The Reverend Peter Gomes of blessed memory, tells us Easter is not just about Jesus, it is about you. He has claimed his new life, now is your chance to claim yours. Time for you to make your way from the empty tomb to sunrise, to have a change of mind and heart, a transformation, to live and die by standards that defy the standards of the world.
Reading One: Matthew 6:25-29 King James Version
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Reading Two: Camas Lilies, by Lyn Ungar
Consider the liles of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
“Consider the lilies of the field,” says Lyn Ungar. Feel the longing to be awashed by beauty. Know that this yearning for meaning and fulfillment is a given in your very being. That the very heart of your spirituality is this connection with beauty within and the beauty beyond. Know that even in your sleep you blossom. Today, I invite you to let this Easter be for you a resurrection of who you are in the fullness of your being. Let this yearning, seep into every cell, relax every muscle, be the compass setting of your heart. Ask yourself, “what of my rushed and useful life? What if I set it all down, papers, plans appointments, leaving only a note: Gone to the fields to be lovely, Be back when I’m through blooming.” Imagine being a lily. Opening, dependably with sunrise. Growing, surprisingly in new places. Spreading beauty with your roots. Blooming through the time, connecting the generations.
What does this mean for us to bloom? Psychologist Frank Martela, did some research and found to blossom or find meaning, you need to create three interconnected yet separate qualities in your life. First, you need to know a coherence that comes when what you know is true inwardly is reflected in the way you are in the world. A knowing that your life makes sense. Coherence is grounded in an inner life that serves as a guide in times of stress and change to create vision, one that orients you towards a future, gives you a sense of purpose. Which is the second quality you need for blossoming. Purpose. The connective tissue between the two, your coherence and your purpose, is the third quality you need, your significance, a sense that your life is worth living. Something you feel is true when you are connected to, and a vital part of, something larger then yourself.
But the truth is, we as a society make it hard to manifest these qualities. Especially significance. So many people, especially our youth, are seeking their sense of worth. Last week David Brook wrote in his New York Time’s column, that from where he sits “it is clear things are not in good shape, that our problems are societal, that the whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis. That we’ve taken the lies of hyper individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live.” Lies like, “life is an individual journey , and “I alone can make myself happy, and “you have to find your own truth. Come up with your own answers to life’s ultimate questions! The problem is, he says, that unless your name is Aristotle, you probably can’t do it.” Most of us wind up with a few vague moral feelings but no moral clarity or sense of purpose.
Rev. Peter Gomes, the minister for Harvard University for years, now deceased, witnessed in the 1990s the beginnings of the spiritual and emotional unrest that David Brooks describes now as a crisis. How young people, in particular were realizing that the dogma of a good-life,- successful career, material wealth- wasn’t all that it was made out to be. A lack of coherence, that was causing anxiety. Rev. Gomes was the commencement speaker at a posh Manhattan girl school, back then, and he picked as his text, the wonderful passage from our reading, where Jesus asks, “isn’t life more than food, the body more than clothing?” This was not a hostile question, for Jesus. He saw the worry on his disciples’ faces. Rev. Gomes sensed the same anxiety in his young audience, and just as Jesus did, he invited them “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet their Heavenly father provides for them.“ He ended the same way Jesus did, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Rev. Gomes sensed the girls liked it, but all were not pleased. At the reception, the father of one girl came up and said coldly, “it was anxiety that got my daughter into this school, it was anxiety that kept her here, it was anxiety that got her into Yale, and it will be anxiety that will keep her there, and it will be anxiety that will get her a good job.”
Sadly, I know what this dad is talking about. Sometimes I think anxiety is what gets me going in the morning. And if I told you the numbers of how many people feel this way, it might just make you more anxious.
So, instead I’ll ask again,
“what of your rushed and useful life? Imagine setting it all down— papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
There is one more cultural lie that may prevent you from doing this. A lie that says you have to stay busy to be of worth. This one is hard to expel from our psyches. But please know this lie may impact your ability to cultivate coherence, significance and purpose. Research has found that your busyness, depletes your ability to care for another. That your hyper focus keeps you from accessing the part of your brain responsible for moral decisions. You will over time, says the research, lack the inner resources to balance your weariness with the need to connect and help others and when that happens your ability to see beauty, your own, and others, will suffer.
To break this pattern, in my own life, I ask myself when I meet with people, what would it be like to see this person whole? A question that creates a pause in my mind and space in my heart to behold, in stunning relief, their beauty. A beauty, that can’t help but open my heart. Philosopher Elaine Scarry, writes, “the most obvious thing in our surroundings which is an occasion for connection, or “un-selfing” as she calls it, is beauty. Seeing a kestrel hover, causes the cluster of feelings about self, anxiety, any brooding, fall away, creating space to be in service of someone else.” For me, my moment of beauty lately has been with an older man in my neighborhood, who with the coming of spring is walking daily in the park, with his old dog, both keeping pace for each other. They are beautiful.
