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When I was a university student, I camped with Navajo students who were also in my geology lab. They told scary stories as the darkness crept around us and the stars came out one after another, the fire crackling and making tiny holes in my grandmother’s wool blanket that was my cover.


We woke at dawn to climb up to the peak of Timpanogos Mountain. This was a well-traveled path, not the kind of dangerous hike that many of you have accomplished. The morning air was cold with the smell of pine needles sharp in our noses. I was probably wearing Keds tennis shoes and jeans and a T-shirt. We found a rhythm to our walk and some hours later arrived at a place from which we could see the summit.


All of the other students made that last stretch to the top. I stayed behind and watched their progress. Not climbing to the top was a choice. For me, getting to the top was just another goal and I didn’t believe in goals for they seemed to destroy the moment. Although at that time I was a deeply believing member of the Mormon Church, I held the Unitarian Universalist interest in the journey rather than the destination.


Our newest members, Jack and Mary Fran Bennett, have a plaque from the Guinness Book of World Records in their home. He was the first person to climb all of the highest peaks in Canada. He is a neighbor and the one who spoke to me about a walk into the Grand Canyon which I accomplished—all the way down and up—in December of 2022. Thank you, Jack. The journey was hard. I was still recovering from my bout with COVID and was not in my best condition. I am proud of that walk.


My time with Granite Peak has been a brush with that pesky world of goals. I have befriended getting to destinations and find myself proud of walking 1000 miles of a pilgrimage route and doing that hike into and out of the Grand Canyon. If I were to go up Timpanogos again, I would definitely go that last stretch. You have helped me believe in climbing mountains.


I believe that together, we have accomplished much. The pandemic was a mountain that we climbed together all the way to the top, with no path but the one we forged.


Of the fruits of our shared COVID ministry, I am most proud of our Neighborhood Outreach Ministry. We still have a food pantry on Fridays that has given us relationships with neighbors. LINC is now becoming part of that ministry which has also been providing for the needs of immigrant families and others in need. I believe that this ministry embodies who we are.


It was our outreach into the greater community that became CCJ, a place where people who do not have houses can find refuge. Empty Bowls is reaching into the greater community to help with the growing food insecurity. Responding to the needs we encounter, we are focusing the reach of our opportunity scholarship on certificates that would lead to viable work for the children of immigrant families. Through these certificates, we will be empowering young people to climb mountains.


I will be talking more about this in our service on June 9 which will be followed by a “Songs of the Earth” concert to raise money for the “Feed Your Neighbors” program. Do you know that the community connected with us through the Neighborhood Outreach Ministry has the most recipients for their program? That means that we have been able to connect the farmers with the places of food insecurity in that wonderful reciprocity that benefits all.


We have another mountain to climb as we say goodbye. Let us look back at our years together and value all that we have done together. This will be hard. It is easy to look back and see what we couldn’t do! But let us take this challenge and see those mountain tops we climbed. There are more ahead. You have a mountain to climb in making the decision about what to do with the sanctuary. Do not shy away from this decision but forge ahead. We have been walking since dawn and the summit is in sight. 

At the beginning of April, I wrote a letter which I read to you in a video. When I spoke to one of you on the phone about my decision to leave at the end of this church year, we said some naughty words together! I have been happy here and will deeply miss both you and the beauteous nature that surrounds you. Even though I know that this is the right decision, I am sad to leave this congregation. You have expressed sadness to me as the news spread through our community. And, many of you have expressed both sadness and happiness. With your sadness is happiness for me and Mary Lou as we engage more fully in our creativity. Some of you are remembering your own choices to follow your heart even when it made others unhappy.

