Once upon a time, in Once Upon A Time Land, there was a tortoise who was very dependable. He would always get where he set out to go. It just took him longer than it took most people.
One day, Rabbit saw Tortoise walking slowly down the road and said, “Tortoise, you are so slow, I could probably grow hair faster than you run.”
“Oh yeah?” said Tortoise slowly.
“Yeah,” said Rabbit.
So, they decided to race.
On the day of the big race Tortoise and Rabbit lined up at the starting line. Owl said, “On your mark. Get set. Grow!”
Tortoise started to run. Rabbit started to grow his hair.
Tortoise ran. Rabbit grew his hair.
Tortoise ran. Rabbit grew his hair.
That was a long time ago. Tortoise is still running. And Rabbit is still growing his hair.
That’s the way life is. Sometimes, we get competitive, just for the sake of competing. We make everything a race, just to keep from being bored to death. But that kind of competing can get very old very fast, so that what was meant to prevent boredom actually becomes boring!
Has that ever happened to you?
A good way to prevent getting bored to death by the week-after-weekness of our weeks is to just pay attention to life, pay attention to everything that is going on around us, and to try to understand it. A good way to really live life, instead of just racing for the sake of racing is to slow down and ask a simple question: WHY!
Do you ever ask why?
Of course you do! Asking why keeps your mind engaged, keeps life exciting, and more importantly, helps you understand yourself and other people a little better. Asking why is one of the most important things we do when we gather here on Sunday.
In my last sermon, I talked about why Sundays are so important to us as Unitarian Universalists, about why we set this day aside as something different from the other days of the week and about why we gather. Now, some would say that they come here in order to ask tough questions about what other people are doing…especially the government, or big corporations, or dictators in other countries. We want to know about the world.
It is very important to ask questions like this? But why is it important? I think, it’s important for us to understand what our role is the world, to ask why we do what we do.
It’s important that I understand what makes me tick…what I do well, and what I could stand to improve. And as I improve myself, as I understand how each thing I do affects everything else, I improve the world. To reflect on myself and my actions…to ask hard why questions about myself…helps me make meaning of my life.
Sundays help us understand ourselves better by allowing us a little time where we get away from the hustle and bustle, the distractions and competitiveness, the need to acquire more stuff and more distinctions. Sundays help us return to our true selves, the selves that cry out, hoping to be heard. Sundays get us to listen to each other, and to the suffering and celebrations of the world.
But on all those other days of the week, Monday through Saturday, we can be so much happier, so much more effective, if we can take the time to connect to something greater than ourselves and our needs. That’s what spiritual practices help us do. Things like prayer, and meditation, and chanting help us to dive into the mystery of the universe, to become more compassionate. Calmer.
Prayers help us to be grounded. Centered. Connected to other people who share our faith. But there are other ways of getting the same effects. Like running, or bicycling, or cooking. Anything entered into with the intention of expanding yourself, challenging yourself, even forgiving yourself will help you be better at lovingly challenging others, forgiving them as you forgive yourself.
A couple months ago, on my second weekend here in Grass Valley, Paige and I got to share a very silly story with you, a story about a farting wolf, and Aneka, Julia and Eli helped us out by playing the roles of the animals. After the service, Aneka came and asked me a question. She said that in her Soul Explorers class they’ve been studying the prayers of different faiths around the world, and she wondered if Unitarian Universalists have a special prayer, that is all ours.
Well, we don’t. There are some songs that a lot of our congregations around the country sing with some regularity, and there are plenty of readings in the back of our gray hymnal.
Some would say that Mary Oliver poems or Pete Seeger songs are pretty sacred to most of us, but there are none that we all know by heart, that we all recite together regularly, across every single congregation.
Around the world, there lots of different traditions that have very specific practices of prayers. Jo Waters and the Soul Explorers are going to share some practices with you.
My favorite is the Muslim practice of praying at specific hours, five times a day, facing the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam. Imagine the planet turning, millions of people praying in waves across time zones. As morning prayers are recited in one time zone, afternoon prayers are recited in another, and evening prayers in yet another, ripples of prayer moving across the globe like the ripples in a pond after throwing a pebble into the water.
My hope for us is that we can all stop racing around, let go of the boredom of life, and settle into prayers, so we can pay attention to the pebbles and be the ripples in the water, with Unitarian Universalists all over the world. And in doing so, love each other more, and honor the ancestors, elders, leaders and youth…all of whom make us who we are.