Why are We Here? What are We Doing?

[This post is the homily I had the great privilege of delivering for the three individuals called and ordained to Interfaith Ministry on September 22, 2012, by the Interfaith Congregation for Creative and Healing Ministries.  Thank you and Congratulations, Reverends Bob, Elaine, and Hanna!  ALSO: for another version of this post, please visit my friends at Lumunos, a very special Christian organization, focusing on Call and Relational ministry.  I’m delighted to share that, for the next few months, I’ll be joining the Lumunos blog as a guest!]

 

A few weeks ago I sat with Bob, Elaine and Hanna to talk with them about this day.  I asked them what they were hoping to have conveyed in this segment of the service, and one of them said, “In a nutshell, Lauren, we want you to explain ‘why we are here and what we are doing.’”

GRAND questions!  Why are we here?  What are we doing? 

First, Why are we here?  I have three ideas:

  1. For starters, as family and friends who love you, we’re here to honor and celebrate your sense of clarity.   Any person who comes to know his/her Right Work in this world deserves, at a minimum, recognition and more appropriately still, a ritual to proclaim it and to bless your way forward.
  2. As a spiritual community, we’re here to honor the practice of Interfaith.  I’m using the word, “practice,” very intentionally, because the word, Interfaith and how it is defined carries multiple truths for many people.  As a community, we’re here both to engage with and to celebrate the dynamic tension and stimulus invited through our Interfaith practice.
  3. Also, as individuals within the greater human family, I will boldly suggest we’re here because within each of us, there is a hunger or desire for things to be other than they are; for the Big Picture to look and feel different.

 

A day ago, I fell into a conversation with a handful of women I barely know.  We were reflecting on a local news headline that had us all distressed. Sighing softly and – I thought – inaudibly, I uttered, “We need to do something different.”  The woman across from me, put her hands to her chest, “Oh my gosh; that’s it!  We need to do something different.”  And this segues into the next question…what are we doing?

In Sanskrit, there is a phrase, “Neti; Neti.”  Translated, it means, “Not this; neither that.”  When something isn’t this…and it isn’t that, what remains?  This question actively informs our studies at The Chaplaincy Institute, and our spiritual practices as an Interfaith Congregation.  As a first step, we endeavor to better understand the “this” and the “that,” in their unique wholeness.  For example, we study the core teachings of Christianity, and the core teachings of Sikhism.  We strive to appreciate the light and the shadow imbedded in all the Wisdom Traditions.  And then, as Interfaith Ministers or Chaplains, we venture on, a little further.  Valuing the completeness of two ideas, what happens when we actively lean into the space that’s in-between? 

Photo source: mootee.typepad.com

We all have experience with this concept; most commonly, it appears when we try to resolve a conflict, but it also shows up when humans are trying to do something different.  The work of interfaith ministry is not only about this, nor only about that, but about tending the possibility, as it arises.

I won’t lie: this work is DICEY.  Doing something “different,” means living unrehearsed.  It means responding to uncertainty; it means speaking truth when the stakes are high; it means searching for justice and embodying peace, it means sitting with others and allowing our powerlessness — our inability to fix painful situations — to be the offering of suffice.  Is this work reserved for clergy?  Heck, no!  In these times, it’s all hands on-deck.  On behalf of all species, the human family world-around; our resources, businesses, cultures and support systems all in flux and varying states of innovation and break-down, we are ALL being invited to engage in this practice.  AND, we need support.

And, this is why we’re here and what we’re doing.  Today, Bob, Elaine and Hanna are heeding a deep sense of Call.  Responding to their faithful belief, their trust in the Divine, they are offering themselves as resources of support.  In co-creative practice with the Divine, these three are signing-on to companion and witness the rest of us in the holy, unpredictable patterns of life and death, joy and sorrow, coming and going, growing and grieving.

And on this day, the Interfaith Congregation is both celebrating your Call and recognizing your accomplishments.  Your studies have strengthened you to do this work as authentically as each of you – Bob, Hanna and Elaine – can vulnerably-bravely-resiliently-wisely-and-compassionately muster.

March 2011 Ordination, Laying-On of Hands. Photo: V. Weiland

Each of us, responding to our hunger for greater connectivity, more intimacy, deeper understanding has arrived here today to bless your way forward.  Thank you for your courage; thank you for saying “Yes!;” thank you for inspiring the rest of us to ask if there’s, perhaps, something out there that might just be refreshingly, soothingly, soul-shiftingly different.

To close, I bless you with the words of Rumi and his poem, Always You:

First when I was apart from You, this world did not exist, nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for was always You.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Photo source: ignitionjournal.com

What is the Power of Your Love?

[I delivered the following homily in the summer of 2007 at my Renewing Ceremony.  The ceremony was created as a ritual to both renew my 1999 Ordination vows as an Interfaith minister and profess myself an Eco-chaplain.  Similar to a minister whose Call is healthcare ministry or prison ministry, I had come, through uncomfortable discernment, that my calling is to care – very intentionally – for the Earth and all Her inhabitants.  With my seminary’s endorsement and the blessing of my spiritual communities, I stepped into this new “office” on June 23, 2007. The ceremony began with an invocation by Jane DeCuir, of the Cherokee Metis Nation…]

 

Jane's Invocation

 

In seminary I was taught that Interfaith ritual should begin first by honoring the land on which you are gathered and the people to whom it belongs.  Thank you, Jane, for your presence here today.

