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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Love, Still. That is All.

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert; with Worship Associate Jonathan Mawdsley; Director of Multigenerational Religious Exploration Dayna Edwards; and the Choir


 

Love, still. That is All.

A service led by the Rev. Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

April 19, 2015

 

OPENING WORDS

I think most of you know that I recently regretfully decided, because of the unpredictability of my stroke recovery, that it’s best for me and the congregation that I resign as your minister. But, this is not my fond farewell service. The farewell will be on June 21st. This is my thank you service, as you will soon be able to tell from this story.

When I was in the acute rehab hospital, where I stayed for eight weeks, one of the staff asked me, "how do you explain your rapid recovery from your stroke?"  I remember inviting her to come see the walls of my room which, by the end of my stay were just covered, with lovely cards – many of them from you all, some even homemade, and to see the windows taped with brightly crayoned on wax paper "stained glass" chalices by some of you children, - and the windowsills, lined with beautiful plants and flowers in vases - many of them from you, as well.

And I told her about how my adult children, husband, siblings, and longtime friends came, even from far away, to stay with me in the hospital. I never felt lonely because in the evenings and down-times between exercises, and during meals, I was always with someone who knew and loved me, and gave me encouragement to face the challenges unafraid.

I told her that I had felt lifted up by all of that support and in moments of discouragement it helped me to keep going and to work hard, and not to give in to my fears.

So, in conclusion, I told the person, that it was because of love that I was recovering so quickly. And much if it came from you!

I will never forget that you have loved me so well! Thank you!

Hymn #1010      We Give Thanks              by Wendy Luella Perkins

SERMON

Almost six years ago, in June 2009, only a few weeks before I moved here from Massachusetts so I could become your minister, and so my husband could take a position at the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland-College Park, my mother became suddenly, severely ill with a disease that soon caused her to become completely blind. My five siblings and I felt troubled, overwhelmed, so very sad, aggrieved. I asked myself then, what is the purpose of all her suffering? It came to me that the purpose, or benefit, of suffering is to elicit love. So, I then realized, the purpose of her suffering is to elicit our love for her. I then knew that I wanted to be an instrument of that love, and we all have tried to be that for her ever since.

A year and a half later, I was eating supper with her near here, in her assisted-living dining hall. As usual, there were flowers in the little vase on her table. They looked especially fresh, so I lifted the vase to my nose to find out if they had any aroma. The carnations certainly did, sweet and fragrant.

"Oh, Mom," I said to her, "these carnations in the little vase on your table smell so fresh. It reminds me of when I was a young girl and Dad ushered at church. The ushers always wore a carnation for a boutonniere, remember?”

"Oh, yes, I do," she said. I replied, "I've loved their fragrance ever since." 

"Here, you smell them." And I lifted the vase near her nose. "I don’t smell it," she said. I lifted it closer, so that her nose was in a carnation, literally. "I don’t smell it," she said again. "Oh, Mom, you can’t smell it?!?" She shook her head, no.

I returned the vase to the center of the table, more troubled by this revelation than she seemed to be. Her attention moved elsewhere.

Maybe it’s just as well she can’t see the flowers that are always on her table, I said to myself bitterly. How awful. To be blind. To be losing her ability to make new and to keep old memories. And, also, to lose her sense of smell? I felt upset the rest of the visit and all the way home.

While meditating the next morning, though, I had an insight. I discerned a new truth about suffering, and the transforming power of love.

First, I recalled back to the time soon after my mother first became blind and was very, very ill, when it came to me that the purpose of her suffering is to elicit love from her family, especially her children, and friends, especially her church friends.

Having recalled that earlier insight, during my meditation time, it came to me that she is not suffering as much from her losses as I am now. Whether it’s a spiritual kind of acceptance, or not, it didn’t seem to faze her that she couldn’t smell the flowers, but it hit me hard. So, if the purpose of suffering is to elicit love and I’m suffering more now, then I should love myself more. I felt my anxiety and pain subside at once. How simple:  If I am suffering, love myself more.

There's the transforming power of love.

If you are suffering, and especially if you suffer as you care for someone else, I hope my simple insight will lighten your burden:  Love and care for yourself. 

Just recently my mother said, "But I don't FEEL 86! Am I really that old??" How many of you tend to feel younger than your years?? 

I have a hunch that the common feeling of being younger than our years originates in our earliest feelings of being loved. Somehow, those feelings are more present to us than the state of our bodies or minds in any given moment. That's because, so goes my hunch, love connects us to our younger selves more deeply than our bodies do. Bodies change; they grow, age, and then diminish.

In contrast, feeling loved resonates deeply, in our souls, if you will, especially if began at our birth.  Love, in my experience, and in my belief, never dies; it outlives life itself.

There's the transforming power of love.

What about when suffering makes us feel older than our years? I am 62. Sometimes now, when I view myself as if from the outside, I feel older than 62, probably because I never expected to be this disabled this young. I expected to be as robust as my mother was at age 80, when she finally retired, and promptly became so sick. I regret to have to admit it, but it wasn't that long ago that I would have viewed somebody who moves as slowly as I do now as OLD! Even ELDERLY!

But, even so, now if I view myself from the inside out, I still feel young, and I think it is because I still feel well-loved, connecting me to my earliest experiences of love. 

There's the transforming power of love.

When I was in the acute rehab hospital, where I stayed for eight weeks after my 10 days in the ICU at Holy Cross Hospital, I was fortunate -as you heard in the Opening Words- to make early, rapid recovery, much of which I attributed to the great love I’d felt from my family, long-time friends, this congregation, neighbors, colleagues, and even members of my former churches, with whom I had not maintained relationships after resigning, in order that their new ministers have the space to become their minister and for you all to become the focus of my pastoral attention.

There was also a biological reason for my rapid recovery in those early weeks. My body was reabsorbing the blood from the hemorrhage in my brain that caused the stroke, and so new neural connections were being established. These made it possible for me to start to swallow and chew again and to sit without falling over to the right, to control bodily functions and to talk, smile, and read and, later, to regain the ability to move my left leg a little.

So, in light of the neurobiological change, did all the love really make any difference? I believe it did. If I had felt abandoned after my stroke, I think anxiety and fear and grief would have gotten in the way of the neurobiological healing. I wouldn't be surprised if scientists discover that a sense of well-being contributes to brain recovery whereas anxiety gets in its way. Our bodies are amazing and the systems in them are complexly interconnected!  

So, you see, I believe in, and have recently experienced, love's transforming power. And, I humbly and heartfully thank you for your part in that!

As many of you know from my letter of resignation, the rate of recovery has slowed down in recent months. Does it imply that I'm receiving less love now? No, I think it's because the blood is receding more slowly and new neural connections are being made more slowly now as a result.

And, with the passage of time since my stroke, I feel less in need of demonstrations of love. Also, I really enjoy the alone-time I now have, and the increased time I have with my husband, and the meditation practice we are finally, slowly, nurturing together. Just the fact that we are both still alive and still love each other seems so much more precious than it did to us the day of my stroke, a year ago yesterday.

The man known in the Christian scriptures as Paul, a Jewish follower of Jesus and great organizer of the Jesus Movement, wrote in a letter to the Christians in Corinth, "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. And now faith, hope, and love abide; and the greatest of these is love." 

I cannot give you my faith, or my hope, though I can, and have, given you my love.

You cannot give me your faith, or your hope, but you can, and have, given me your love. Thank- you!

Love has the transforming power. Amen.

Hymn #1004      Busca el Amor   by Salvador Cardenal Barquero

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