Homily given by Clare Fortune-Lad, June 10, 2017.
I come from a family of happy criers. We trace it back to my Grandpa Bobby, who used to just gaze across the lunch table at my Grandma Lou, tears streaming down his face. It seems that I, too, have recently joined this club, and I really love my newfound ability to just weep with joy when the time is right. I love how in-the-moment it lets me be and how connected it helps me feel to the Mystery.
“The Mystery?!” you might ask [look around behind you], “What mystery?” As we prepare our Spirit Play Classroom for our 3-6 year-olds this fall, we’ve talked a lot about the Mystery. That curriculum sometimes refers to “The Spirit of Love and Mystery that some people call God.” But, we’ve found that to be...a bit of a mouthful. Instead, we’re simply changing that line in the stories to be simply, “the Mystery.”
I find this language really helpful, even thinking about the mystery of church itself: what brings you all here each week, and what makes you want to stay. A.J. Swoboda writes about church as a mystery in his book, “A Better Metaphor for the Church.” He says:
“We do not enter a mystery because of what it gives us or what services are provided for us...We simply enter it. And by entering into it, stuff happens way below the surface that neither you, me, or the weird person next to you at greeting time can put into words or rationality. It’s a mystery.”
I’ve noticed that one of the many pieces of the puzzle to this mystery called church is that many of us seem to come here on Sundays, in part, to feel joy. Sometimes, sure, it’s that full-on Pumpkin Potluck or Living Nativity Joy. But other times it’s a more pragmatic joy that acknowledges the hard stuff and the fact that some of it is simply never going to go away, yet leans into joy anyway.
One early Thursday morning a few months ago, I was having one of the very hardest days. My hopes had been completely and intensely dashed, and I had no idea what kind of path forward was going to be possible for me. But, I ventured out into the pouring rain to practice my jumpshot at the Y. A few minutes later, a family from our church walked onto the court and, I promise not to embarrass anyone by using names, but the mom squealed very loudly at this happy coincidence. An immediate game of “Horse” ensued, and then a delightful game of 2 on 2, and soon a game of 5 on 5 with a bunch complete strangers that probably spanned six decades or more. This quickly put the goofiest smile on my face because, how simple was this? It was the Mystery, hard at work behind the scenes of a world that was doing its best to break me, but could not.
Since Winter 2017, I’ve been calling these kind of moments “Joy as Resistance.” Calls to “Resist” are everywhere in this new world – we are organizing, marching, calling our representatives, grasping for reason and purpose in an unprecedented time. And, the longer we live through the chaotic pain of this era, the more important it is for us to resist by really feeling joy when we can. Because if we can’t stop and “listen for the song that is trying to break through,” (as Jason Shelton says), that’s when the darkness has won and injustice can walk all over us.
I see Joy as Resistance constantly around here. You heard it in Erika’s love for our kids just now. I hear it in the ebullient choir warm-ups first thing on Sunday mornings. I see it on the Sanctuary rug where Reverend Frank gives pony rides during Play Church, fearless in the face of flying stuffed animals. I see it on the faces of our young people and their Religious Education teachers alike after an especially invigorating debate about the divine or a morning of painting tree branches and celebrating spring.
One thing I learned from being yoru DRE for the past two years is that we adults do not have a monopoly on hard lives and obstacles to joy. UUCH kids really know how to hold a safe space for one another to tell their difficult truths. And witnessing this love is a joy I know I will carry for a long time.
Speaking of monopolies, I don’t want our young people to have a monopoly on the joys of learning and exploring faith here at church. This is why Frank, myself, and a small group of congregants are working on better institutionalizing our Lifespan Faith Formation offerings for next year. You may have also heard this referred to as “Adult RE.”
Come September, we’ll be trying out what we’re calling “Third Wednesdays” – and yes, there will be childcare! All are invited to gather right here at 6 pm on the third Wednesday of the month for a brief Vespers service and a simple dinner followed by several options for breakout sessions throughout the building. These will often link to our monthly worship theme, with programming focused on topics like the history of our church, exploring big theological questions, learning about spiritual practices, expressing ourselves through art, and on and on. We want to provide a robust range of offerings that help you to connect with one other as well as to the Mystery. There will be laughter, and now you know that as long as I’m there, there will be tears as well.
And hey, have you heard about our UUCH Summer Read? Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup is a book Frank and I both adore. We hope many of you will read it this summer and want to discuss it with fellow parishioner on the Third Wednesday in October. It’s a memoir by a UU Minister working as the chaplain of the Maine Warden Service…delving into excruciating pain, and encountering joy and the Mystery where she least expects it. Ask Frank if you want to borrow one of his many copies!
As I think of the good work we do here, I find myself eager to see what we’ll do together next. In September, and a year from now, and beyond that and even beyond that. As Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann sung, “There’s a new world coming, and it’s just around the bend. There’s a new world coming. This one’s coming to an end.”
Blessed Be, and Amen.