 

In the Weekly Peak and in my videos, I extend to you an invitation to come and see me so that we can spend time together. I’d love to share with you any thoughts you have in this moment. We could even sit and cry or say bad words. It is okay for us to be sad right now. Eventually or even in the midst of the sadness, we will begin to find laughter and joy. We have lots of good times to remember from the past five years and, of course, there is the present. As Thich Nhat Hanh reveals to us, happiness already exists inside and around us in this moment. We must simply open the door… But in order to open the door, we must be attentive to the sadness that is with us. If you who have gone through the death of a loved one, you know that it is impossible to wish our sadness away. We must be faithful to our grief in order for it to open into joy. I promise to be faithful with you.

 

How can we do that?

 

During our Sunday worship services, I haven’t wanted to bring up this sadness because that might be confusing for our new people. Please come to me after a service, if you are feeling sad or happy, and say, “Shall we spend some time?” I will say, “Yes!” I will be with you in this and be hoping that we can all find that door that will open onto joy. It is there. Always. Waiting.

 

On June 15th from 5 p.m., in our sanctuary, we will have a farewell service and I hope that you take the time to write to me or plan on saying something at that service. Tell me about what you will remember. How have we supported each other during these past five years? What have we learned? How have we laughed? How will we be forever changed? After that service, we will dance. I invite you to be present to saying goodbye.

 

For now, I’m going out on our deck to listen to the ponderosa and watch for that bird who comes each year to nest.

We have a sculpture in our entryway of Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddha of healing. In one hand, he holds a container of medicine, and his other hand is held up in the reassuring gesture of “Do not fear.” I believe that releasing from fear is good medicine for this time. A grandfather of the village that was our home for 14 years, carved this Buddha from the soft stone found in the mountains around us. When I return, it reminds me not to fear. I wonder when you feel fear and when you use the words “That is scary” or “I am afraid...


Have you noticed, as I have during the past decade, an upsurge in the usage of words that express fear? I believe that we need to be careful about the way we use those words. We need to be careful about the way that fear can find its way into larger and larger parts of our lives. Fear strengthens the object of our fear. We can give our power away with fear. Fear can paralyze us. Fear separates us from each other and from the world.


Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote:


“Fear is mastered through love. Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love. Is not fear one of the major causes of war? We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals this sequence; first fear, then hate, then war, and finally deeper hatred. We are afraid of the superiority of other people, of failure, and of the scorn of disapproval of those whose opinions we most value.


Envy, jealousy, a lack of self confidence, a feeling of insecurity, and a haunting sense of inferiority are all rooted in fear. Is there a cure for these annoying fears that pervert our personal lives? Yes, a deep and abiding commitment to the way of love. ‘Perfect love casteth out fear.’ Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.”


After the first Gulf War, Mary Lou and I traveled to Syria. Although we mostly and surprisingly experienced a welcome, we were also shoved off a sidewalk, and in our hotel in Damascus, we felt an unfriendly vibe from the people at the front desk. I love to travel but sometimes, if I let the seed of a fear take root in my mind, that fear can increase---and is the source of suffering.


Up in our room, I could see that we had bought way too many strawberries for ourselves. I decided to take them downstairs to the men at the front desk. When I arrived, they looked at me askance—like what do you want? And I held out the bowl of fragrant ripe strawberries and bravely smiled. They looked very surprised, and then when they realized this was a gift, they broke into smiles. Our stay in the city transformed.


I have experienced such moments in Prescott. When I feel an unpleasant vibe that could turn into my thinking that it is “scary” to live here, I try to melt my own fear into something else. I smile. Perhaps that was my mother’s greatest gift to me: her belief that smiles were the best gift we could give. You might even give a smile that you don’t mean at first. But if the smile catches hold and is returned, the possibility of fear dissipates. Mindfulness teaches us to smile at ourselves in the same way. When we make a mistake, we can develop a habit of turning to ourselves as one would a treasured friend and smiling and even saying, “I love you.


I believe that this is good work within us, among us, and around us. I challenge you to listen to how you use words connected with fear. Sometimes we can use that word, not meaning it at first, but grow into it. Don’t let the seed be planted. Do not fear! Instead, work on courageously transforming that fear into love.

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