As we begin another year in the life of our spiritual community, we will explore the concept of theme-based ministry and introduce the thematic focus for this year to be our UU Sources. Additionally, we will celebrate International Day of Peace and consider how peace is a central source of fulfillment in our lives.
Rev. Lori Kyle joined the UUCD family as our congregation's spiritual leader in October 2014. Lori is a native of Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Canada in 2009 with her family. She resides in eastern Toronto with her partner Margaret, her children Maddie and Nathan, and their yellow lab Sally.
The complete sermon can be read below:
Hello! It does my heart good to be here and to see you. It seems like a long time since we were here together. And I’m sure that most of us have had some summertime adventures since last we gathered in June. I know I have, and one of them was going on a camping trip. A camping trip, I might add, that wasn’t my idea.
In fact camping has never really been my thing. I’ve done it with my kids because it seemed like a wholesome activity. And this time my son Nathan was particularly excited about it, because it was going to be “real” camping.
In my estimation there are three types of camping:
The first kind, the easiest kind, is what some call ‘glamping,’ with the glamourous luxuries of RVs and pop-up campers. Then there’s the next kind (which I’m accustomed to) is basic tent camping, complete with showers and electrical outlets, faucets for water.
And then there’s what some call “real” camping, where you rough it, with no civilized amenities at all. And to add to the realness of this camping trip, one can only canoe, not drive, to where you camp.
Presumably most people endeavor this activity of camping because it brings them some measure of peace…. ‘getting away from it all’ helps to recalibrate, living in more simple circumstances, for some, brings equilibrium, grounding.
This isn’t the case for me. In fact when I learned that we’d be ‘roughing’ it (the night before the trip began), I kicked myself for several hours for not having paid more attention about just what I had signed up for.
So although peace and equilibrium and grounding seemed a million miles away, I set off on this trip with resolve to get through it as gracefully as possible.
Well, the first night was not a help. The infuriating mosquito buzzing around my head in the darkness only made the hard ground beneath my sleeping bag feel harder. Minutes felt like hours. It was no wonder that I had nightmares that first night about coming face to face with lions, bears, and….llamas.
Day two, however, was better. The Universe knew I needed help. The weather was perfect, with cloudless skies, moderate temperatures and pleasant breezes. The scenic backdrop was breathtaking beautiful. I decided to go barefooted, and discovered that I loved the feel of the soft pine needles under my feet, and found the soft brown dust that clung to me feet to be somehow comforting.
After a while I began to more deeply appreciate our resources, instead taking everything for granted. For instance, one’s appreciation for drinkable water skyrockets when your only supply is what you painstakingly pump out of the lake, rendering every cupful to be precious as it truly is.
I’ve never bathed in the lake water before, but every day in the still of early morning hours I went to a spot in the lake by some smooth boulder-like rocks where the water was clear and crisp and inviting. After using my biodegradable soaps I would allow the gentle morning breeze to dry the droplets of water on my skin as I sat on the hospitable rocks and looked in wonder at the perfect mirrored reflection of pine trees in the water across the lake.
I started noticing things that I would usually never take the time to notice. I marveled at the sight of an ant journeying across the floor of the woods strewn with twigs and rocks and roots, as it carried a lifeless insect bigger than itself in its mouth. I watched with fascination and respect as this tiny creature sojourned along, taking on something bigger than itself. And as I watched the ant move along with its prize (something that would presumably feed the ant), I was struck with how the ant is like us as people of faith. We attach ourselves to something bigger, to a life of meaning and faith and connection to something beyond ourselves, in order to be fed. And like the ant, our survival, as spiritual people, depends on this attachment.
By the end of the camping trip I had a deep sense on our 7th principle…the interconnected web of all existence. And it occurred to me that, for all the lofty ideals and directions of good that our beloved principles have the potential to take us, the bottom line is that they are designed to help us to become peace.
