Today is the final Sunday in the month of September - a month that brings us the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. It is at this time of year that we begin to see and celebrate the harvests of the earth.
At New Unity this month, we have spoken about self-love. We have sung about it. We have engaged in meditations to help us love ourselves. We have engaged in play that helped us to open our hearts to one another and to ourselves.
At the beginning of the month, I asked you to think about the parts of yourself you have difficulty loving. If you were here that day, you may have written something on a small paper love heart. You may have spoken of your personality, your habits, your addictions, or your physical appearance.
Last Saturday, we planted those hearts like seed in the earth of a large group collage. Some of those seeds sprouted in joy and beauty, with stems growing high and offering beautiful fruit - the fruit that comes of accepting and loving our whole selves.
The collage work is on display at our Angel building if you’d like to take a look.
Also this month, some of us had pictures taken of ourselves declaring an intention to love a part of ourselves that we had resisted.
It may not seem much to you, but it was astoundingly hard for me to to take a picture saying “I love my too big nose.”
And even more frightening then to post it out to the world.
You see, my nose is something I’ve been ashamed of and mortified by almost my entire life. I have very seriously thought of having cosmetic surgery to be rid of this defect.
You may think that’s sensible. You may think it’s absolutely crazy. I don’t know. To me, my nose protrudes about two feet from my face. The idea of mentioning it has been mortifying.
I am doing something different now. Obviously.
Going public - accepting myself as I am makes a difference. Of course the nose issue is only one thing - just one part of the process of self-acceptance.
Last Sunday, as today, Evelyn did a series of portrait appointments in the Mary Wollstonecraft room. When I had my picture taken last Sunday, Evelyn encouraged me to again write an “I love my” message. This time, I was quick to write “I love my low self-esteem.”
Evelyn was surprised. I don’t know how many of you are. For some, it’s undoubtedly as plain as the nose… well… you know.
It’s frightening to say this… that I struggle with a sense of unworthiness. Not that this is rare - I know it’s not. I know that beneath most of the masks we all wear is a vulnerable spirit afraid to be discovered as not good enough.
But I’m your minister. Will you think I’m inadequate if I expose my self-doubt? Will you think less of me if you recognise that part of the reason I work so tirelessly is to meet some unmeetable expectation in myself?
I can’t know how you will respond, but it feels liberating to me to be able to say what you probably already know - that I am like everyone else - a deeply imperfect human being - just another traveller in this world.
This past Thursday was Rosh Hashanah. This is the Jewish New Year celebration. In the Jewish tradition, each year at Rosh Hashanah God opens the books of judgement - the books in which each person's future will be written.
Judgment is an important word for Rosh Hashanah and for all of us. In his poem, Octavio Paz writes of being imprisoned and tormented in a self-created dungeon of judgement. He speaks of “judging and sentencing [himself] to perpetual waiting and loneliness”
And at last, he comes to detect the insistent warmth and tenderness that will release him.
Like many festivals that take place at this harvest time, fruits of the earth play a major role. Jews eat apples with honey, offering a sweet tasted as a wish for a sweet year to come.
Of course, the apple has a very old connection we might want to think of - one that comes up as we start to think of entering a new year with more self love and less self-judgement.
The apple is the fruit that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the first place. That was the first time that God began to judge humankind. Until then, the story goes, we were sweet and flawless.
And then we ate the apple. God judged us and - far worse - we judged ourselves. Previously joyful in our nakedness of body and spirit, we became aware and filled with enough shame to want to cover ourselves.
I wonder which came first - judging ourselves or being judged from outside ourselves. In the story, God finds Adam and Eve covering their nakedness - ashamed through their own judgement. Perhaps the story of the ejection from paradise is more appropriately a metaphor for our own loss of love for ourselves.
Our fall from grace is the loss of our natural love for ourselves - the love we might have as children before we learn to feel inadequate and unacceptable.
So, we covered up our shameful parts. When fig-leaves weren’t enough, we moved on to designer clothing, make-up, cosmetic surgery and - most importantly - elaborate masks and defenses of personality to hide the selves we learn are unacceptable.
And our hatred of ourselves leads to hatred of others.
To turn again to self-love, we must turn away from judgement - judgement of self and judgement of others.
To turn to self-love, we must return to a sense of self that is true and authentic - to return to who and what we truly are - without the defenses, fig-leaves, and masks we have put on.
Let’s return to the apple now - the apple that heralded the loss of self-love and the beginning of judgement in the biblical story.
Let’s turn that story around. Let’s use the action that ushered in our shame and judgement as a sign and a wish of our growing self-love and acceptance.
I invite you to taste the sweetness of the apple and the honey - sweetness to overcome the bitterness of judgement - the judgement of others upon you and of you upon others.
As it happens, the apple of the bible may not have been an apple at all, but a pomegranate.
Pomegranates are ancient and rich in symbolism with their many seeds and blood-red juice. There is so much we can plant in our own lives.
What acceptance and self-love will you plant today? What will you plant for your future?
As the pomegranate seeds come around, I’d invite you to take about four seeds. Don’t eat them right away. Each seed will represent a promise to yourself - a promise of something you will try to love and accept about yourself.
Before eating each seed, take a moment to commit silently to a self-judgement that you will replace with self-love.
May you grow strong with self-love and acceptance.
May the secret shames you have hidden become strengths instead.
And may your love of self allow you to shine like the sun, radiating love to all.