How do you make space for beauty? Where do you go, to create your inner sanctuary free from anxiety, a place your moral imagination can grow? When do you go to feel the spirit of the trees in the wind, hear the quiet rustle of the breath of life, feel the ground beneath your feet, to feel connected and to trust what you may call Spirit of life, God, mystery, or maybe just the wind. When do you close your eyes and listen? How do you remember there are good things in the world and you yourself are one of them?
Knowing your goodness, your significance, your beauty is at the heart of living a good life. A knowing that will enable you to find coherence in the disruptions; and stay grounded in your significance. A goodness that you witness on behalf of one another, a moment of witnessing that changes you. A change, says David Brooks that is the very beginning of a much-needed cultural revolution. For he is right, something systemic is going on. One in five girls is diagnosed with depression. Mental health among young people is at a crisis level. We live increasingly in a world that makes it OK to be without a village, to be ‘on your own,’ to eat alone with no real connection to the land or the naturalness of instinctually caring for one another. A world where it is normal to pass many days without a dance, song, or a kiss from the wind. We forget that in times of stress, our bodies need groups. We need sacred space and time to center into great love. We need to know we belong. We need to be taken personally, not impersonally. We need this and give this to one another on a mind, body, spirit level.
One of my favorite stories tells of how a young man named Jeff did this for another and in doing so discovered his significance-that his life was worth living.
When Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen first met Jeff he had osteogenic sarcoma of the right leg and he was an understandably angry. He had been a high school and college athlete and up until the time of his diagnosis, his life had been good. Beautiful women, fast cars, personal recognition. Two weeks after his diagnosis, they removed his right leg above the knee. This surgery that saved his life, he thought ended his life. He no longer knew coherence. Playing ball was a thing of the past, and he began drinking, doing drugs, refusing to go to school, and ignoring his friends. Dr. Remen gave him a drawing pad and asked him to draw a picture of his body. He drew a crude sketch of a vase. Running through the center, he drew a deep crack, and went over and over the crack with a black crayon, ripping the paper. It hurt to watch.
He began to take notice of stories in the paper of others in accidents who lost legs or limbs and he talked endlessly to Remen on their behalf. ”No one” he says “understands them.” Remen finally asked, “What are you going to do about it?” So began Jeff’s new purpose, visiting these patients in the hospital. One day he visited a young woman who had lost her mother, her sister, and her cousin to breast cancer. Another sister was in chemotherapy. At twenty-one, she had both of her breasts removed. He visited her on a hot midsummer day, wearing shorts, his artificial leg in full view. Deeply depressed, she lay in bed with her eyes closed refusing to look at him. He tried everything he knew to reach her, saying things that only another person with an altered body would dare to say. He made jokes, even got angry. She did not respond. All the while a radio was softly playing rock music. Frustrated, he finally stood, and in a last effort to get her attention, he unstrapped the harness of his artificial leg and let it drop to the floor with a loud thump. Startled, she opened her eyes and saw him for the first time. Encouraged he began to hop around the room snapping his fingers in time to the music and laughing out loud. After a moment she burst out laughing too. “Fella” she said, if you can dance, maybe I can sing.” The last time Dr. Remen saw the young man, she showed him his vase drawing, he said “it’s not finished.” He took the drawing and drew yellow lines radiating from the crack to the very edges of the paper. He was smiling, he knew his significance. He put his finger on the crack and said, “this is where the light comes through.”
We live in this promise of healing and abiding love. We make visible our cracks, and tell each other we are valued, beautiful and loved. This is the heart of our spirituality, the ways in which we seek connection with the goodness within and the goodness beyond. That our yearning for meaning and fulfillment is a given to our very being. So, this Easter, follow this yearning, reach to its source, to your creation, to your created-ness, and say if you will, that this yearning, this reaching, this need is no accident, but a reflection of the reality from which you come. A place of coherence from which we each draw our power and our purpose to challenge the lies of this world, and to give the gift of our significance, our unique blossoming. May it be so for each of us here today, and for those who have yet to grace the doors of this sanctuary.
*Frank Martela and Michael Steger, “The three meanings of meaning in life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose and significance,” The Journal of Positive Psychology” Jan. 2016
*Dr. Sirini Pillay, Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind *https://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/20190419/brooks-five-lies-our-culture-tells *Peter Gomes, The Good Book
*Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just
*Dr. Naomi Rachael Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom