We Contain Multitudes: A Reflection on Integrity

Reading: “Walk Slowly” by Donna Faulds:

It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that, something in me settles, soften, makes space for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgement drops to a whisper and I remember again that life isn’t’ a relay race; that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what we were born for. As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I’m going; that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breath , and be, and walk slowly into the mystery.

A Reflection “Awakening”

I recently listened to Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein, talk about the most liberating teaching of the Buddha. Joseph introduces the teaching by sharing a moment of insight experienced by the painter Kandinsky who when looking very closely at Monet’s painting of haystacks noticed he only could see brush strokes, where there were once haystacks, and a world of color and form opened before him. Joseph says, that our image of self is like a haystack. We are a pattern of brush strokes that the Buddha called five aggregates:

1- Our body sensations-moments of hearing, and touching
2- Our feelings
3- Our perceptions
4- The objects of the mind,
5- Knowing or consciousness.

Our consciousness acts like a mirror and we see -each of the five aggregates arising, and then passing away. With this mirror-like awareness, we understand that what arises is selfless and impersonal. This teaching of the Buddha’s, the teaching of non self is liberating because when we cling to any one of these five aggregates,we can get stuck, and in our limited sense of self, experience suffering. Joseph suggests we check in withourselves from time to time, to see which of the 5 aggregates, or brush strokes is dominating and simply in therecognition, let go, and enter back into fullness of awareness and the wholeness of our integrity.Let us in the spaciousness of breath, breath in and breath out, noticing in this moment what is arising, and letting go…silence.

Homily: “Integrity: We Contain Multitudes”

Last week I turned sixty, and as an official elder now, I find myself focusing in a new way on wholeness and healing. Wondering how to bring my integrity, the fullness of who I am to the needs of this day. I find the Buddhist understanding of consciousness as a mirror an expansive one. I imagine the house of mirrors at an
amusement park and the words of Walt Whitman’s comes to mind, “we contain multitudes.” Words that call me and call us to reclaim the fullness of who we are from the limitations we place on ourselves. And I am also acutely aware especially that in this time of racial justice revolution, how so many people are limited not only
by their sense of self-knowing, but by how our social and cultural systems define and perceive them. How people of color are reduced to criminals, gender and sexual non-binary people, reduced to deviants, women to , bitches, large bodied people -fat, immigrants- invaders, differently abled-handicapped. I imagine you could probably personalize this list.

Cornel West asks, “How shall integrity face oppression?” Answering his own question he says, “We live in an age in which lies are ubiquitous. [And so] integrity has to do with what is the quality of your courage and your willingness to bear witness radically against the grain even if you have to sacrifice something…”

I want to show Kaela Settle singing in a behind-the-scenes video made while producing the moving the Great Showman that shows this quality of this courage and the importance of those that bear witness. The people watching are a green dot panel who are going to decide if the film gets the funding its needs.

Can you sense her experience of liberation? What did she need to sacrifice? She says in an interview, “the problem with that song is, it was too close to who I really am. So when I was first given that song, I fought tooth and nail to not sing it.” But she found the courage to step out beyond the limitation of learned shame,
to bear witness to all who she is. Can you recall a “this is me” moment that took courage, and who did you reach out to hold your hand, and who celebrated your emergence?

Twentieth century Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams wrote “that religion, as all human endeavors, flourish when integrity of self is the foundation and when that quality has a positive and critical relation to larger integrities, both social and metaphysical.” When Congresswoman Alexandra Octavio Cortez responded to a particular incident of harassment she experienced at the hands of another Representative she used that experience to talk about a much larger pattern of sexism, sexual harassment, and misogynist mistreatment. You could see and feel in her words, in her eloquence , and in her self possession how she was motivated by fury to reveal a shaming and stigmatizing system of oppression. She harnessed her anger to expose the perpetrators of harm, and mirror for them the magnitude of their misdeeds framed in the foundational integrity of the sacred and universal relationships of daughter, parent, and child. She harnessed her fury into an argument for apology that acknowledges and repairs the harm done not just to her but to all women and in so doing restoring the dignity of all who have been similarly harmed.

