When Great Trees Fall,
by Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
ALL SOULS’ DAY REFLECTION:
There isn’t a soul on this Earth whose life has not been touched by loss. It is the great uniter. No one is alone in this. This brings to mind a poem by William Stafford that goes like this:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
This poem is called, “The Way it is.”
Loss. Death. Aging. Our own mortality. It is the way it is.
The great uniter. There isn’t a soul on this Earth whose life has not been touched by this way it is…
When our music director, Charlyn, shared that beautiful piece of music “In Meeting We Are Blessed” with me earlier this week I knew it needed to be the title of this morning’s reflection. I am so grateful to her for this. Its lyrics were inspired by the great 16th century poet John Donne, whose celebrated work spans a variety of themes, but many of his most popular pieces fall under the umbrellas of either his “Funeral Poems” or his “Divine Meditations.” Both of these catalogs articulate a deep mourning, and the blessed-ness of precious love and life and remembrance that sits right alongside the heartbreak of loss. Oh, how precious they are: love and life and remembrance. You won’t be surprised to hear that Donne’s life was riddled with loss after tragic loss. This is the great paradox, isn’t it? How much transcendent wisdom, beauty and truth comes from the hearts, minds and hands of our most bereft; as though when life is at its most raw and tender–the veil is thin–one gets a glimpse of what it’s all really about.
So many of you know this. You know this because you have been there. Or are there right now. Faced with loss or tragedy, we often find ourselves saying things like: “at the end of the day, what most matters is…”
Taking in this beautiful altar that you’ve built, and still hearing the names of those we have loved and miss terribly, it’s not difficult to know what, at the end of the day, matters most. It really is the blessed-ness of meeting and loving, right? I sense that’s why rituals and Days of Remembrance such as this matter to so many people around the world.
All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Dia de Las Muertos, Samhain…Millions and millions of people coming together to speak names; place pictures, or cherished objects on a variety of altars. Candles are being lit, flowers are being set, prayers are being said. And through these rituals of good honoring, we remember the preciousness of life and the sanctity of love and community.
Remembrance and grief, in all their indescribable pain, gives us this gift: what really matters. Puts our hands back on that thread. You can feel that right now, can’t you?
Loss and transience remind us to notice and cherish. Loss and transience remind us to live, to BE AND BE BETTER as Maya Angelou writes. Loss and transience remind us that our time on this Earth is fleeting. And to make good use of it. And to make good use of it.
May it be so and Amen.
Reverend Sophia Lyons
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.