Turning Points

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Chalice Lighting

Today arrived with no fanfare and no fireworks
We didn’t notice how extraordinary it was
We didn’t notice all the possibility it brought
Whatever has happened in your life and wherever you have been
Today could be the beginning of something new
Today could take you down a bold new path
Today could wake your senses to the beauty and wonder around you
Today could open your heart to the love that awaits you
This day may not open these possibilities gently or comfortably
It may prod or even shock you toward growth
By this light, let us see the possibility
And, in welcoming it, begin a journey toward wholeness and joy

Reading: The Guest House, by Jalaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
~as a guide from beyond.

Message Part 1 by Rev Andy Pakula

Since non-commonwealth immigrants in the UK can only drive with their home country driving license for one year, I was unable to drive here for about ten years. And then, 6 months ago, I passed my driving test and now have my UK driving license. I can drive again!

Driving lessons in the UK were interesting - that is if you find it interesting to feel incompetent about a skill that you’ve practiced for 43 years and like to be told every 30 seconds that you’re doing something wrong. In fact, I was so worried about constant mirror checks and covering the brake pedal and signalling not too late or too early and checking the mirrors some more that I wasn’t paying all that much attention to bigger things while I was actually taking my driving test… and that included when I approached and entered a roundabout to make a left turn.

The examiner hit the brakes. This was a turning point. Although he continued the exam to the end, I had failed. And I’d failed not because of all the things I was worried about but because of the obvious things: Yield to cars that have the right of way and could smash into you and kill you…  Good rule.

When I retook the exam, it was smooth sailing. I didn’t worry about the small things and had a nearly perfect exam. Multiple turning points there: an error that caused sudden failure. The failure that taught me not to worry about the mirrors so much. The license that has made it possible for me to drive around London and over to Wales.

In driving, you can change direction suddenly. You can stop (after checking your mirrors and indicating) and go left or right. You could even turn around (although you won’t have practiced three-point-turns because they are no longer on the exam). Suddenly, you are going in a different direction. And other times, you can change direction so gently and gradually that you don’t realise it until later. A few minutes of a gentle, barely perceptible, curve in the road can have you headed in a completely different direction.

Other turning points in our lives are like this too. As you look back over your life you will probably notice the sudden turns - when you left one job or friend or partner or habit or home and went another way. And you may also recognise how you slowly, gradually evolved toward a different path - so gradually that it is obvious only with the perspective acquired through the passing of years.

The 20th century American psychiatrist Frederick F. Flach wrote about turning points and how common they are: “Most people” he said, “can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and a collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.”

You were given a card when you came in. Please write one turning point in your life on this card. Don’t make your card identifiable unless you want to as we will be sharing these. Turning points can be things that you now see as positive or negative or somewhere in-between. So please also write how you now think of the impact of that turning point on the course of your life.

Reading: The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Message Part 2 by Rev Andy Pakula

In his famous poem, Robert Frost talks about choosing one path over another. Ultimately, he says that sometime in the future, he will be telling about his choice with a sigh and saying his choice made all the difference. Why a sigh? Because he doesn’t and cannot know what another path would have brought to his life. Later in life, he tells the story as though that choice was the right one - the one that made all the difference. And that framing of our pasts as taking the right path is helpful and healthy. Regret would serve no great purpose. But for the future, turning points matter greatly. It is greatly in our control whether we will engage or avoid turning points that could change everything.

Our lives are filled with turning points just as some of our roads are studded with mini-roundabouts. We can go only a short distance before some new crossroads appears, offering new choices and new opportunities. We may turn and be grateful we did. We may turn and regret it. We may go straight on and never have any idea what different path we passed up.

In a car, we might determine never to turn despite roundabouts. Or we might even forgo driving. If we take a coach or a train, it’s easy to avoid turns unless we impulsively get off the train somewhere. We can avoid many of the turning points in life too. Fear is the biggest factor in keeping us to the path we’re on whether we like that path or not.

But turning offers so much. Yes, it is mysterious and can lead to dead-ends or worse. It is a leap into the unknown but let’s remember that the result of persisting in going straight on is not really known either. Turning can change everything.

Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg reminds us that change can be much greater than we might ever imagine. “It doesn't matter how long we may have been stuck in a sense of our limitations”, she writes. “If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn't matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or ten thousand years; we turn on the light and it is illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on.”

We each have the opportunity for a turning point many many times in our lives. We can choose what new experiences we will have. They may lead to light dispelling the darkness. They may lead to a new perspective. They may break down barriers to love and understanding.

Turning points are rarely painless. They usually involve deep discomfort even if we have chosen them. When they happen to us against our will, this can be even more so. Turning is so hard because to do it we give up the comfort and safety of the familiar and the expected.

The author Gail Sheehy offers us a wonderful metaphor. She writes that “We are not unlike a particularly hardy crustacean. . . With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next we, too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable, but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn't known before.” The opportunities are out there waiting for us - the dead ends and the wondrous transformations.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to get into the car, put on your seatbelt, check that you’re not in gear, start the engine, do your 5-point check, indicate and get out there and onto the wild and unpredictable roadways. A roundabout is not just an opportunity to curve a bit and go straight. It also offers the frightening and wonderful chance to experience something that will change you.

Every day offers the opportunity to turn. Every day offers the opportunity for transformation. Every day offers the opportunity for growth. It is yours for the taking.

May it be so.

Closing Words

Imagine the crab that will not shed its shell
The creature that refuses growth and remains painfully stuck in its calcified armour
Opportunity calls to you today and every day
It can be gentle and alluring
It can come with a smack of pain
Grab the potential. Seize the possibility.
Welcome change
Welcome life
Welcome love