A Fresh Start

This is our third week of living beautifully, and I have to say, you all look absolutely fabulous! 

OK, Living beautifully is not how you look. As we've said since the beginning of the month, living beautifully is about living in harmony with everything around you. Living beautifully is about noticing and appreciating all the wonders around you and especially, the extraordinary beauty within each of us - and that includes you - especially you. 

We have talked about beautiful living in terms of being the change you want to see - that is being loving if you look for a world of more love - being generous if you want a world of generosity - being compassionate if you want a world where people are compassionate. 

Being the change you want to see does not change the whole world immediately, but it's a start and - better yet - it makes you beautiful right here and now. 

Maybe that's why you all look so good today... 

Last week, we talked about how a loving community can encourage and support our beautiful living. Finding and nurturing the best in each person is a key purpose of a community such as ours. "Acceptance is its sacrament." By that, we mean that we really do strive to accept each new person as they are, but more, that we understand that within each of us is something wonderful, beautiful, and oh, so very very acceptable. And we seek wholeness for all beings - the chance for each of us to emerge like a butterfly from its cocoon in all the beauty that is rightfully ours. 

So, maybe just being here is why you look so sparkly this morning! 

Today, we'll turn to another aspect of living beautifully. We will consider what we carry with us throughout our days. 

Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the celebration of the Jewish new year. 

This holiday's timing marks and important time of year. As much as I hate to admit it to myself, the summer is over. A new time is beginning now. If we were still an agricultural society and had been fortunate this year, the summer’s hunger and uncertainty would end with a generous harvest, promising us survival through the cold months to come. 

And we come to the new year in Judaism and the new season with the equinox rapidly approaching. 

We heard two readings this morning. 

Antonio Machado’s poem speaks of a dream. The part that touches me most deeply: 

I dreamt that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures. 

In our second reading, we heard Buddhist nun Pema Chodron talk about forgiveness. Forgiveness, she says, creates the opportunity for a new start. 

And we consider John Murray. Murray, whose preaching led to a very substantial Universalist denomination in the United States – a movement that eventually merged with the Unitarians there to create the Unitarian Universalist Association. 

Murray was done. Finished. Desperate. His life was a shambles. He had given up religion all together and was off to find a new start in the colonies. In the closest thing to a miracle story in our liberal tradition, Murray came ashore and stumbled upon a ready-made chapel and learned that the man who built it had been waiting for him for ten years! Fate or God or the universe or the Tao or just plain coincidence guided the winds and ensured that Murray preached that Sunday, in a new start that changed the face of religion in the United States. Not only was Universalism an important movement on its own, but it arguably helped to transform American Christianity – moving it from a stern condemning Calvinism to the more loving view that salvation possible for all. 

So, if you think America is bad now, just imagine it without John Murray! 

If you are like me, you have had many times in your life that seemed like new fresh starts - times when it seemed that you were working with a clean slate and that you really did have a new chance to get away from the mistakes that had haunted you in the past. 

Maybe it was the start of a new school year with new lecturers who didn't have it in for you - at least not yet. 

Maybe it was a new job, or a new city, or a new relationship. 

Often, that fresh start makes a big difference. All too often though, that change doesn't last. 

Before long, you notice that new teachers are treating you much like the old ones do. Familiar challenges are coming up in your brand new relationship. Your exciting new job is starting to feel frighteningly like your oppressive old job. 

While we may leave situations and people behind us when we make a big change, we are often carrying quite a lot with us - invisible baggage that continues to affect our experiences and relationships despite everything that is now new and different. 

In my own life, I feel as though my old failures follow me. No matter how fast I run, they have a tendency to remain right behind me, tormenting me like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail. I imagine that each of you knows that feeling to some extent. That which Machado suggests could become comb and honey, sticks like mud to my conscience and in my heart. 

What if we could wake up new tomorrow? Imagine that you hear your alarm or the chirping of birds and, as you wipe the sleep from your eyes, you slowly notice that you feel a bit odd. What is it? Something is different. The familiar anxiety in the pit of your stomach isn’t there. The dread you usually feel of seeing your boss, or coworker, or neighbour is not tightening your chest today – it’s nowhere to be found. Well, it will come along soon enough, you think to yourself. But it doesn’t. 

You get out of bed. The mess on the counter fails to trigger your ‘I’ve told him a hundred times!’ and ‘why is he so inconsiderate?’ response. Instead, it’s as though it’s the first time you’ve seen crumbs and cutlery on a surface and you cheerfully clear them away, happy to see the clean space that remains. 

You go to work or into the garden or to a café, and there you encounter that terribly awkward person who just yesterday made your stomach churn. The mountain of accumulated suffering is gone. Today, you recognize with a smile, oh, what an awkward fellow! Poor soul. And you move along with a spring in your step. 

What if you could wake up new? What would it take? A change within, certainly. 

That change means leaving behind something much greater than a job, a city, or even a long-time partner. It means leaving behind habits, ways of thinking, wounds, angers, and sensitivities. It is not something that happens because today is a special day, but it is something that we can begin at any moment in our lives. It takes a determination to let go of things that have stood with us like old friends - although those friends are not necessarily the best influences for us. 

Anger and hurt can feel like a friend. They can feel like protection against ever feeling injured again. But they travel with us in a way that keeps us apart from others - distant - increasingly lonely. 

Self negation, arrogance, talking too much, talking too little, and so on and so on. All the baggage we carry that weighs us down. It is this that we need to consider on a day like today - a day when we think about what we will take into the future and what we will leave behind. 

Moving ahead with a fresh start means changing from the inside. It also requires a change from without. 

The most harmful words in the world begin with ‘You always’ or ‘You are.’ They turn every mistake into a pattern and a pattern into a failed, worthless personality. 

Creating our future and our heaven requires giving each other and ourselves the chance to be new every day. It can begin here with us if we can free each other of the burden of past mistakes that we help to keep on bowed and aching shoulders. 

Freeing one another means freeing ourselves from the prisons we have built. 

Freedom. Let us give it and so receive the same. 

Let this be our commitment to one another. 

May it be so.