UU Society, Madison, WI - NOV. 20, 2005
BLESSINGS: APPARENT or NOT • REV. JODY WHELDEN
READING “Family Reunion” Maxine Kumin
The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
-- in our case homegrown pig, the
garlicked and crisped, the
hand - pressed. Handpressed with
Nothing is cost effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces
handsown, are raised to stand
The electric fence ticks like the
of something we fed and bedded for
then killed with kindness’s one
and paid Jake Mott to do the
In winter we lure the birds with
thaw lungs and kidneys for the
Darlings, it’s all a circle from
of wire that keeps raccoons from
to the gouged pine table that we
distressed before any of you was
Benign and dozy from our
the candles down to stubs,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when
by grass stalks or a forgotten
how eloquent, how beautiful you
Wearing our gestures, how wise you
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents
So briefly having you back to
is harder than having let you go.
Thanksgiving and the
Holidays fill us with mixed feelings. There are moments of great joy and
satisfaction. And, there are often feelings of being alone and without as much
love as we need, or enough places to share our love. Today's reflections
address how we might hold our hearts and others with compassion and grace,
whether our blessings are apparent, or not.
Today's reading, the
poem by Maxine Kumin takes me back to the 3-month period of time when my mother
was dying of cancer. My sister, Scott my partner, and I took turns staying
with her for a week at a time.
My sister and I were
trading shifts, and I stood at the garage door and watched her drive down the
driveway and head back to her family. I felt a terrible wrench in my heart.
It was very hard to see her drive away. I missed her terribly, even though she
had stood beside me just moments ago. I went into the house and spoke with my
mother about it
“It must have been so
hard to have us leave and go out on our own,” I said.
She said, “ Oh yes,
but, we saw each other often.” In that one sentence, she described what every
parent must go through - the transition from day to day intimacy with a child,
to an adult relationship of negotiated companionship and friendship.
SEASON fills us with mixed feelings just because of the complexity of human
need and human relationship as described in Maxine's poem and my experience
with my sister and mother. There are moments of great joy and satisfaction.
And, there are often feelings of being alone and without as much love as we
need, or enough places to share our love. Today's reflections address the
practice of choosing compassion and love, whether our blessings are apparent,
Recently, I met a man
whose wife had just died of Alzheimer's. She had been ill for about ten years,
and died of complications of her heart. The last two years she had been living
in an Alzheimer's Home, as she could no longer cope at home. I expressed my sympathy
about his loss and he thanked me. I asked another question and he told me the
most wonderful story. When he finished, I asked if I could share it with
others, and he said yes.
He said, when she had
had to go into the home he realized he had a choice of how to respond to the
situation. He could either be bitter and morose throughout the coming
challenges, or he could be loving and grateful for his life and hers in these
final years. He chose to be loving and grateful.
“Every time I went to
the home, I would let the workers know how much I appreciated them caring for
her. I spent time loving her. When I stepped out the door and headed home, I
would consciously tell myself what things she and I had to be grateful for in
that day. When I was depressed or angry, I would let myself feel it and let it
pass away, knowing it was a normal feeling and that I didn't have to dwell in
“It made all the
difference in how I have experienced these last two years. Although it was
hard, I feel surrounded by people who have been loving and caring to her and to
me. My children have made peace with their Mother's illness and we are all
mourning together. I know it made it easier for her, too. Although she had
lost most recognition of us and had a tenuous hold on reality, one could feel
that she felt safe and was well cared for physically. That matters quite a
bit, I think.”
For me, this man's
story is the essence of my remarks for this morning. As we approach the
holiday time, we will have many mixed feelings. It is a time that we are meant
to be with family, celebrating our good fortune, giving gifts to each other and
caring for those less fortunate. The culture around us contributes to the
pressures by relentlessly selling us whatever it can - inundating us with
unsolicited catalogues in our mailboxes and producing Christmas wares before
Halloween has even passed. It is a challenging time, to say the least.
However, I believe
that our lives our full of blessings, even if they are not apparent. That is,
even if we do not have a loved one at our side, or children to buy toys for, or
money to create a Thanksgiving Spread, -- we can find blessings where they
might not be apparent. This practice is the great opportunity of this season.
This message is told
in another way, from a story from Carolyn Myss's book, ANATOMY of the SPIRIT.
Carolyn Myss is a practitioner of healing and psychological underpinnings of
the human psyche. Jack's cousin, Gregg, wanted Jack and his wife, Lynn to
invest in a business venture. Jack, a carpenter, was forty-seven. His cousin
convinced him this investment was a good idea. Jack's wife, Lynn was hesitant
but wanted to support her husband and his cousin. They decided to put in much
of their life savings.
