Beth begins by sharing a story from when she was a child and she experienced a near drowning. She talks about how she thought she’d been standing on solid ground, but that it seemed to melt beneath her feet. This pandemic has felt very much like the sensation of the ground beneath your feet dissolving. She shares a story about a person refusing to leave a flooded home because they’re clinging to a belief that they’ll be saved. Finally, she reminds us of the importance of the fourth UU principle.
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The following is a message from Wellsprings Congregation.
That was so beautiful. Sometimes I just want there to be music. And then we just sit and enjoy it. But I’m here to tell you a story or two
when I was, oh, about 10 years old, I had a near near almost drowning experience. I was born and raised in southeastern Kentucky in
a really rural counties, and as I’ve been driving around Chester and Montgomery counties in the past few days, honestly, this
reminds me so much of home where I’m from is even more rural than this, and in fact, most of the county roads. Do you call them
hollers here or is that just an Appalachian thing, Appalachian thing anyway? All of our holler roads were, for the most part, gravel or
just dirt. Well, actually into the early 2000s. And while I’m sure for the grownups, that was a real pain, but as a kid, that didn’t bother
me at all because my reality was that I had long summer days of running barefoot in the grass, in the grass of getting to tromp through
woods, climb trees and on really hot days to go swimming in a cold pond. This is actually a picture of not a pond that I swim in, but a
pond that I visited in Jellico, Tennessee, throughout my childhood. My childhood was filled with those green rolling hills, and the next
photo is a beautiful photo of the Cumberland Falls, which was very near to where we lived.
In many ways, my childhood was kind of idyllic. And so while again, those unpaved roads made life hard and winter in the summer,
they made it a joy. And so on this particular hot summer day, there were probably about two dozen of us kids, ranging from probably
seven up to 16 or 17 that got to go without grown up supervision, tromping down a road to the pond near my friend Michelle’s house.
And I remember this, particularly because the pond by our house was really small, but this particular pond was quite big and why we
loved it. It’s because on one end was a high bank where the particularly bold and brave swimmers could actually dive into the deep
end. But the other thing that made it fantastic was on the other end, the shallows actually went out really far. So for the more timid,
less sure swimmers, you could actually wade out to your knees, your belly, your chin for seven eight nine 10 feet before you hit deep
water. I was in that second group of less sure swimmers, so all all the big kids were out practicing their dives and their back strokes.
Quite a few of us were on the shallow end, helping each other to doggy paddle and the float. We were taking turns with that, and it
was my turn to help my friend Michelle. So I stood the water laughing at my chin, my hand gently on her back while she took deep
breaths and we would laugh and I would step away.
We were doing that for a while when we heard these loud shouts coming from the middle of the pond, and I turned just in time to see
two of the big kids racing from the bank to the water at a breakneck speed and without even pausing. They cannonball into the
middle of the water. Shouts and laughter and splashes happened, and I took a step to get a closer look and what I thought was solid
ground melted under me and to just sand and water and my head went under. And I panicked. And began to splash my feet, paddling
furiously under me, trying to find that solid ground I thought was there. My head came up and I guess for air before I could say
anything, I went under again in the panic set in. Even more in my arms are going wildly and my feet are splashing and I can hear the
laughter from the middle of the pond. But I can’t tell in my disorientation, Am I going towards it or am I going towards the shore? And I
come up for air again, and as I’m gasping, I felt a hand shove hard against my shoulder and my body went stumbling and I felt
another hand grabbed my arm and yank. And my flailing feet finally hit that ground I had been hoping for, and my sister, who had a
hold of my arm, continued to pull and we stumbled into shallower water.
I fell to my knees, gasping and coughing up pond water while she pounded me on the back. And then all the other kids who had
witnessed this near almost disaster, which, to be honest, took all of maybe 15 seconds began to tell the story. Did you see her face?
Did you see her head go under? Oh my gosh, it’s a good thing. April and Michelle were there and we told the story and made it
bigger and began to laugh. And when the big kids came to shore, they teased me for forgetting my dog paddle and congratulated my
saviors. And we all agreed in the way that children do that. We should maybe not tell the Grown-Ups this story lest they decide we’re
not allowed to go swimming unsupervised again. And so while we laughed and shared the story with each other. And in the way of
children continued to play. I still remembered that feeling that terror of the water washing over me without warning. And I remember
that feeling for a very long time. And I’ve been thinking about that moment and that feeling for quite a few years now, certainly for the
past, I don’t know, 20 months or so, because if there is a better metaphor for what has happened during this pandemic, then the
ground underneath us melting without warning and the water rushing over our heads.
