Homily given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, September 9, 2018
I’ve been struck lately by the lovely pictures I’ve seen of children heading off to their first day of school. Whether it’s preschool or kindergarten or first grade, or middle school or high school or college, these pictures of smiling faces, of brave and wistful and hopeful faces, they move me so much. This time of year brings these threshold moments. This shift from summer to fall brings this big transition time, new beginnings, and endings too. A time of holding on, and of letting go.
And these transitions, like those photographs, simply ask us to behold them and be present to them, to acknowledge that change is a big deal, that growth happens, whether we wish for it or not. Sometimes it’s gradual, sometimes it’s dramatic, but as they say, shift happens. And we are asked to keep our hearts open, trusting there are gifts and blessings in these changes.
For you who are parents, I want to offer these words from Khalil Gibran, as a prayer and a blessing:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Earlier this week, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found myself remembering an early September day 14 years ago. I’d just completed my three years of divinity school, I’d done my hospital chaplaincy and part-time student ministry. The last big step was a full-time internship. My first day at that church west of Boston, I found myself sitting at my new desk in an unfamiliar office, looking out the window. And the thought came to me: “What if I don’t like it? What if I’ve spent all these years and all this money and all this angst getting ready for ministry, and I don’t like it?”
Some of you, heading off to a new school, or meeting a new teacher, or starting a new job or moving to a new home, or becoming an empty nester, maybe you’ve had this thought too? “What if I don’t like it?”
If you asked asked for advice, you’d probably hear something like, “Hang in there, it will be ok; it will get better over time.” How often have we parents said that? “Soldier on, put your head down, do what you need to do.” And sometimes that’s the right thing to do; part of growth is accepting the fact that adjusting to a new reality is hard, and takes time. We humans are more adaptable than we think we are.
My doubts and fears on that first day didn’t last: I liked it! Actually, I loved it. I still do. But what if you don’t like it? Are you supposed to just bury those feelings and carry on? Too many of us do that.
This month we’ll be reflecting on vocation and calling. There are all kinds of callings, and there’s nothing better than hearing the call that is yours, and following where it leads, living the life that is your own. And how do you do this? You start by listening to your own deepest self, paying attention to what brings you joy, to what you like and what you don’t like. The great teacher and mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”
We are part of a faith tradition that tries to put love and goodness at the center. We trust that people are, basically good at heart. We don’t believe in what’s called original sin. Rather, we try to affirm the goodness that’s in others and in ourselves. So aren’t we compelled to practice this hopeful theology in our own lives? Ray Bradbury said, “Love what you do and do what you love.”
Too many of us grew up with more negative teachings. We were told, “Don’t trust your longings. Don’t celebrate your body. Don’t stick your neck out. Don’t hope for too much.” But is this what we want to teach our children? Is this what we desire for them? Of course not! So we need to practice what we preach, and look for the good within ourselves, and affirm that goodness, and follow where it leads.
So if you find yourself not liking how you are spending your days, please pay attention to that. Don’t just put your head down and power through. Have the courage to name that truth, and explore other possibilities, and ask for help.
The Celtic theologian John Philip Newell says “That which is deepest within us is sacred. What is at the very heart of our being is of God.” If we affirm that at our center there is a depth that is holy and good, then we are compelled to pay attention to our desires and to follow our bliss. To trust that we are here to do what we love, and this is how we will lead happier and more helpful lives. This is how we will help heal and bless our world.
“Life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” Life calls us on. Isn’t it good that we are in this together?