughts! Robert Bly says, “Think in ways you’ve never thought before…. think that a moose Has risen out of the lake, and he’s carrying on his antlers A child of your own whom you’ve never seen.”

Decide you want to truly understand a viewpoint you don’t personally hold. Seek out someone you disagree with and ask them to explain to you their reasoning while you withhold your judgments.

***

There are times when our life situations force us out of our ruts. A graduation or retirement, a birth or a death in the family, a new job, a new diagnosis, a new relationship – all of these will shake up your way of being whether you like it our not.

As a congregation we will be climbing out of a number of ruts in the coming months.

Some of you may not be aware of the big change in our congregational life that is currently shaking up this congregation. Anita Wald-Tuttle, who had been living in the apartment above the chapel and supporting the day to day functioning of this congregation for ____ years as our Facilities Manager, has moved out and resigned her position. We are so grateful for all that Anita has done for us over the years. The congregation’s leadership is looking at the possibility of hiring an administrative staff person in a few months. In the mean time a team of volunteers have stepped up to try to cover all the tasks Anita had been doing for us so seamlessly. And with the upstairs apartment now vacant we are considering our options for how to best use the space.

In just a few weeks we’ll hold our annual congregational meeting where the members of this congregation will elect several new Trustees to the Board. New leadership is rejuvenating to an organization. Fresh eyes bring new perspectives and the congregation as a whole benefits.

Also, in this next church year this congregation will be revising its mission statement. To my knowledge the mission statement we currently have has never been revisited since it was first adopted about seventeen years ago. It is long overdue. So we will summon our collective energy to do the work of naming who we are and for what purpose this congregation exists. Having a clear mission statement will give us clarity about everything we do making it much easier to decide how to spend our energy.

Big changes can be exhilarating and they can be frightening – sometimes both at once.

Having faith means that when you get to the end of all the light you know and it comes time to step out into the misty unknown, you can choose to trust that one of two things shall happen: either a stone will rise up to meet your foot or you will be taught how to fly. ***

It is one thing to get out of a rut. It is another to get into the groove. Without bringing intentionality to the process you might end up in yet another rut.

Once you’ve been shaken out of your routine, it is time to back up and consider the wider view. Given the infinite span of all of existence and your brief lifetime, how would you like to spend your time and energy? What will you do with your one wild and precious life? Imagine what new habits you might create that support this grander vision of what you truly want to do with your life.

I find inspiration from the stories of two subsets of people: those who have had near-death experiences and those who have been in outer space and had the opportunity to look back at the earth. Hundreds of people who have died and come back to life tell a similar story of being profoundly transformed; of having the undeniable realization that love is really all that matters. Many of these people made significant changes in their lives as a result of their new understanding – often quitting high powered or meaningless jobs to spend more time with their loved ones.

I watched an interview last week with one of the astronauts who first circled the moon. He said what surprised him about being in space was that the most amazing thing of all turned out to be looking back at the Earth hanging there in space – so fragile, so incredibly beautiful. He spoke of really grasping for the first time that humanity is truly one species, and our mutual survival is tied to the health of our delicate planet. He has dedicated his life to healing and sustaining the Earth.

When you dedicate your life to your highest ideals – so that your habits and behaviors support your highest priorities – then you are in the groove.

I can always tell when I’m “in the groove” because it feels good. I feel vital and alive. Being in the groove means you are stoking the fire of your spirit with the right fuel, and your inner flame is burning clear and bright.

The poet Rumi wrote: When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.

That joy is always waiting for you, beckoning you, longing to sing in your heart. As Bev learned as a girl, as scary as it sometimes might be, you have to let go of the railing before you can make the leap.

I hope you will let this community be your cheering section. Look around at these people sitting here with you this morning. These people want you to soar! They will celebrate with you when you take a risk that scares you. They will help love you into becoming your best self. I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

And these people need your support too. Can we each dedicate ourselves to one another this morning? Nod your head or say Yes if you dedicate yourself to the joy and love that beacon each of us to our higher purpose…

Let us together try new things, let go of our ego’s need to be right all the time. As we sang together earlier, let us not be afraid of some change.

So that when God shows up all bright light and black wings may we fling open the window!

May it be so. Amen. Blessed be.