I can’t think of it. And so. Last January, in 2020, as we all made our New Year’s resolutions and started to make our plans for the year
not knowing what would come. We were like me splashing in the water. No worries. And then in February, as rumors and whispers
about the pandemic began to spread as information and misinformation rolled in on us. And then as hospitals began to fill up and
death tolls rise and then the lockdowns came and all of our plans just dissolved like nothing. I remember I remember the feeling of
disorientation, and maybe you do, too of weddings being postponed. Of milestone celebrations like high school and college
graduations having to be marked by only a congratulatory card. Birthday parties turning into car parades. Did you have those in this
area? One of my friends actually said to everyone in the entirety of 2020, whenever their birthday rolled around, you get a do over.
Not so, she said, happy birthday, but here we are 20 months later, maybe all of us still wishing for a do over. Still, having plans get
formed and dissolved and formed and dissolved, and we wish, don’t we, just for two, two weeks, two weeks universe. Of anything we
plan being able to stay solid underneath us. And yet things keep dissolving the precarity of life. Has been made so clear during this
pandemic, but the surprise for some of us, I think, is that that precarity is itself a surprise.
Because as we long for normal, what we perhaps forget is as in the words of Sonia Renee Taylor, which should be our next slide, do
you know Sonia Renee? She’s an activist and a poet. And she said these beautiful words in the summer of 2020, which somebody in
Cleveland actually put on a wall normal never was normal, was not working for too many of us, normal for so many people, even
before the pandemic was worrying. Will I have enough money to pay my bills this month? Normal was worrying for the food in my
pantry, last for my kids this week. Normal was wondering Where will I sleep tonight? That was normal for so many of us. Not that life
was suddenly precarious, but that life always is and always was. It’s just that many of us were able to pretend that it wasn’t. But even
for those of us, and I’m hoping not as most of us here who had all of our basic needs met before and during the pandemic, the fact is.
Life was still always precarious. We know that grief can come knocking at any moment. We know death is actually the only sure thing
we have in this life. How many of us have had the ground knocked out from under us? By the accident. The late stage cancer
The heart that stops beating has happened to my sister’s neighbor just two weeks ago, mowing the lawn on a sunny day. And even if
it isn’t death, that takes our plans and scatters them, even if it isn’t death, they’re still there, still so much uncertainty. A baby that
arrives two months early. The layoff from the job and happy things like going along on your own and then suddenly falling in love, that
will knock your plans out too. Yeah. But as we move through life and face its precariousness, it is a normal human reaction in the best
of times and certainly in these not so best of times that we want to cling to something sure. And so we have this human response to
life’s precarity that often moves us into denial and we do something like this. No, no, no, I can’t handle it. I can’t handle that.
Everything I want could be taken from me at any moment. I can’t handle the water rushing over me. And so. So perhaps one of the
ways that we answer that is to shut down. We numb ourselves, we risk little and love even less. We say since nothing really matters,
then I will do nothing and we just coast along in life. Making no plans, doing nothing that matters. We forget, as the song said. That
we could fly. And so we just walk. We could swim, but we cling to the shore.
That’s that’s one way we respond to precariousness. Another way which I have seen, and I’m guessing you have seen so much
during this pandemic is that we look at the precariousness of life and say, No, no, no, you are wrong. It is not water under my feet,
there is solid ground, and I know there is solid ground because I believe there is solid ground and I believe there is solid ground
because my leaders told me so my religion tells me so. My God tells me so. And we cling to that because to do otherwise is to admit
that any moment we could drown. There’s a story I heard once it’s actually a joke, although I don’t think it’s a very funny joke, but I’m
going to tell it to you anyway, and it goes like this. There is a person who decides they want to build a house by the Mississippi River.
It’s been a lifelong dream. And so they find some land and they and they scope it out. And they know that actually, while this is on the
banks of the Mississippi, it’s been generations since it’s flooded here and they feel safe and they build their house and they live there
happily for several years. No problem. But then one spring, it starts to rain. And the water rises and the rain keeps coming and the
water keeps rising and the rain keeps coming in, the water keeps rising until finally.
Evacuation orders are issued in all the neighbors pack up their cars with their with their belongings and their kids and their cats and
their dogs when they start to leave. And as they pass this house, built so lovingly on the banks of the Mississippi, they see this person
with their cars still parked, nothing but sitting on their porch, watching the rain, and they say, Get in your car, come on, we’re going to
safety. And the person says, No, no, no, I’m staying here because God’s going to save me. And the people drive on and the rain
keeps coming and the waters keep rising, and then the first floor of their house gets flooded and they have to move to the second
floor and they’re hanging out the window watching the rain. And then a boat comes by and the boat says, get in the water, get in our
boat, we’re going to take you to safety and they say, no, God’s going to save me and the boat pleads, but they have to keep going
and the rain keeps coming and the waters keep rising and the person has to move on to their roof. And as they move on to the roof, a
helicopter comes by and says, thank heavens, we found you. Here’s a rope come to safety and the person says, No, I’m staying
here. God’s going to save me. And the helicopter goes off and the waters keep rising and the person drowns.
