Trusting the Other Side of All This

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 02/22/2015

A couple of weeks ago I was looking through the newsletter put out by the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship and saw an excerpted sermon that grabbed my attention . The minister, Ruth MacKenzie from Minneapolis, spoke of a book she had recently read by the poet Mark Nepo . Rev. MacKenzie reported being surprised to learn from this poet something new, a new perspective, on, of all things, the hatching of baby chicks.

Listen, at this time of year, I use my imagination to make myself believe that there is still such a thing as spring, so let’s do that now: Think about baby chicks. Awww! So yellow and fluffy! They’re real and they’re coming, they’re probably in eggs right now waiting to hatch! Hooray!

Well, hooray for us, but apparently, not so much for the chick. Rev. MacKenzie wrote about her learning about why chicks hatch:
In the moments before birth the small hatchling has eaten all of its food, and its growing body presses against every contour and curve of the shell. There is no more room. There is no more food. The chick hatches because its body is painfully cramped inside the world of the egg, and it is starving.

There is so much discomfort that the chick is driven to peck its way into whatever is on the other side of the world, whatever is on the other side of safety, because there is nothing else to do and still survive. The world literally breaks apart. The chick eats bits of its own shell, and its body squeezes through the emerging cracks.

Eek. That’s a little different from the springtime image I was trying to conjure up a minute ago, which involved being cute and fluffy and warm, following mom in a big line of brothers and sisters, and getting to enjoy some sunshine and little shoots of grass. That’s all on the other side of the shell, though, I guess. After The Great Hatch.

Let’s imagine being on the inside of the shell for a minute, rather than the outside. Can you imagine how frightening it would be to realize that your world no longer works for you, at all? Can you imagine what it would be like to be starving, literally starving, and to be so crowded you can’t move a muscle, and despite the fact that you have no idea what could possibly happen next you do know that everything has to change and it has to change Right Now, or else there will be no more you to stay or go.

You force your world to change, you leap out into something brand new, you actually destroy the place you used to call home, because to stay where you are is suddenly impossible. Can you imagine what that would be like? Can you imagine how scared you’d feel?

I bet there are many of us in this room who know exactly how scared you’d feel because we have done this exact thing.

I bet there are many in this room who found themselves in situations where there was no room and no food, maybe not literally but maybe so, and certainly so metaphorically. I bet there are many in this room who realized that what used to be home and safe and known could no longer sustain them, and so they broke that home up and ate their way out of it, and by doing so fell into something completely new. Mark Nepo, the poet who was referenced, apparently wrote, “Once everything it has relied on falls away, the chick is born. It doesn’t die, but falls into the world.”

Actually, every single one of us was once literally born in this way, leaving behind a warm place that slowly grew too crowded. Every single one of us endured a very confusing and rough process in order to emerge, to breathe air and begin our real lives. We don’t remember this transformation that we all once went through. We don’t even consider the place we were before, inside our mothers, to be really “alive”, unless you’re taking a political stance of some sort. A journey of just a few inches, birth is, but what could have been more important, to change you from an undefined who-knows-what into a living human being?

So all of us have done this once already. And all of us will do it again when we die, right? We have no idea what happens to us after we die. No idea. But it will be different than what we are now. And what if, what if it is so different that on the other side, we won’t be able to believe how long we were stuck in this earthly shell, the one we now cling to so tenaciously? Just some food for thought.

So all of us transform twice, at least, and all of us have already done the first one. And an additional some of us have also been reborn while living, symbolically reborn, when we had to peck our way out of a shell world because we were starving, and we fell into something entirely new.

Isn’t this congregation doing just this, this year? The shell in which we had been living was growing tighter and tighter. We were starving, in some ways. We were stuck in a pattern of scarcity thinking and fear that no longer worked. It was the time for big decisions – several of them. Those decisions were us cracking the shell, right? We’re still chipping at it. What are we falling out into? What kind of a world is next for us? We don’t really know yet, but we have to go there, that we do know. The old way doesn’t work anymore, and it’s not where we choose to be.

The worship theme this month is Faith. In its long form, the theme question is: What does it mean to be a people of faith?

I guess it takes some degree of faith to break out of a shell, but remember, the chick has no choice in the matter. How many of us were thrust from something we knew well and may well have preferred, in order to transform into something entirely new, to go somewhere but we didn’t know where it was or what we were doing, pretty much against our will? I know I’ve been in that situation, and I can promise I didn’t sign up for it. But it all happened nevertheless. That’s probably true for at least some of you, too.

Is it faith to move ahead when you have no other option? I don’t know how brave that is; it’s simply necessary. The stream in our story, earlier, it didn’t really want to cross the desert, and it didn’t know of rivers. It just knew it couldn’t stay what it was, where it was. It gathered up all the strength it had, and took the advice of someone who had been there, and took a leap.

We’ve all been through this process! We don’t remember being born, but the other transformations we probably remember all too well. Perhaps we noticed that shell getting too tight. Maybe we realized ahead of time that there was soon not going to be enough sustenance in our little world. We might have tried to ignore the situation, because that’s what people usually do at first. But eventually it just became one of those deals. Shell too tight! Starving! No choice! Get out of here, even if the next world is unknown!

