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Sunday, March 25, 2012

How to Greet the Day

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Marilyn Pearl, Worship Asociate

How to Greet the Day

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

March 25, 2012


            Byrd Baylor’s book “The Way to Start the Day” (gorgeously illustrated by Peter Parnall) from which we read for the Together Time today was a favorite picture book for my children and me to borrow from the library when they were little. I loved the idea of starting the day as it advises, “Go outside and face the east and greet the sun with some kind of blessing or chant or song that you made yourself and keep for early morning.”

            Although I kissed my kids goodnight with the words, “I’ll see you in the morning light,” I’m sorry to say that we didn’t greet the sun with a song on a regular basis.

            How do you greet the day? I’ll ask you that again later and invite you to tell each other. I intend for this to be a participatory sermon, one in the “telling our stories” series of sermons I launched back in August. Sharing our stories helps to create the bonds of community between us.

            I’ve struggled all my adult life to cultivate an attentive or meditative start to my day. And so this sermon is as much for me as it is for you.

            Surely, I have my morning rituals – but they are focused on a cup of tea, a mostly egg-white omelet, granola and the morning paper. I wouldn’t want to skip the news, so how to make time for attentiveness to nature, the spirit of life, within or without me, at the start of every day? What is the way to greet the day?

            For a while, some years ago, in Massachusetts, I cultivated the practice of pausing on my front stoop as I went out to get the morning paper, stopping to notice the sky, the weather, a bird, the quality of the air, a neighbor walking by. But now we have a dog so he goes out then too and I have to admit that I often whip out my smart phone while Oliver is relieving himself in the bushes and sneak a peak at my email before I go down the steps to fetch the papers. I don’t need anyone to tell me that behavior is ridiculous!

            Even for a minister, or at least for this minister, modern life is not conducive to living an attentive, spiritually-grounded life.

            Although her books have a southwest native feel, Byrd Baylor is not Native American – she’s a descendant of Admiral Byrd – but she’s lived for decades in an adobe house down a long driveway in the Arizona desert near the Mexican border. There are a few solar panels on her roof but she writes her essays and books, some adult/some children’s, on manual typewriters.  She will be 88 this Wednesday, or so I assume since a Google search did not produce her obituary. But what did pop up are news stories about how her place has long been a stopover for ailing immigrants passing through, how she is active in immigration reform organizing and, since 2003, has been allowing the immigrant rescue organization No More Deaths to make a camp on her land for aiding immigrants traversing the desert.

            Further north, the Hoopa Indians in NW California teach their children that all day long, if the sun's out, you have a shadow trailing you, and that it leaves your side at night, so that when you get up in the morning, you must wait until your shadow comes home, before you get up.  Your shadow is what you've held down all day, the part that you wouldn't let live, or be expressed, in your waking hours. So, at night, it goes off to see the world.

            When you go to bed, your shadow says, "Now is my chance. I will go out and explore the world that you wouldn't let me touch all day." And off it goes. The shadow has the freedom to go as far away as it wants to, but it has a tie to you:  you have a hum that only your shadow knows. And it will never disobey you.

            So when you get up in the morning, if you remember to hum, your shadow will come back to you. Even though it doesn't want to. So when you get up, before you go out, give your own little hum, and your shadow will say, "Oh! It's time to go home," and home it comes, to make you whole again.

            A Franciscan sister who recorded this tradition wrote,

            "You are never ready for the day until you have taken time to sing the song of your own shadow.

            Sometimes people say, 'I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed—I think I'll go back and start over.' They've forgotten to hum!

            Or some people get up at seven, and at ten o'clock they're still saying, 'Don't mind me, I'm not all here yet.'  They've forgotten to hum! So there is a land of wisdom in remembering to get your self all here every day. Hum your song, so your heart and spirit come together." (Sister Maria Jose Hobday in Changing Light, J. Ruth Gendler, Ed., p. 84].  

            In a moment I will invite you to turn to someone near you, preferably not someone with whom you live, and if you are willing, share your response to the question: How do you greet the day? If you wish not to speak, link up with two other people, so you can be a listener. In your pair or trio, take a moment to think and decide who will speak first. Each person will have three minutes to speak and I will sound the gong at the beginning and end of each three-minute segment. When it is your turn to listen, please just listen, no questions or comments so that the other person may speak without interruption.

            So now please find your pair, or triple. Gong. Three minutes. Gong. Three minutes. Gong.

            People who live close to the land like Byrd Baylor, the Hoopa Indians, and the peoples of the ancient religious texts of the world – Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist –

as well as the Qur’an, which arose in a later more urbane setting, all seem to have an affinity for the rhythms of the day.  They teach the importance of daily prayers (not limited to mornings) and meal-time rituals. Don’t you think we modern folk need them as well, as much or more?