And when they go to heaven, they say, God, I believed in you, why didn’t you save me? And God says my child, I tried. I sent the
people in the car and the boat and the helicopter. And you said no and turn them away. Not a funny joke, but it’s a good story, a good
story about how when we are so sure of our answers, so sure of the ground that we are standing on. We not only miss the people
reaching out to us in need, we miss the fact that we are in need at all. And there are theological roots to that belief, that belief that I
am right. And some of those theological roots are found in our Hebrew scriptures. We are. Not a Christian nation, but a nation
influenced by the theology of the ancient Israelites. I am this semester in my graduate program studying Hebrew scriptures, because
I should say that while I am here serving as your intern, that is part of my studies and divinity school. So I’m a full time student
studying theology and history and scriptures and pastoral studies. And blessedly, I love this program getting to apply that here with
you. This mask is driving me crazy. All. Oh, the time of COVID. So I was excited to take Hebrew scriptures because I actually was
raised in Pentecostal and Baptist churches and the Bible was one of the first books I was ever given as a child.
And while it has been many years, decades, even since I believed in the Bible is the literal word of God. I was excited to get to
interpret these scriptures anew. And why in a Unitarian Universalist seminary might I study Hebrew scriptures? It is because we are
expected to know the sources that have inspired us as a faith, but also that influence us as a culture. And as I’ve studied Hebrew
scriptures in the context and in a little bit of the language in which they were written, what has become really, really clear to me is that
the ancient Israelites belief that God has a plan. And has everything in control and that we as people. Are living under that God with
both promise and retribution. That is really, really clear how deeply woven that thread of belief is in our culture, even for people here
who maybe also don’t believe in God, the belief that there is a plan and a purpose is so much a part of who we are as people. The
belief also that if something bad happens to you, there has to be a reason for it. There has to be a purpose and a plan. And here’s the
weird, weird, paradoxical piece of that. Not that God had a plan for it, but that if you are suffering. It must mean that you’re being
punished by God and God will only punish you if you deserve it, so therefore I can distance myself from that.
I can say, Oh, I’m going to do what’s right, I’m going to live on this solid ground and God is going to protect me. And I know God is
protecting me because nothing bad has happened to me yet. It’s a theology and a way of believing. That denies life’s precarity and
simultaneously enshrines the individual as the most holy. And that that that belief in individuality as something that is sacred as
something that is real is also part of our American culture. It’s embedded in our constitution and in the ways in which we have upheld
capitalism and white supremacy culture, which takes body hierarchies and says some people matter and some don’t, and you better
be in the people that matter. But that denies not just the reality of life’s precariousness. It denies the fact that there is no such thing as
an individual. There is no I without we. Because relation normality is elemental to the human condition. We cannot know each other,
except by knowing our relationships. If you wanted to get to know me, you would need to know where I’m from. Maybe see a picture
of where I grew up. Have me tell you as that Reverend Lee and I did in an early conversation that we have grandfathers that were
coal miners. My family, my society, my culture shapes the individual that I am, and I am only known to the relationships that I have so
that if I want to get to know you, you are not going to talk about yourself without also telling me your grandpa’s favorite recipe where
you went to school, what your favorite band is, what grade your kids are in and the name of your pets.
It is in relationship that we create, meaning it is in relationship that we exist at all. And a theology that denies that, that denies life’s
precariousness, that denies our interdependence on each other is that theology that says stand alone in the water and pretend it’s
not there. And that, to me, is life limiting. And I want a theology that is life sustaining. And it is part of why I became a Unitarian
Universalist and part of perhaps why some of you became Unitarian Universalists. Because ours is a process theology. And that
means it is not a theology of dogma ensure answers, but a theology of becoming of recognizing that the divine is unfolding within and
among and through us all the time. It is a theology that says life is precarious and we are connected. On a certain level, we might be
able to say as Unitarian Universalists that we are more open to life’s malleability, more adaptable. To the shifting sand under our feet.
But unless we get too self-congratulatory as Unitarian Universalist, we also have to remember that we are two humans.