Maybe it did take necessity and not faith when we did it before. We didn’t ask to transform because we were brave and certain, we did it because we were forced into it. But the question is, the question for me rises when I ask about what happens the next time I find myself stuck in a shell, the next time I sense that our church community is stuck in a shell.

Do we need to go through the same fear, the same denial, the same distrust, until we’re forced by circumstance to move on? Or, rather, can we say, I’m not just a hatchling. I’m not just a fetus. I’m not just a stream. We’re not just a small church. We’re meant to be something more than that. And I trust that I’m moving towards that thing, that place, that is More. We trust, together, that we are moving towards this thing that is More.

That is where I think faith is called for. When we believe that we are supposed to be More, even when we aren’t sure what the road to it will be like, that’s how we show that we are a people of faith.

Sugarloaf is showing their faith right now, this year. We decided that we weren’t going to accept the story that we didn’t have enough money to survive. We wondered why we thought we couldn’t have all things we want, enough preaching and enough religious education and more care for each other and more time together and to stay here in this place of ours.

At some point in the past year, we decided to leave the shell of scarcity behind, and we chose to peck our way into a new world where we hope there is abundance, where there is sunshine and brothers and sisters and plenty of space and plenty of food. We chose to stop being a stream drying out in a desert, and started to look into how to be a river instead.

We are choosing this now, and we are sure we can do it, even though we can’t see what will happen. That is how faith works. Faith is when you remember that sometimes this is the way the world is: Sometimes, you stay in the shell and make adjustments. And sometimes, you bust your way out of that shell, even when you don’t know what’s on the other side.

This is something different and greater than just change. Frankly, I don’t love change. Change makes me feel unsettled. I don’t even like it when my old jeans wear out and I am forced to get new ones. Have you heard that people think the word “change” is spelled L-O-S-S? That’s a little like how I feel on my less brave days, I have to say. I know I’m not alone, because churches – people in general – are notorious about feeling nervous about changing.

But change, as Rev. MacKenzie pointed out in her sermon, change is the thing that happens inside the shell. It happens within the worldview that you already know. A little growth here, a little adjustment there, a little alteration in the food source over here, and it’s all just really prettying up the regular old way of being.

When you leave the shell behind, especially when you don’t know what’s outside the shell, that’s more than change. That’s transformation. And I love transformation, I have to say. I love transformation because I can let go and let something huge make me More. That’s like letting the wind carry you across the desert. All you gotta do is put yourself in the right place and let go, right? What you need is trust and courage. And after that, after the trust and the courage and the transformation, then you get to be a RIVER, which you never knew you could be.

This congregation is letting go and letting the wind take us. We have gotten too big to keep hiding our light under the bushel of assumed poverty. We know we have so much to offer, so much to give. Would it make any sense for us to stop and just become a quagmire here in the desert? No, it would not. We all have seen that. And we’ve heard the wind is there to help us, and we are in the process of remembering how to fly.

The thing you can do to help us fly is to be as much a part of this community as you can be. Be here with us. Insist on working with others to do what we know ought to be done. Give as generously as you can to this year’s budget drive. Let the very core of who you are blend with the others to make this place glow with love and with hope and with promise.

Are you afraid it’s not possible? Do you think that it’s too different from the world out there, the world we all live in most of the time?

Let the disconnection and violence of the world outside be your fuel. In what other circumstance would Sugarloaf be needed so much?

Let your concern for your children keep you going. Where else will they learn these lessons?

Let your own questions and doubts about why we’re here and what we’re meant to do drive you here every week, like they are your chauffeur. I know you don’t have many places to ask your questions, to wonder about the things that really matter in life. This is why Sugarloaf is important. You already know this to be true, or you wouldn’t be here today.

We all want to be More. We want to be the river, if the river is our fate. We want to be as big and flowing and free as we possibly can be. We are already cracking the shell and opening up.

It takes faith to know that what we’re doing is the right thing to do, instead of something we just can’t avoid. It takes trust, right? Trust it. Trust the hatching. There’s something wonderful on the other side, something you never dreamed possible. And we can go there together.

In fact, I’ve got another little story for our meditation, to conclude our service. It’s called We Got Here Together, by Kim Stafford.

You get cozy, and I'll start.

Once, in the deepest ocean, there was a little fish.

That fish opened its mouth and let a bubble go.

At the same moment a cloud high over the ocean let a raindrop go.

Way down in the deep that bubble started its journey to the surface, and high in the sky that raindrop started down.

Would you be afraid? I might be afraid. But nothing can hurt a raindrop, nothing can hurt a bubble. They belong where they're going.

For a long time that bubble drifted up through the water without a thought, bumping a seal belly, bouncing off a seaweed leaf, rolling through the blue, floating toward that big ceiling of light.

And the raindrop was spinning dizzy down, sliding along the shoulder of the wind, tumbling toward that silver field of water.

They took so long, falling down and soaring up, they grew. The bubble swelled and filled with light. The raindrop gathered ready and round.

Somehow they were aimed for the exact same moment in time, and they got there together.

Then they were—what were they?

The bubble opened and was the whole sky.

The raindrop opened and was the whole ocean.

There they were—sky and ocean turning right where they belonged.

And you and I?

We got here together, too, didn't we? We got here safe, in the silver light, where we belong.