As we welcome new members to our community, let's celebrate the joy of their presence with us and explore how we might live more joyfully every day.
The complete sermon can be read below:
One of my great joys is my dog Kaiko. Like most of her species, her joy has always been simple and pure: food, walks, and love are all she needs.
Though she lives with my parents, she will always be my Kaiko. I lived at home in her puppyhood. She is the Kaiko who learned to run with me. I can hardly say I trained her; our rhythm together seemed to evolve on its own.
All it took was for me to come down in my running clothes and her joy would ignite. Looking at me expectantly. Crouching. Waiting for the leash, and bursting out the door with energy I have to reign in to keep up.
But the real bonding time begins when we reach the woods just 3 minutes later. The routine always the same; I unleash her. She looks at me with huge eyes and a seemingly loop-sided grin. And then trots out about two metres in front of me and we find our pace together.
She could go much faster, but she doesn’t.
It’s beautiful in the woods; we cross a grassy meadow and a stream, then reemerge among trees that are intergenerational, with some trunks tiny and some I can’t hug fully around.
It smells wonderful.
Our connection hits home to me every time we encounter people on our run. Especially people accompanying other dogs.
When I see them coming, I call to Kaiko and she pauses, waiting for me to catch up.
We make eye contact, and then, no matter how much the other dog barks or strains at his leash, Kaiko stays at my side, gaze locked.
On a walk, she would enjoy the routine of getting acquainted with any passers-by. But this is our run time.
Once we’ve passed, I say okay, and Kaiko resumes her lead position; head of our pack of two.
I always feel safe when she’s with me. And the connection I feel to life in the woods is heightened by my connection with her.
Lately, “runs” with Kaiko are slower than a toddler making her first steps.
A big dog, at 14 and a half, she’s quite elderly and I know she won’t be here forever.
Twice I’ve moved away in the last two years, worried each time I would miss her passing from this world to the next.
But we keep having our runs.
I feel a sense of loss as we amble along, knowing each could be our last. And missing her gaze into my eyes. Now she is happy to walk herself, more, at times, in the next world than this. She no longer pauses to connect with me. But her joy, while less vertical in its expression, is just as real. Stubborn and resolute now about the timing and route of her walks, she is no less endearing.
And when my partner Curtis took her out for a pee during the Grey Cup, she decided it was time for a walk. He missed most of the fourth quarter as she showed him her route and wouldn’t come home until she was done despite his invitations. (Family pool, Calgary to Toronto, marital harmony over bragging rights; trophy on our living room bookshelf.)
No matter how many more runs we have, I will always remember the joy of running with my Kaiko.
Kahlil Gibran reminds us that ‘our joy is our sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which our laughter rises is oftentimes filled with our tears. And how else can it be?’
Last month I talked about honouring our losses, and really embracing our grief and sorrow. Even embodying it.
Today, with sorrow unmasked perhaps, too, can our joy be released.
Joseph Campbell urges that the principle aim in life is to “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.” Francis Weller explains that “For many of us, we are all too familiar with the sorrow, but rarely do we know how to cultivate joy. This makes our suffering something we attempt to avoid, overcome, or to rise above. There is something in Campbell’s phrase, however, that suggests that joy and sorrow are entangled, forming something akin to a prayer.”
Perhaps you find your heart heavy with the abundance of injustice and harm in this world, as I do. Does it ever weigh you down? How do you cope?
All too often our response to injustice and hurt in the world is to cut ourselves off from our feelings: distract with pleasure; numb ourselves with TV (or pornography); escape into a lighthearted book.
And the result; we can fall into our cultural pattern of seeking happiness rather than joy; of being “busy” or “pretty good” or “fine” instead of truly grounded and connected and joyful.
Ours is a culture where the crests and troughs of our emotions are muted. We aren’t supposed to be angry, certainly not to yell or stomp or wail our frustrations. We aren’t supposed to be too fearful, and yet we are one of the most anxious peoples in history, it seems. And sometimes we’re suspicious of joy because so often, what we present as joy is actually forced positivity and cheerfulness, a Pollyanna state that is equally disconnected from true joy as it is from hurt and anger and sorrow.
