READING: “The House of Belonging,” by David Whyte

I awoke
 this morning
 in the gold light
 turning this way
 and that

thinking for
 a moment
 it was one
 day
 like any other.

But
 the veil had gone
 from my
 darkened heart
 and
 I thought

it must have been the quiet
 candlelight
 that filled my room,

it must have been
 the first
 easy rhythm
 with which I breathed
 myself to sleep,

it must have been
 the prayer I said
 speaking to the otherness
 of the night.

 

And
 I thought
 this is the good day
 you could
 meet your love,

this is the gray day
 someone close
 to you could die.

This is the day
 you realize
 how easily the thread
 is broken
 between this world
 and the next

and I found myself
 sitting up
 in the quiet pathway
 of light,

the tawny
 close grained cedar
 burning round
 me like fire
 and all the angels of this housely
 heaven ascending
 through the first
 roof of light
 the sun has made.

This is the bright home
 in which I live,
 this is where
 I ask
 my friends
 to come,
 this is where I want
 to love all the things
 it has taken me so long
 to learn to love.

 

This is the temple
 of my adult aloneness
 and I belong
 to that aloneness
 as I belong to my life.

There is no house
 like the house of belonging.

“Digging Down”

When I was around 8 my best friend and next-door neighbor, Rosie, and I decided to dig a swimming pool in my back yard. Today’s sermon is called DIGGING DOWN, and that is what we did that day. It was summer in Los Angeles, this is where I come from, and we were hot and bored and determined.

But listen, we didn’t just grab some shovels and mindlessly start digging. We laid out schematics, and even convinced my dad to drive us to the hardware store for a tarp to line the bottom of it with. We meant business.

Then we did the next obvious thing: put on our swim suits–I mean what else do you wear when hand-digging a swimming pool?–and we got to work.

LA dirt is hard. Dry. It’s desert dirt. Tightly packed and parched. And we lived in the San Fernando Valley, a particularly savannah-like place. A sprawling desert land, 250 square miles of it–encircled by four massive mountain ranges. Every old Hollywood western movie was filmed in the San Fernando Valley, just to give you a visual. It’s a dusty place, with wind systems blowing dirt and sand down from that circular range of mountains all year round, and it just kind of sits there. To live in The Valley, as Los Angeleans call it, was to have a very close, personal relationship with your duster. For dust is everywhere.

And so, there Rosie and I were, underneath the shade of a sycamore tree…digging down. Beating the ground with our shovels trying to break up that hard sedimentary ground. Adding water to soften it. You will be surprised to hear that we dug a deep hole that day. After a few hours my shovel suddenly hit something hard. Thinking it was a rock, I reached down to pick it up and it turned out to be, what seemed like, a bit of bone. And it scared me. And Rosie was scared too. Wide-eyed, we threw it back and decided (I don’t even remember if words were spoken) to quickly just fill the hole in. We packed the earth down with our shovels and then just sat there silently. I remember my dad coming out smiling saying, “what happened, no pool?” And we both, without any rehearsing, just said “we changed our minds.”

I never told my parents about what we found. And Rosie and I never talked about again. Something about it made it feel unspeakable to us 8-year olds. And maybe it was a strangely shaped rock, or the bones of a previous owner’s pet…but I’ve never forgotten what it felt like, in that moment, as a small child to consider the unseen, unknown worlds that exist deep within the Earth, the dirt and soil, just below our feet. It wasn’t the thought of bones that scared me or made it feel unspeakable, but rather the feeling of–and remember I was only 8, so I couldn’t possibly articulate it this way–the feeling that the land didn’t belong to just me, really didn’t belong to me at all. It had stories to tell that weren’t mine.

This could have been my first spiritual awakening–for after all, spiritual awakenings are simply encounters with something bigger than ourselves; so big that all you can do is just sit there quietly and wonder what was that thing that just happened?

We know, of course, that incredible discoveries have been made by simply digging down beneath the Earth’s surface. Whole civilizations discovered! Beneath the many places we call home. Not long ago the City of Aztecs, Templo Mayor, which consists of SEVEN layers of pyramids was discovered in Mexico City underneath its main cathedral–at the center of the city!

On the Laetoli Plain of Tanzania, paleantologist Mary Leakey found a trail of hominid, our human ancestors, footprints buried deep in the Earth, preserved underneath hardened ash. Footprints that date back 3.75 million years. Just take that in for a moment. Two sets of footprints, barefoot peoples, walking closely together in the rain. How do we know this? Because the ash also preserved the pockmarks of the raindrops that fell around them.

I admit that I am the type of person, maybe it comes with the job, who sees symbolism in most everything. It’s how I make meaning in this world. I tend to think that most of us are this way, whether we know it or not.

And those footprints and pyramids and the symbolism of digging down into the stories of those who came before us: all those who once belonged to this place, as we do now, well, all of this makes me feel like surely the thread, the symbolic thread, has not been cut, surely we are a part of something old and long and wondrous; and it also brings up in me a longing to stop building over and start building with.

And look, I am a child of the 70’s and 80’s and I am only now really waking up to this stuff. I wasn’t taught this when I was young. Were you?

When I covered up that hole on that summer day, I had no idea that I stood on land stewarded and loved by the Tongva People, who lived in the area for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. That their name, Tongva, literally translates to “People of the Earth.” And that when the Spanish arrived in California in the 1700’s, life as they knew it was over. Hence a valley, my home–my most loved place of belonging– now called the San Fernando Valley. And It’s a horrifying story, awful, not unlike the stories of the Massachusett Tribe who once belonged to this area.

And we–‘we’ meaning us, our larger faith and many more in our wider communities–we are waking up to this now. More and more churches and institutions are adopting land acknowledgements, putting a lot of time into making sure they are accurate, and, not unlike the reckoning work that’s being done around racism and white supremacy culture, also coming to know and tend to the painful truths of colonialism. And it’s wonderful!

Just yesterday we made a circle here in the sanctuary, and we talked about all of this. We asked ourselves what this building has to say about welcome, and we named and woke up to some hard things. Amen to that! This is the work of digging down: considering what it means to truly belong to a place, belong to ourselves, belong to one another, and to build a place of belonging for and with, NOT OVER.

And so, we have become pseudo-paleontologists and archeologists; genealogists and historians–digging down into the Earth to resurrect the footprints of those who walked and lived here before. Learning some of their names. And trying to piece together, weave together, some of their untold stories. And we are learning about our ancestors and our faith’s ancestors too.

And here at First Parish, just like countless other UU Congregations right now–I promise you, we are not alone in this–we are asking ourselves how to hold the tension between belonging to this beautiful place and religion, its history and longevity that means a lot to many of us, and simultaneously knowing that this building, our church, would not be here, nor would I or you, had it not been for the decimation of the people who originally stewarded and belonged to the land it sits on–for thousands and thousands of years. Deep in the Earth below this our sanctuary, below our cathedral…what might we find if we dug down into it? And many of you in and out of this soul work, are starting to wonder whose pictures and portraits and words should be hanging up on our sacred walls, and whose shouldn’t, and whether the Arbella ship really is the best symbol to look to and lean on when we talk about justice, faith, liberation, and freedom. Now. In 2022.

And I want you to hear this. And this is from my heart to yours: this is not about erasing history, or now burying that which is most meaningful to you, it’s simply about unearthing a more expanded, accurate and whole picture of it. So that we embody and live, in our bones, our 4th and 7th principles which in no unclear terms asks us all to affirm and promote a responsible search for truth and meaning, and to respect the interdependent web of existence with which we are all a part. Let those principles be your guide in this. Our principles are a compass my dear spiritual companions. Let us make use of them.

And I’ve said this before: we are in this together. We are digging down and building up a new way, together: where, like our opening hymn sung, justice rolls down like waters, where ruins of generations are restored, where devastations from old are raised up…where peace is born…anointed by God. Anointed by God. Oh, we are in this together.

So. I have a challenge for you this week, and I hope it will spread beyond this week. Our theme this month is Belonging, in October it is Courage, and in November it is Change, so let’s keep at doing brave things around here. Here’s the challenge: Dig down. For every place you feel a sense of belonging, maybe some of them were named at our Water Communion last week, go learn about those who were the original stewards of its soil and waters. And take some notes. Like a good field scientist. Write their tribe and nation names down. Come to know what happened to them. Ask yourself who is telling their stories? And whose stories between then and now have also not been told. Dig down. Try to map out the whole story. Trace your fingers over the thread. Excavate. And share what you find with each other. Listen. Be curious. Consider this work to be like opening a wonder box!

And the last thing I want to say this morning is to stay in this. Don’t stop digging. We have to stay in this. Resist the urge to become stagnant or fixed. As an honoring of this our expanding, alive, shared, widening circle of Love and faith, we have to stay in this with one another. And most important, most important, know that this is not about being a caravan of despair. Ours is no caravan of despair. NO! This, this, is a caravan of joy and hope and wonder and love, capital L. We can do this in this, in this blessed House of Belonging, we can do this. I believe that.

And so I say to you Amen.

Rise with me now, in body and in spirit, and let’s sing: the words can be found in your orders of service, “Draw the Circle Wide.”

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.