I wonder if part of the essence of becoming peace is like this experience of camping….there is a conscious choice involved, a stepping toward something that may initially stretch us. Hard core camping, taking something or someone on, leaving something behind…whatever it is that might pull us out of our comfort zone, but we choose it anyway.
The framed quotation you see here speaks to this. Its unknown author says,
“If I had but one wish granted me
sure to come true it would be this:
That there would be peace among people and nations,
Beginning with the peace inside each person.
There is simply nothing more valuable than peace,
and it is within each of us to choose it
as a conscious goal.”
Often people think about peace in terms of global peace, as was mentioned, at least in part, in this quotation. That is what was behind the institution of International Peace Day, which is an annual and worldwide celebration begun by the United Nations in 1982, and will be celebrated tomorrow. This celebration is focused on the sweeping idea of world peace and the end to strife and violence between peoples and nations.
This is a worthy celebration, with worthy goals. But if we are to have success on such a grand global scale, peace has to have its foundation on a much more local and organic level.
Perhaps some of you have heard the song that begins,
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”
There is a lot of truth to that simple line. I was reminded of its simple and yet powerful truth when I recently visited our own Mary.
Mary leads a pretty simple life. As a resident of a nursing facility, she’s not someone that people would call a jet setter, not someone who is out there working tirelessly for world peace instead of violence and division.
And yet she is living out the truth that begins on an individual level. This was evident this past week when she told me about another resident, who we shall call Stella.
Stella was a healthy and vivacious woman who was happily married and lived a full life. And then at the young age of 42 she had a debilitating stroke that rendered her quite incapacitated, to the point that she soon became a resident of the nursing centre where Mary lives.
It would be very easy for Stella to be bitter because of the hand she was dealt in life…a hand no one would ever choose. She no longer lives with her husband, and no longer has the life she once knew. And yet, Stella has found a way to become peace. Mary spoke of how she routinely helps to put on Stella’s mealtime bib, and how Stella’s eyes shine as she smiles and expresses her gratitude to Mary.
As I listened to Mary speak of Stella, Mary’s entire face warmed and for several moments she exuded a beautiful essence of peace as she spoke of how connected and at peace she feels when she is the recipient of Stella’s peace.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin very simply with me.
You might have noticed the quote on the top of your order of service. In it Gandhi says, “There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.” Gandhi’s observation makes me think UU spirituality… the way we approach ‘theological thinking.’ We aren’t being lead ‘to’ something specific in our faith. There isn’t a path to anything in particular, because each of us is called to discover spiritual destinations within ourselves.
And the process of discovery, and the peace that it brings, is the path. The stepping stones of our path that help guide us along, that give us solid footing as we continually emerge and discover what is spiritually meaningful within ourselves, are our Principles and Sources.
That is why, when the topic of our congregation moving to theme-based ministry came up a number of months ago, it seemed logical that we start with the basics of our faith, and make our themes for the year centered on our UU Sources. To ensure that I am not confusing anyone with references to theme-based ministry, I’ll take a moment to explain why we are endeavouring it.
Many UU communities utilize a thematic approach to congregational ministry. And so usually on a monthly basis the various activities of a congregation (which, for UUCD, would be Sunday services, book club, Unigroup, Pub Night, religious exploration) will be based on a particular theme.
Theme-based ministry brings depth and connection to congregational life. When we bring to the fore a particular idea or theme, it allows us to bring into clearer focus what that idea has to offer.
Instead of sitting down to the table of some worthy topic from which our spirits are fed for only one meal, we are able to truly savour and to more fully experience the richness of flavour of a subject because we are allowed to remain there for a bit longer.
We have chosen our UU Sources to be our over-arching theme, and thus each month will be focused on a Source. And since there are more months in the year than there are Sources, we’ve gotten a little creative. For instance, this month’s theme is Peace, chosen because September is the month of International Day of Peace.
I won’t drone on about what the theme will for each upcoming month, but you can find this information on the website and in this month’s newsletter. I look forward to embarking on this new chapter in the life of our community.
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