I’ve heard that when the Europeans began arriving in America, they confused the Native People by asking them to translate “God” and “nature.”  In many indigenous languages, of course, the two words are the same. It’s the newer languages that felt a need to distinguish the God we know in nature as different from the God we know, perhaps, in the train station.

Looking for God, seeking the Holy in a variety of settings, is the work of a chaplain. Just as the chapel is separate from the church or temple, a chaplain resolves to create sacred space in the complexity of hospitals, war zones, city streets, Wal-Mart… At first glance, these intense places may be perceived as separate and God-less. A chaplain’s call is to bring some light; to prophetically state, “Here, too. No matter how horrid, the Source of our Breath abides in this place, too.”

A year ago, I began to see that my work was changing. Caring for the Earth had become my deep love in ministry. I’ll admit I’ve been making it up as I go, but I’ve been calling the work “Eco-chaplaincy.” I say it with love and dread because, after all, what does it mean when our Earth is so ravaged that it too, like a prison or the Iraqi desert, needs a chaplain?  And what, exactly, does an Eco-chaplain do?

Offering Homily

One of my favorite movies of all times is Mary Poppins. I love how Mary Poppins finds magic in the mundane. I also love her fastidious tendencies. For a good long while now, I’ve wished badly I could snap my fingers and—just like the toys in Jane and Michael’s nursery—have the environment return itself to a lush, forested, healthy planet. InMaryPoppins’ world, it’s fine to use what’s around you and to play with vigor, so long as you put it back…each article in its right place.

I went through a dark, troubling period last Fall. In the world around me, nothing was being returned to its right place. I saw 1-person-per-car idling on the freeway, an endless supply of Styrofoam cups and plastic bags being used once and tossed. Then one day, walking down University Ave., I saw a “SALE” sign in the Goodwill store window!

What does it mean when a thrift store has so much stuff it requires storewide liquidation?!?  We are clearing the Earth’s forests to the tune of 69 acres per minute, so we can drive to the store and buy stuff, to give to Goodwill, so they can send it to the landfill, some of it contaminating our soil and water for a millennium or more.  What is going on???  The whole scene had me feeling desperate, judgmental and angry — a pretty undesirable litany for a minister.

Blessing of Earth Worms

 

I knew that blame was pointless and staying mad felt miserable, so I did what one is wont to do when feeling sad, afraid, and misunderstood: I turned toward what I love. I spent a lot of time alone, turning toward the rocks, the trees, the smells of nature. With some kind coaching and encouragement, I got strong enough to ride my bike into these hills so I could sweat and breathe Mother Earth’s theology. It’s Her theology, after all, that gives birth to all the others. The miracle of our 13 billion year story on this planet is what, for me, truly makes sense.  We are this soil, this water, one great breath, breathing together.

 

As I connected again with all that I am and what I so dearly love, I began to thaw. The anger melted to grief, and the words of Eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy comforted me: “The grief you carry for this world comes from your love for it. It is high time we tasted the power of your love.”

My work as an Eco-chaplain, I’m coming to see, lies in the very heart of this question: What is the power of your love? My guess and my hope is that there are more Eco-chaplains out there.

I’m not at all certain how this work will continue to evolve, but I would like to close by sharing my present intention for what I will do in this role:

What is the Power of YOUR Love?

  • As an Eco-chaplain, I want to remind us all of our True Nature.  We are inextricably connected and linked to everything in this universe.
  • From this awareness, I want to act and serve on behalf of all species, advocating eco-justice.  I want, likeMaryPoppins, to teach that the magic is in the mundane. I want to celebrate the abundance inherent in simplicity.
  • In the face of adversity or despair, of which I know there will be plenty, I want to practice not closing down, but rather, “allowing in.”  I’ve heard this practice described as “poor man’s equanimity.”  With the stakes so high and the enormity of the crisis so deadening, “poor man’s equanimity” frees us to move and act without the guarantee of success.  After all, I have no clue how this story ends. The Divine invitation for each of us is to bring our creativity, our compassion and our Whole Self to each moment … one at a time.
  • And finally, the biggest secret: I want to do this work with joy!  An Eco-chaplain’s work, though wrought with a sense of urgency, is wonderfully Joyful!  I believe this is so because in caring for our interconnection to all and with all, I can clearly recognize—at least for brief, ecstatic moments—that there is no end to our mutual belonging.

If we humans want to live sustainably on this Earth, we have our work cut out for us: BIG time. As an Eco-chaplain and fellow human, my vote is that we get busy. And I invite us, like Mary Poppins, to find the magic in the mundane—to draw deeply from the wellspring of joy and love.

The Divine is ready, willing, awaiting our next act.

What is the power of your love?