We come together this morning each carrying our wildest dreams, our burning passions, and our fears.
May the light of this flame show us the path to courage that lies beyond our hesitations and doubts.
May it lead us all to become our truest selves.
Reading: “Labyrinth” by Leslie Takahashi Morris
Walk the maze
within your heart: guide your steps into its questioning curves.
This labyrinth is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.
Listen in the twists and turns.
Listen in the openness within all searching.
Listen: a wisdom within you calls to a wisdom beyond you and in that dialogue lies peace.
Message Part 1 by Marta Pacini
Determined to destroy the Buddha, a treacherous demon unleashed an elephant, which charged drunkenly at the Buddha. Just as the furious beast was about to trample him, the Buddha raised his right hand with fingers held close together and open palm facing the oncoming animal. This fearless gesture stopped the animal in its tracks and completely subdued the dangerous creature. Once having faced the terrible threat of annihilation, the compassionate Buddha extended his other hand with its palm up, as if cupping the gift of an open heart. This charitable gesture of forgiveness restored the elephant’s natural tranquillity. And so proceeds our human passage: hands thrust in resistance and hands offered in conciliation.
This story was told by Tom Owen-Towle in his book “Freethinking Mystics with Hands: Exploring the Heart of Unitarian Universalism”. It speaks to me of a battle that I have felt raging within me many times.
On one side is a vision. An idea of something that I really want to do, or achieve, or change. It excites me and pulls me forward, like a hand extended in compassion. On the other side are fear and weariness. Like a hand thrust in my face, they hold me back. I know that I have a strong, enthusiastic visionary self. And I know that I also have a fearful self.
You might have experienced this struggle too. Perhaps you have always liked singing. You sing in the shower, and when you were at school you once got a role in the school musical. You would really like to do some singing outside the shower again. You have seen posters for a community choir in your area, and you feel a pull from within telling you to go along and give it a try. But then you remember that sometimes, when you’re tired, your voice goes a bit, and you’re afraid that you will derail the rest of the choir. So you decide against turning up to rehearsals. You tell yourself that you’ll do some vocal exercises at home first, for a few months, and see if your range improves. If it does, then you will consider joining the choir. And then of course the daily grind of work and housework and everything else gets in the way, and you never get around to those vocal exercises. And you just keep singing your heart out in the shower, and wishing you were good enough for the community choir.
How many of you have done something like this to yourselves before? I know I have. My visionary self has come up with a dream of something dear to me, something that seems beautiful and great to do. And then my fearful self has pitched in. And when it wasn’t fear, it was tiredness, or hopelessness. Telling me that it was never going to work out. That I had faced so many failures already, so why put myself through another one? And again and again, my fearful self has won the battle. And I have told myself that now was not the time, that I needed to wait until I became better at whatever it was that I wanted to do. Or until the circumstances were right.
There’s a story about a child who was really scared of the dark. He always made sure to get back inside his house well before the sunset, so he wouldn’t have to be in the darkness for even one minute. But one day the child got lost in the woods, and when the night time came he started crying, even though there was a full moon, so it wasn’t really all that dark. A kind owl asked him what was wrong, and when the child explained that he was lost and really afraid of the dark, the owl offered to guide him home. So the child started walking and the owl started flying, and at one point the child noticed a beautiful flower of a kind that he had never seen before, so he asked the owl what type of flower it was. And the owl told him that it was an evening primrose, and that it only bloomed at night. And the child liked that flower so much that he decided to try and get over his fear of the dark, so he could go out at night again, and admire the evening primroses in the moonlight.
Like the child in the story, we too are often afraid and confused. We want to get somewhere, but our doubts and fears hold us back. And so we hesitate, and wait for a better time, or for a time when we will be more capable. But guess what? That’s not living. By hiding within the safe four walls of our comfort zone, we miss the potential and beauty that are just round the corner waiting to be discovered, if only we could pluck up the courage to take a step outside into the darkness. The child in the story had to reconcile his scared, weary self with the part of him that really liked flowers. And that’s a lesson for all of us.