            While my children were growing up, we did not have a daily prayer-time, but we did have a weekly ritual. It was on Friday nights. I was inspired by the Shabbat rituals of our Jewish friends to create a Unitarian Universalist version, so that there would be at least one night of the week when my husband would be sure to come home from work in time for dinner with the children.

            I planned a child-friendly Friday night menu that the children would like (often it was home-made pizza, and they made their own), always including dessert, which we didn’t often have the other nights. I put a white tablecloth on the kitchen table, and a candelabra given to us by my mother-in-law in the center. We held hands, lit the candles, sang together a song we sang at our UU church every Sunday, shared a time of silence, and then we each told something from the week for which we were grateful – a prayer of gratitude. Then we ate. Such a ritual brought us together at the end of a scattered week. Those dinners were usually more relaxed and fun than our dinners the rest of the week.

            When our kids became adolescents and seemed to need to appreciate themselves more, we added to the ritual that each of us was to share something from the week of which we were proud. By time they were in high school, and not always home on Friday nights, the tradition faded. When I complained, their refrain would be “Mom, we’re not Jewish, you know!”            

            And when they were both off to college, it died out completely. Though Don and I do sometimes hold hands at the dinner table, take a deep breath, and share silence for a moment, before eating.

            Recent scientific research has been supporting the value of mealtime attentiveness rituals. Just recently, a study [reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Am J Clin Nutr 2011; 93:308–13)] found that “people who ate lunch at a computer had a bigger snack 30 minutes later than those who ate without distractions. Furthermore, the distracted diners had a more faulty recollection of their meal and actually felt less satisfied afterward. It is no surprise then that this combination of factors can lead to weight gain.”           

            The report on this study [Brigham and Women’s Hospital March 2012 e-newsletter] wrote, “A key strategy for breaking this cycle is to practice mindful eating. This means eating with awareness. This encompasses not only being aware of what is on your plate, but also being cognizant of the entire eating experience. The ultimate goal is to savor every mouthful without overindulging.

            Some practical ways to introduce mindfulness while eating include:

            Continuing, “Remember, it will take some planning, patience, and practice to move from mindless to mindful eating. But the benefits are many, including optimal digestion and metabolism, taste satisfaction, food enjoyment, and weight management.”

            So it’s not just the sages of the world’s religions but your doctor, too, recommending mealtime rituals. Perhaps you could sing “Spirit of Life” and light a small chalice, and express your hopes or gratitudes for the day before eating.

            As for bedtime rituals, the great contemporary theologian Oprah Winfrey (!) advises that we name five blessings of the day, five good things that happened, or five things for which are thankful, before closing our eyes at the end of the day to welcome the dark and, like the Hoopa Indians say, give our shadows a chance to roam.

            Then there are the weekly rituals, such as this from the Hebrew Scriptures, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy… you shall not do any work.” The existence of this commandment says to me that workaholism was an issue even in ancient times.

            The Bible doesn’t tell us to rest for the day; it says God rested for one day out of the seven, but tells us only “not to work” on that day not that we can only rest. Keeping the Sabbath holy is a routine of resting from work so that we might rejuvenate ourselves.

On our Sabbath morning, we Unitarian Universalists come together for worship. The service gives us space and time in which to sing a song to greet the day or hum our shadows home, if earlier we had forgotten. It gives us space and time in which to collect all the parts of ourselves back together, to deepen our commitments, and re-energize ourselves with hope before the start of the new week. Rhythms and rituals within the service help these to happen.

            And in the Sabbath afternoon and evening, we might visit with friends or family in the afternoon, be outdoors, play a sport, visit a museum, get some exercise, cook or bake for enjoyment, read a good book, build or create something with our hands or heart. Jewish law prohibits handling money on the Sabbath, so I guess that means: no shopping!

            Maybe humans have struggled since time immemorial to balance work and play, survival and spirit?

            Any of these daily and weekly rhythms and routines and rituals give us space and time in which to collect all the parts of ourselves back together, to become whole again, to be present in the moment, to pay attention, to begin to become who we are called to be.

            As days become weeks, weeks become months, and months become the seasons of the year… the daily practices of paying attention build our capacity to live the years of our lives with joy and meaning.

            From how we greet the day to how we eat our meals and end the day to how we note the changing seasons… spring began officially this past week even if it did start very early this year… let us notice and appreciate the rhythms of our lives.

In the hymn to come, we will sing of the seasons’ laughter, #51 in the grey hymnal.


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