And even within our own denomination, I have seen folks cling to some short answer. Which is ironic, of course, because embedded
within our principles is the fact that we do not believe in short answers. In fact, most of us would be really distrustful of anyone who
says, I have the answer for you. Our principal say that we actually come together to support each other in spiritual growth. Our fourth
principle says that we do that by freely and responsibly searching for truth and meaning. The search is what matters. Not that we’re
necessarily going to get to a settled answer, but that we can search. And yet, because we are humans and because we are
Americans with that love of individual freedom, even among us as Unitarian Universalists, I have heard people say that that fourth
principle is the most important principle we have, and it is the most important because of that word free. I am free to believe what I
want and do what I want. And while I’m certainly not going to tell anyone what they should believe, I will perhaps point out that they
missed the point by clinging to just free because the other part of that principle is we are free and responsible. And responsible
implies relationship responsible implies that we are in this together. Responsible implies that we are perhaps going to get it wrong
sometimes. But that we can covenant because this is what we do, we covenant to come together to say, let’s help each other grow.
There was a story I read an essay really in the you.You World magazine a few years ago that really talked about this responsible
interconnectedness, and the union minister who wrote it talked about the metaphor you know, of when you’re on a plane and the
oxygen mask falls and put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on the person next to you. You’re familiar with this. I
think anyone who’s been on a plane, but that metaphor is sometimes used to talk about self-care like, Oh, you need to take care of
yourself. And the minister said, Well, that was a useful metaphor. She really found that it was missing some key elements for those of
us in community and particularly in caring professions, because that metaphor implies there is some external force that is going to tell
you you need oxygen now. And the fact is, we go through our lives often not knowing that. And so she said a metaphor she had
started using for herself was rather the image of divers, scuba divers wearing oxygen tanks. Yes, that you have to know how much
air is in that tank. You have to gauge your own body’s responses for that day. Know how strong of a swimmer you are so that you
understand how deep you can go or not. And that critically, you are never doing that alone.
You have a dive partner you’re going with and you look at each other’s tanks. You have someone up on the surface also monitoring
you so that if my arrogance low, but I am disoriented and don’t know it, you can help me. The person up above can pull us and say
it’s time for you to come up. Now that we are not alone in our searching, we are responsible not just for ourselves, but for the care of
each other. I love that metaphor. And I saved that essay, and I actually returned to it when the pandemic rolled out and shared it with
my colleagues that I was working with at the time of how we have to help each other, that life’s precariousness and our
interdependence means that we need to agree in covenant to come together and say yes. Yes, we are in this water together, and we
can help each other to swim. When we think we are alone too much and I am not talking about the solitude that we sometimes go to,
that helps renew us, but alone in our suffering alone and our despair. It is too easy to think that the universe is indeed laughing at us
to think, as Reverend Ken called it a few weeks ago that the capriciousness of the universe is at our expense. But really, if we accept
life’s precarity, if we accept our interconnectedness and then trust that covenant is big enough to hold us, covenant is the container
that says you are safe here.
Covenant is the big kids way out in the middle of the pond, swimming and diving, and not afraid, not because they have the safety of a
solid bottom under them, but because they have each other. They’ve helped each other swim. They help each other float. They look
out for each other and when they need, they say it’s time to go to shore and rest. That is what Covenant helps us to do. It helps us to
be the big kid swimming. Covenant holds us. It lets us experience the fullness of freedom together. It helps us take breaths. When the
waters are seen over us and the ground is melting, it does not promise us that we will always get it right. Covenant does not promise
us. That there will be no pain. Covenant promises that we will be held in community. And that is wholly. I cannot think of anything
more wholly and miraculously ordinary than people holding each other in times of joy and suffering. Last week in Reverend Lee’s
sermon, she talked about the power of naming our experiences, and I think how wholly and miraculous it is that my sister and friends
were there to pull me to shore that day of my near almost drowning. How holy it is that during this time of pandemic, we have found
new ways to covenant and come together as a community that we can gather here today knowing that maybe we won’t next week.
But that we will still be a community, we will still support each other, we will still be able to say, take my hand and come into this boat.
The Indigo Girls or one of my favorite bands, and we heard a song by them earlier, but they have another one called Deliverance. I
think must be an answer to that story, because it says. We’re looking for deliverance, but it’s already been sent. And it’s been sent in
you and me together. And that is the promise that I take from Covenant. That life is precarious, but we have each other and we are
each other’s deliverance. We are in the words of Marge Piercey. We are each other’s miracle. Maybe so. Were you enter into prayer
with me? Dear spirit of life. Breath that moves through us and connects us all. We are grateful to be here, both in body and in spirit
together as a wellsprings community. We come today with hearts, both heavy and light, with joys and sorrows. We accept that the
ground underneath us is never solid. But we know spirit. That as we come together as a community, we are held in love. And in
strength to get us through all the hours and the days to come. Hold us in love. And lift our hearts for just this moment. On the. If you
This message and would like to support the mission of Wellsprings, go to our web site WellspringsUU.org, that’s wellsprings the
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