As many of you know, my family and I had a big move over the summer–we moved from our little spot up north in Amesbury into the beautiful parsonage on Marshall Street in July. And as any of you who have moved know, packing up our house meant going through a lot of basement boxes–I had squirreled away at least ten sizeable bins marked “keepsakes” which meant a solid week of sorting. And we did this with our daughters, now 12 and 14, who gave Jason and I a hefty amount of teen snark over how much of theirs we held on to.

One particular bin was filled with all of the books we used to read together when they were little including a large Dr. Seuss collection that was mine when I was a kid. I was looking through the well-known Cat in the Hat when Poppy (my youngest) glanced over and casually said, Ugh, I hate that book. To which Olive chimed in, oh yeah, I can’t stand that one either. Wait, what? Why, I asked? At this, both of them launched into their years-built-up frustration around the kids in the story, the ones who are left in charge of the house while their parent goes out, the kids who let a maniacal, destructive cat descend upon them–trashing the house, unleashing the menacing Thing 1 and Thing 2, terrorizing their poor fish all in the name of fun, horrifying, said my daughters, that those kids… never go and get help.  

Why, pleaded Olive and Poppy, why would they not go get help? And this launched them into listing every other book and movie that I thought we all loved, but in their minds were destined for the giveaway pile, for the obvious and downright offensive non-help-getting plot failures.

The English teacher in me tried to explain literary tension and conflict, but this fell flat.

But they are on to something, right? And what I think they are on to is that we don’t belong to a culture that prizes asking for help. It prizes the helpers. We often call these the heroes, right?

But what of the beauty and power that is the blessed and vulnerable plea: help?

Writers and activists Emily and Amelia Nagoski have a podcast called the Feminist Survival Project and they say it this way: “The cure for Burnout is not self-care…The cure instead is simply care…What this looks like in practice is: when you think you need more grit, what you need is more help. When you think you need more discipline, you need more kindness …”

When you think you need more grit, what you need is more help.

So, who finds this easy? A few years ago I noticed something I did to offset my discomfort around asking for help. I would share about my overwhelm, or struggle, and then say something like “but it’s fine,” or “it could be worse,” or “it’s all good.” I know what I’m doing when I start saying things like this. I’m saying that I don’t want to overburden anyone–put anyone out, have them worry about me, I don’t want to appear unstable–that’s a big one for me, especially as a woman–or here’s one: I don’t want to appear weak.  Does any of this resonate?

Being vulnerable is so hard.

We light this chalice every week for worship, and we light it in our meetings throughout the week too. Why do we do this? Our UUA president Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray thinks about the symbol of our free faith this way: The flame is a symbol of truth and justice, of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It is a beacon to guide our way. Our chalice–the cup–is our circle of care that holds the light, and tends to its flame, and the cup, and I love this, the cup is also what can break. Can crack. We can’t just relentlessly tend to the light, we also need to tend to the light keepers. The circle of care. Rev. Susan says that it is easy to hold up a light and declare that everyone is welcome. It is harder to build a place where everyone, everyone, is truly at home.

And what I know about making a home together, is that yes, we help and care for one another. Yes. And we also know when to ask for help and care ourselves. This is the embodiment of our congregational polity, big church-y words which distilled mean: the shared ministry of this our community.

So, we light this chalice to remind us of where we are trying to get to. The hope of our faith. And we light this chalice to remind us of who we are trying to be on the way there. A people of wholeness. It’s such a rich and beautiful symbol, isn’t it?

The incomparable Anne Lammott calls this showing up in our wholeness, “There-ness” and I borrowed my sermon title from Ms. Lammott this morning. Your There-ness. For your there-ness is about you showing up as a complete human being! That has joy and wondrous gifts to offer. And who often needs help. And here’s the wondrous part, your there-ness contributes to the wholeness of this our shared ministry! It makes you a good host to the stranger, it says you–exactly as you are broken and whole–you are welcome in this place of belonging. In this circle of care.

This month’s theme is Cultivating Relationship, and we can look to our poem Gate A4 today, for it embodies it well, doesn’t it? Naomi Shihab-Nye tells us that the world she wants to live in, the shared world, is the one of late and weary travelers. “Help” says the wailing woman. “Help” says the flight agent. Apprehension left. Mistrust and fear dissolved. They took the cookies. This can still happen anywhere. She writes. Not everything is lost.

We can say a lot about this poem–this beautiful, relational story of hers. But what I take from it is the power, the indescribable power of there-ness. When for just a few hours we see that we are all lost and weary travelers in need of one another’s help. In need of powdered cookies and a hand to hold. In need of being seen and cared for in our time of need. That this is the world we all want to live in.

And we get to practice this here, right? We can start by extricating phrases like “it’s all good,” and “I’m fine”–from our vernacular when we are NOT good and fine. I asked this a few services ago–it won’t be the last time…What else is church for??? But to be a sanctuary for the joyful and the weary. We need this more than ever. WE need this more than ever.

We believe as Unitarian Universalists that no one is outside the circle of love. NO ONE. There is room for everyone at this our welcome table. And, just like our cup–our chalice that holds the light–it can break–it has, and it will again–the repair is the whole-hearted care we offer one another, and the whole-hearted care we ask for as human beings. This is our great making/breaking/remaking covenant of there-ness.

And so, I ask you earnestly today. Do you need help? Can you trust me when I tell you that here in this place, you can ask for it? Can you trust me when I tell you that you asking for it strengthens this our circle of shared ministry? Our blessed cup that holds the light? It does.

Today’s hymn reminds us about setting a table for those who have historically not been welcome at it. Let’s sing and listen to this hymn, #407 We’re Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table, both as a way to honor our commitment to relationship, as well as to honor every human being’s right to be welcomed at this our shared-world’s table. Just as they are.

Amen and blessed be.

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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.