“It’s not that we forgot God or the martyrs or the Prophet’s holy word—quite the opposite, in fact, we were boys built to love what was in front of our faces: my brother and I on the floor draped across each other, laughing tears into our prayer rugs.”
I had never heard of Kaveh Akbar, our poet today, until a few short months ago. One of my favorite things to do is to listen to Padraig O’ Tuoma’s podcast Poetry Unbound. Do any of you know it? Padraig O’ Tuoma is a stunning poet himself who offers these short 10 minute or so treasures on his weekly podcast that feature him reading a poem with his gorgeous Irish lilt, I could listen to him read me the phone book, and then speaking to its rhyme and meaning and author for a while, and then reading it once more. This was one of those poems. And Padraig shared that this poem, How Prayer Works, “holds the idea of prayer, which can often be an abstract one, with the physical sensation of what’s right in front of you, what’s happening, who’s right in front of you, how are you being with each other, what’s going on, how can you be drawn towards each other — and that that itself is the answer to prayer.” That that itself is the answer to prayer. What’s going on right in front of you.
My mentor, Rev. Frank Clarkson, spoke frequently about this ever-present invitation to what is going on right in front of you all the time. It was what he called the “Holy.” And he even warned me at my ordination last May to not be tempted by the impulse in ministry and in congregational life to be everywhere in the “attempt to run an institution.” The bogged down, harried pastor, not unlike the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, who perpetually says “no time to say hello goodbye I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.” For in this state I am certain to miss the holy that is right in front of me. I have apologized to some of you over the past few weeks for my tight schedule. Just a few weeks ago, I had to leave one evening meeting early to attend another meeting late. The words I used were this is not how I like to function. And it’s true. And I’m committed to noticing this tightness and naming it. And trying again. For that is all we can often do, right? Try again. I do not want to be your harried, white rabbit pastor. And I know you do not want this either.
Because here’s the thing about tightness of time and schedule, pastor or not: there is no room for the Mystery to move when things are too tight. And when I say “Mystery” I mean wonder, the unexpected, that which is heart opening, that which doesn’t even have words, like….WOW! What was that? What just happened? Beautiful! Tender. God. You all have words for this. I am certain you do no matter what you believe or don’t believe. And you also know that when we are in a constricted place in our lives it’s very, very difficult to feel it and know it. So that’s what Rev. Frank meant–that was why his sermon was also a warning at my ordination–don’t succumb Rev. Sophia, don’t succumb to the life of a busy minister who has forgotten how to encounter the Holy–the Mystery–in YOU and among us, in us. For I have been gifted a front row seat to see it all from, and my job is to make sure I have enough room in my heart and in my week to witness it. Really witness it. That is my service to you, to this congregation, to this faith.
Last week–for those of you who didn’t know, I took a study week last week–I set the intention of spaciousness for myself. And every morning I sat in prayer asking to know the Mysteries when I see or feel them–know them for what they were. Little messages that would guide me through the week, that on normal tightly packed day I might miss. And the first day I did this, I got one. I went down to the basement to change over the laundry, but it had a few minutes left on the washing machine, so instead of going back up and coming down again, I decided to wait it out. And I looked over the plastic bins that hold all of my daughters’ things from when they were little. At the bottom of one of them was a pair of Poppy’s favorite shoes from when she was about four–ruby red slippers that she had begged me for, for months. And they weren’t cheap, I remember that, and I also remember being in the store trying to fit her for them. The pair that fit her perfectly, I knew she would only get a few months out of. Kids’ feet are a Mystery in and of themselves, right? How they grow as fast as they do is beyond me. And there’s an art to buying kids shoes. Because if you go too big, they get blisters and trip–they aren’t functional at all. But too close to their foot size and BAM, they are too tight overnight. And these particular ruby-red slippers only came in whole sizes, so it made it extra tricky. One size up was way too big, one size down offered only a few millimeters of room.
And Poppy was making it very difficult that day. Bless her little red-headed heart. It was her big birthday present, and she wasn’t leaving that store without those slippers. So, I went for the smaller size. It was a rookie parent move, I know, but I did it. And sure enough, a mere three weeks later, barely broken in, they were too tight. So, into the keepsake bin they went.
And when I dug down and pulled them out last week, I thought about that sweet spot that is the ‘room to grow’ in kids shoes–not too much and not too little. And I thought: it’s the same in our own lives. Not just the life of your minister. All of our lives. We cannot all be, nor would many of us want to be aesthetics–monks in a monastery 24/7. But we also cannot be shackled to our busy-ness 24/7. One is too big, the other way too tight. And maybe it’s true that in both cases, both, that when we, unlike the boys that our poet writes about, are in either extreme for too long we lose the ability to love what is right in front of our faces. Or laugh tears into our prayer rugs thanks to a shared and utterly wonderful boing? For isn’t this the sweet spot that is the place of Mystery and Wonder? That’s the message I got from Poppy’s shoes in the basement last week anyways…
And I don’t want to lose sight of the Mystery within and among me. And in you. Do you?
I know these are complicated times. Many of you are stretched to your breaking point. Many of you are caring for others who need you right now. Some of you are depending upon others for your care. And let me tell you, that no one here need feel badly about themselves now, because they can’t find the time. Because your proverbial shoes are way too tight, but they are the only ones you have.
All I ask of you is to tell someone. Tell me. Not so that we can fix it or come save you. But because, as our choir sang earlier, you are not alone and you cannot bear this out alone. Nor do you need to. Anne Lammot says that there really are only three essential prayers: “Help,” “Thanks,” and Wow.” If the only prayer you pray or speak to someone today is “Help” than you are well on your way. The “Wow” will come, but we often have to start with “Help.” Some of you know this well, right?
You know, I’m still a beginner when it comes to this. And as much as I stumble and fall, I am committed to the getting back up and trying again. One way to do this is to begin your day with a pause and the simple prayer to make room for the Mystery, to gift you with a glimpse of it, particularly in the most unexpected of places and people. Not unlike searching for heart stones in strange places. Or drawing a few on your papers just for good measure. For each day, each day is so very precious, and offers more boundless love and wondrous Mystery than it does constricted-ness, than it does expected-ness. Where is it? Who is it? What is it? Start with these questions. And WOW just might find you, for aren’t we all “built to love,” as our poet writes, “that which is right in front of our faces.” Aren’t we all meant to “laugh tears into our prayer rugs?” Together?
I say, especially these days, especially these days: May it be so. May it be so…
And now let us sing and hum and dance and laugh tears to our closing hymn, There is More Love Somewhere and I’m gonna keep on till I find it!!! Won’t you rise in body or in spirit now.
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.