Let’s watch:
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez responds on the house floor to a verbal assault by representative Ted Yoho

Can I see a show of hand of people who felt restored by this one courageous act?- one Audrey Lorde would call an “act of corrective cultural surgery.”

There is an indigenous teaching that reminds us how we cultivate and nurture the integrity of our relationship with our self and with larger integrities. A teaching I learned after the Gail, the daughter of Barbara and Warren Henderson, both of beloved memory, told me about a book written by Hyemeyohsts Storm of the Plains Indian people. entitled Seven Arrows , a book that Gail said was a favorite of her mothers. Serendipitously, at the heart of the book is the story of jumping mouse, a story I had just read at worship. In the story, the mouse gives up his eyesight to the buffalo, and to the wolf and becomes an eagle as he arrives on his journey to the sacred land. The teaching, says Heyemehost is that sometimes we are like mice and can only see the small up close things. To understand the perspective of another being we need to travel if only with our hearts The story is a foundational teaching of what the Plains people call the Medicine Wheel, or the Circle of the Universe.

Hyemeyohsts writes, “This circle, the medicine wheel can best be understood if you think of it as a mirror in which everything is reflected, and -each person is a mirror to every other person. “The teachers say,” writes Hyemeyohsts, “that all things within this universe know of their harmony with every other thing, and know how to give away oneself with the exception of humans. Of all the universe’s creations, it is we alone who do not begin our lives with knowledge of this great harmony. But the mirrors in the universe teach us.”

Last week I participated in a training grounded in this teaching and gifted to the trainers by the indigenous Mauri people of New Zealand. A practice that steps beyond the default shaming of our cultural that equates any harm done with the doer, and instead reintegrates those impacted by conflict and shame back into
community by creating circles that invite each person to describe the harm done, and what they feel about it.

Each are asked to define the major issues and create a plan the repairs the harm done and restores relationships. I smile just imagining the House of Representatives engaging in this process because pretty much the whole body was impacted by this incident. What a game changer. A game changer for us and a way for us to practice our covenant, the foundational integrity of our religion. A practice to celebrate our multitudes, you, me and who we are together. A practice by which we can give away the abundance of our gifts.

The Israeli poet, Zelda, In her poem, Each of Us Has A Name, makes it clear that integrity is a matter not so much of holding tight to your one true name, but remembering and embracing the many names given to us by the experiences of our lives. She writes.

Each of us has a name given by God
and given by our parents…
Each of us has a name given by the mountains
and given by our walls…
Each of us has a name given by our sins
and given by our longing…

How have these universal human experiences “named you” In closing, I want to share how my experiences has named me as written by my daughter on my 60th birthday, it is too beautiful not to share.

Sixty years are inches in the life of a glacier, but in that time you have moved just as many mountains. Shaped just as many worlds, I see you in the landscape of my own. I pull compassion from the deep waters and know you have put them there. I inhale resiliency from the pine forest and know you sowed them. I danced the familiar rhythms of the earth beneath me. You are pulled to grace like water to gravity. Remember in your resolute journey, that your path is groundbreaking and you have carried many.
Remember that behind you there are stunning valleys and fertile soil, and ahead are rivers to greet you, ancient earth to guide you, and open space to expand.

Let us rest for a moment is silence.

Benediction. “There is a Power” by Tom Schade

My friends,
There is a power at work in the universe.
It works through human hands,
but it was not made by human hands.
It is a creative, sustaining, and transforming power
and we can trust that power with our lives
[and with our ministries].
It will sustain us whenever we take a stand on the side of love;
whenever we take a stand for peace and justice;
whenever we take a risk. Trust in that power.
We are, together, held by that power.