Reading: “Found While Lost” by Erik W. Martínez Resly
“The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth,” writes Simone Weil. We would be foolish not to follow its call. And so we enter the labyrinth, lured by the whiff of a dream still in the making: the possibility of a new relationship, the promise of a new career, the potential for a new beginning.
We can never be sure what we will find once inside. But this much is certain: there will be times when the beauty of the world, and with it the entrance to the labyrinth, unexpectedly disappear. Some relationships will disintegrate, some careers will dissatisfy, some beginnings will disappoint. Unable to find the labyrinth’s opening, we often find ourselves in frantic search of an escape, fumbling for the next step, tiring ourselves out in the process. Disheartened, dispirited, we feel disoriented. We get lost.
The question is not whether we will get lost in life, but rather how we will move through it in faith. Will we dwell on everything that we have lost? Or will we focus instead on everything that we have yet to find?
As it happens, there is much that awaits us in our lostness. Much to be excavated examined, even exalted. In not yet knowing what will be, we are afforded the opportunity to appreciate what already is. The things hiding in plain sight. A frayed relationship, for example, may reveal our deeper needs. An unfulfilling career may motivate us to seek out a mentor. A misstart, or a misstep, may remind us of our own fragile humanity. It may claw open our hearts and sensitize us to the suffering of others.
When lost, perhaps the greatest question our faith asks of us is this: How will we be found? Once the time is ripe, the stars align, and the way begins to open, will we be ready to embrace the mystery anew? Will we choose to trust anew, to risk anew, to hope anew? Will we allow ourselves to yet again be drawn in, swept up, taken over by that magic that makes life worth living?
In the words of Simone Weil: “For if [we do] not lose courage, if [we go] on walking, it is absolutely certain that [we] will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth.
Message Part 2 by Marta Pacini
In the poem we heard earlier, Leslie Takahashi Morris invites us to “walk the maze within our hearts”. And Erik W. Martínez Resly reminds us that “there will be times when the beauty of the world, and with it the entrance to the labyrinth, unexpectedly disappear”.
Our challenge is to keep going. The dark woods can be scary. But if we can find the courage to step into them, the moonlight will reveal to us the hidden beauty of the evening primrose.
This trimester here at New Unity you are exploring different forms of reconciliation. Today, I want to tell you once again the hard news that you will have to reconcile your visionary self with your fearful, weary self. The hand that stops the elephant and the hand that invites it closer. If you delay pursuing your vision and dreams because you are not yet good enough, there is a very high chance that you will never get there. You can wait around for the moment when you achieve perfection, and then start chasing your dreams, but if my experience is anything to go by, perfection is not going to come. If you want to live a meaningful life, your best bet is to start now.
Simone Weil tells us that “if we do not lose courage…it is absolutely certain that we will finally arrive at the centre of the labyrinth”. But I don’t think that’s the end of the journey. After all, no matter how beautiful the centre of the labyrinth may be, you cannot stay gazing at it forever. Eventually, you will have to find your way out again. But if you take bold steps to be your full self, not because you have managed to get rid of all your demons and achieve perfection, but because you have decided to face your demons and live anyway, you will at least catch a glimpse of the magnificent centre of the labyrinth every once in a while.
We will all need to reconcile our vision and our fears again and again throughout our lives. The Buddha, facing the elephant, may have found the perfect balance. But for the rest of us, perfection never comes. So be bold, face your fears, and choose life. Choose to walk the maze within your heart. As the poet says, it is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.
May you find the courage to follow that path. May it ever be so.
Closing Words: “Go Boldly” by Jean M. Olson (adapted)
May you be brave enough to expose
your aching woundedness
and reveal your vulnerability.
May you speak your deepest truths,
knowing that they will change as you do.
May you sing the music within you,
composing your own melody,
playing your song with all your heart.
May you draw, paint, sculpt, and sew,
showing the world your vision.
And until the end of your days,
may your life be filled
with possibilities and courage.