In November, I read two books about migration. And this week, as I am reading The Little Prince, I remembered that the prince left his planet by tethering himself to migratory birds. This idea of migration was veiled in mystery until the last decades. In the 17th century, scientist Dr. Charles Morton, who is well known for writing a physics textbook, also published a treatise on his theory of migration. The birds were simply flying to the moon. Migration was cloaked in mystery.
In the spring of 1822, German villagers discovered a white stork with a large spear impaled in its chest. Determining that the wood of this spear came from Africa was groundbreaking evidence of the stork’s migratory journey. The bird was given the name “Pfeilstorch” or “arrow stork.”
As I sat with you, I have heard about the difficult and happy times of your lives. And from the pulpit, I have shared with you some of the stories of my life. Together, we have been making sense of who we are and where we have been. I believe that one of the blessings of being a part of a faith community is this sharing of stories.
In seminary, I was taught that one of the purposes of a worship service was to weave our stories together and to weave all of our stories into a larger narrative of the universe or the interconnected web of life. We do this together during “Joys and Sorrows” and on Christmas Eve we enact a tradition of telling the stories of when we received the kindness of strangers. It fills me with hope that we have not yet run out of stories. Please contact me if you have a story for this Christmas Eve!
In my sermon about changing my mind, I recounted a difficult time in my life when I was in Los Angeles and discovered feminism through Sisterhood Bookstore. I told you the wonderful part of finding answers to questions that had stirred within me for years. These answers opened my mind to possibilities and led me to leave a marriage and the religion of my ancestors. Only a few months later, Mary Lou
and I were on a plane to Japan.
I wonder if people noticed the spear that was piercing my side? I was told not to speak of the past and it was only after being there for a decade that I began to talk with dear friends about the hard parts of my life. That was partly due to finally feeling truly comfortable with the language and culture. This sharing deepened our friendships and wove us into the fabric of one another’s lives.
I feel that happens when people speak of 12-step programs that they attend and other challenges that they have overcome or are in the process of overcoming. We learn as the scientists learned from the arrow stork, the mystery of people’s life journeys.
What wisdom have you learned from people around you? What is the wisdom that you bring?
I look forward to more of that holy time of storytelling during our services. I hope to see you on Christmas Eve.
This is what Ayako Nakajima, our Japanese teacher told me as we looked out at the red maple-covered hills, our first autumn in Japan. Aki ha omoi. Perhaps she sensed that the golden light of autumn was flooding me with memories of a home that seemed so far away. Are you sometimes overwhelmed with memories in autumn?
This week, on a glistening autumn day, I remembered someone in our church teen group in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Autumn was the most beautiful season. The huge Dutch Elm trees formed a brilliant arch through which I raced on my bicycle. The face I remember wore bright red lipstick and smudged eye makeup. And when I conjure her face, I feel a tug at my heart.
Looking back, I see much that I didn’t see then. I see that she was looking for belonging in our teen group. Even though from the outside, I certainly appeared to belong, I didn’t feel it. And since I didn’t feel it, I didn’t extend belonging to that girl. Looking back, I regret that I did not give her what I wanted: kindness and welcome. Looking back, do you have regrets?
As Unitarian Universalists, we can get so wrapped up in justice or getting our committee work done that we forget to be kind. We can forget, as I did, to extend a sense of belonging. In Rev. Sarah’s envisioning workshop and at our community chats, you have brought up the importance of our welcome.
Kathleen, Tracy, and I have been working on the structure of how we welcome new people to Granite Peak. Soon, we will be spiffing up our outer and inner spaces. That is all-important. And more important than any of that is how each of us extends kindness and an invitation to belong. No structure or new carpet will substitute for that.
After my parents died in an accident, my siblings and I learned about all of the ordinary kindnesses they brought to their neighbors. One neighbor dependedon my mother to send off and welcome home her special needs child at the neighborhood bus stop. As I have come to know you, I have seen the many kindnesses that you extend to the greater community, to your neighbors, and to each other. I have seen how the pantry volunteers are extending belonging to the people who visit our pantry.
On sparkling autumn afternoons, I also remember those who extended kindness to me. Unexpectedly. A hand on my arm. Words of forgiveness and grace. These are important building blocks for that aspirational place, Beloved Community. As we ponder our inner and outer welcome, may we build these structures on a foundation of kindness. That will make the Granite Peak UU Congregation a beacon in a storm. We will be a place that nurtures belonging.
During a sabbatical year spent in the Washington D.C. area, I studied the 400 years of enslavement on this continent. I intentionally visited historical sites with a new perspective of enslaved people. Along the way, I heard of a pastor living in Leesburg, Virginia, who was impassioned with the preservation of a recently discovered grave site of enslaved people that was under threat. She was intent on preserving the history at that place, by consecrating the graves and establishing an interpretive center that would explain the history. If I had stayed in Virginia, I would have joined in her work of valuing the remains of people whose lives and deaths had been made invisible. Her work of justice struck a chord deep within me.
At the end of that year, only a couple of months be-fore relocating to Prescott, I took an opportunity to study Spanish in Oaxaca for three weeks. One of my professors, Lorena Gurrola, taught the literature of Mexican female authors. For four years, I have continued this study of women writers who are often not included in studies of Latin American literature.
The most recent text of this weekly class is Vindictas, a collection of short stories written by Latin American female writers. In the prologue, the editors speak of their work in gathering the anthology as “exhumación” of forgotten stories. In the process, they tell us, the women themselves are made visible by a history that would have forgotten them. I believe that making these women and their work visible is a work of justice.
In January 2011, reading about the life of Rosa Parks to prepare for the yearly MLK Sunday sermon, I found that she had been an advocate for many African American women in trouble. Among those women, I found Recy Taylor. Born in Abbeville, Alabama, as a young wife and mother, she was violated by a gang of white men who, despite all the evidence, were declared not guilty.
In spite of Rosa Park’s advocacy in publicizing this nationally, the men were never prosecuted. When I found Recy Taylor’s story she was in her 90s and still demanding an apology from the state of Alabama. She finally received one on Mother’s Day of 2011.
Her courage to continue to demand the justice of an apology inspired Mary Lou and me to write a song “Calling for Sweet Justice.” Throughout the next years, we wrote songs that became a larger work: “Women of Courage.” Many of these songs exhume women who have been invisible and put them in the spotlight where they should be testaments of courage that are foundational to our own acts of courage in the world.
Some of the women, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hellen Keller, did not need to be exhumed. Their names are known. And yet, even these women’s legacies became softened and marginalized within the patriarchal educational structure. In “Women of Courage,” Eleanor Roosevelt emerges as a civil rights advocate in a car on the way to give a workshop on non-violence, a $25,000 bounty on her head by the KKK.
We find Helen Keller, a woman living with disabilities, on a dance floor with Martha Graham, demanding to understand and participate in dance. And, the song that precedes hers celebrates the life of Viola Jimulla, a Yavapai woman suddenly taking on the role of chieftess of the Yavapai people.
The radical nature of this work is seen in the recent fears that have emerged around teaching children the “whole” history of this country and the world. Books are being banned that offer the stories and knowledge that are foundational to the healing of both human communities and the natural world. By revealing these women and their courageous lives, the songs and stories of “Women of Courage,” have the power to crack open the patriarchal system of education and liberate these women from a burial ground. Exhumed and celebrated, they give us the power to see the past differently and inspire the merciful, loving, conquering movements that will change our shared future.