Not long afterwards,
the entire venture failed. Jack's cousin disappeared. A few months after
that, Jack injured his back and his blood pressure increased. He became very
depressed. Lynn finally didn't know what to do and forced him to
go with her to a growth and healing workshop.
Clearly, Jack was
incapacitated in his feelings of having let his wife down, having “failed” in
his investment strategy and feeling like a failure in life. The workshop
leader began talking about forgiveness and Jack prepared to leave the room. Lynn
stood up and caught his hand and addressed him like he and she were the only
one in the room -
She said, “I feel
like you did invested for us out of love -out of trying to help our family.
You got hurt because you were out working to provide for our family. I will
never believe an act of love is rewarded with pain. I believe that if you
change your perspective and hold to the truth that you supported someone you
love because it felt right, then, somehow, this will work out for us. I don't
want the anger you feel for your cousin and for yourself to ruin the rest of
our lives. So I say we just keep going.”
Jack began weeping and
expressing words of apology and gratitude to his wife. By the end of the
workshop, they were in a brand new place. Months later Jack was much better
and they had moved on in their lives. They had both forgiven Gregg and
themselves for the losses.
Again, in this case,
one person chooses to see the situation through the eyes of love, rather than criticalness,
and that transformed both of their lives.
The lesson that we are
surrounded by blessings, no matter how it appears otherwise, is beautifully
described in the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. The Buddha nature is to
touch compassion, joy and love. Buddhism teaches that these 3 - compassion,
joy and love, - are always available in every moment, how would you know they
exist if you do not practice them - if you do not use them when you have a
For example, my
Buddhist friend Bob's 23-year-old daughter, Michelle, had a terrible car
accident last week. A very large truck ran into her car. No one was hurt, but
her car was wrecked and she was in terrible shock. She called her father
within 20 minutes of the accident. He said he remembered that as soon as she
told him he knew he had a choice of how he responded. He could get into his
angry father place, or he could become a detached money counting business
person, totaling losses and negotiating insurance deals or he could respond mindfully
- from his developing Buddha nature and express love and joy and compassion,
“Because I have
practiced for so long, I could choose the Buddha nature quickly,” he told me. “
I told her how much I loved her, how happy I was that she had not been hurt.
I expressed compassion for the other driver and encouraged her to do the
same. I kept telling her how much joy there was in me for her. Later she
told me it helped her so much.
“And” he continued,
“We stepped through the other things we had to figure out - like contacting the
insurance company -mindfully - without rancor or anger and with centeredness.
It has all worked out fine. This week, she has told me how much she
appreciated my calm and my telling her how much I loved her and how happy I was
Bob's reminded me so
deeply that the Buddha nature is always present through mindfulness. Choosing
to practice mindfulness is a way to gain access to Buddhist nature - to touch
compassion, joy and love - which are always available to us -- but you have to
make a choice. And, how would you know there is love if you did not
experience it? You must practice it. ...Noting all the possibilities, but
choosing the path of love as often as you can.
In the Meditation Hall
of the Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, they often ring a bell - much like
ours - and that means for everyone to stop what they are doing and come into
the present, even more than they are. “Thy” says to use the phone the same way
- when it rings, use it as a time ot practice mindfulness. In a moment I will
invite us all to practice mindfulness. It will be an early holiday gift we can
all give to each other.
The same is true of
practicing finding the blessings, whether they are apparent or not. This takes
strength and courage. Especially when we are very lonely or feeling especially
bitter. But, it can be made easier by asking someone to share these ideas with
you, to pick a holiday partner, a friend who you think may be going through the
same thing and dialoguing about it. Or, maybe you feel especially blessed and
would like to partner with someone, anyway. Use each other for support.
We must never
underestimate the power of how we use our minds. We can realize that we hold
possibility in our minds, rather than demanding answers from the outside. We
can choose love and joy in as many moments as possible - as often as we can.
And, if we practice it with others - and share our journey with others, we
minister not only to ourselves, but also to others.
Our blessings are not
only in the outside world, represented in physical form and back accounts.
They are right under the surface in our own minds, just a choice away.
Invitation for Congregation to
participate in Mindfulness Practice.....or, you may also choose to sit in quiet
Mindfulness Definition by Thich
Nhat Hahn (adapted)
The energy to here and to witness
deeply everything that happens in the present moment, aware of what is going on
within you and outside of you...and to choose how you use your mind in the
Adapting Thich Nhat Hahn’s
Mindfulness Practice - Say to yourself and breathe with the words. repeat 3-5
Breathing in , I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment.
I know this is a loving moment.
Follow up with the same practice,
but with one word only:
Calming Smiling Present
Moment Loving Moment
Amen. Blessed Be, Salaam, Shalom. Namaste.