In their book, “Return to Joy,” Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker name “a myriad of flames of joy,” including loving all beings as they are, loving and celebrating the earth, creativity and the arts, play, sacred relationship, conscious grieving, truth-telling and justice-making, simplicity, stillness, and community, among others. They also name being with and loving animals, reminding me once again of Kaiko.
I wonder, how often do you feel that abiding, exquisite joy that transcends a moment or two, that’s more than enjoyment or even happiness?
How often are the joys and sorrows we share here in this community our truly deepest longings of the soul?
How big are the crests and troughs of your life?
And when was the last time you experienced authentic joy here in this community. Not satisfaction or “pretty good” or “fine” or even “fun.” But joy in working and playing and, yes, grieving together?
I hope that for you there are many such moments in the recent past and near future.
And I also suspect that much of our life together is routines and peppered with duty and responsibility, getting tasks done with low to moderate enjoyment at best, singing half-heartedly, and feeling anxious about time or money or energy or the laundry list of things that have or could go wrong.
And I wonder, what would living into joy look like as a congregation? What if we all (or at least all volunteers) stopped doing anything but that which connects us joyfully to our deepest selves and one another? Might we simply do a lot less? Or find different ways of doing? Would our anxiety ease? Would we discover that, if no one wants to do them, some of the tasks on our must and should lists are okay undone? Would we necessarily feel loss, or might we find new gifts?
Harvey and Baker proclaim “Joy is the ultimate nature of reality. The true task in life is to uncover this primordial joy in oneself and then live from its peace, energy, radiant purpose and embodied passion.”
I imagine a UUCD living this way. Embodying joy. I imagine it would change our life together, especially it spread to our home and work lives, too. And that it would be startling in an unexpected and lifegiving way for those who meet us for the first time, experiencing our peace, energy, radiant purpose and embodied passion unleashed.
(Today we are making our pledge commitments of time, energy, and money. If you need to take a few minutes and adjust your time and energy pledge for make room for joy, please do so. We’ll be taking the time and energy pledges very seriously and following up to help us all find a joyful and sustainable balance in our giving to UUCD.)
In preparing for this service, I realized that I am not living as joyfully as I might, despite a great many wonderful things in my life, cherished relationships, and work I love with you special people. It makes me wonder what else I am cutting myself off from, that my joy is muted? And how do I learn, and relearn, my joy?
I’m starting with one small commitment: singing. I love singing and especially the spontaneous singing that happens around a campfire or piano. The sing-along Sunday night at the Canadian Unitarian Council fills me with joy, where we dance and sing our way through our Unitarian Universalist favourites. Somehow singing in worship services is never as satisfying.
And so I commit this today: at home, to inviting friends to a jam session this holiday season. And to singing – and perhaps even playing – Christmas carols with all of you at the December 16th Christmas party. One small step toward joy. And to staying with the music in my life, whether a song or a session or a note, until my soul resounds with joy.
Today, we welcomed Kailee and Kevin as new members, a joy for our community. May we remember today’s joy in the moments of hardship and inevitable tension or conflict that will come, some day and some way, to us all. Those moments that challenge our faith and even our commitment to this community. It’s not possible to live authentically together without those moments.
But may our openness to the breadth of life’s experiences sustain us, no matter what is before us.
As we discover and rediscover joy like a fountain in our lives,
May we tap into our strength like a mountain,
Our tears like the raindrops,
Our pain like an arrow,
Our love like an ocean,
And our peace like a river.
And know that we are not alone.
Spirit of life, the great mystery, the “More” that some call God, and/or this, our spiritual community, bless each of our souls with a mix of the joy of the wisest of elders and the exuberant joy of our innermost child.
May it be so, today and always.
Read sermons by: