Summer 2018 – From the Minister

In her extraordinary and prescient sci-fi novels, The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler wrote about a beautiful, dystopian word, like and yet unlike our own, and set in what was, at the time, the not-toodistant future: the early decades of the 21st century. Writing more than 30 years ago, Butler saw with eerie clarity what for her was not far-fetched to imagine, the rise of a boorish tyrant in the midst of American uncertainty, numbing the people with platitudes and terrifying them with reckless, ego-laced, crude, cruelty. One of the books’ most intriguing inventions is a genetic human ailment, causing those afflicted to experience a kind of hyperempathy. They are nicknamed “sharers:” people who feel the pain of others literally, in their bodies, their nerves, their muscles and bones. It is a risky condition, easily exploited by others, and thus hidden by those who carry it. It’s also the source, in these books, of some of the characters’ deepest wisdom and wildest creativity, for “sharers” must always be imagining how other people feel, and above all, how to avoid inflicting harm.

“Wonder” is our summer theme: the practice of opening the windows. It’s about imagination and reverie and lazy, hazy dreaming. “Wonder” in the summertime means hammocks in the afternoon and Northern Lights at night, paddling in silence for hours with a friend, or listening to your taste buds sing with joy at the first peach, tomato, watermelon, sweet corn. Summer wonder holds questions that the anxious winter can’t contain or bother with: How long can loons stay underwater? What happens if we take that trail? What human, living where, was the first to see the Perseid meteor showers and what was their response? When will these berries be ripe? Sometimes, with enough open space in a day and in your mind, wonder just happens, which is why it feels so summery, so childlike and free.

But wonder is also a serious spiritual practice. You can cultivate it, hone that flabby muscle into readiness, learn to see and hear and smell and taste —and feel—as if the windows of your heart and mind and soul were open, not slammed down and shuttered against anything that might catch you by surprise, or startle or confuse you. We can cultivate the open heart and mind and soul, and relearn how to be astonished, how to be amazed.

It’s a risky business. Like the “sharers” in those novels, we’re wary of feeling too much these days, seeing too much, learning too much, holding too much rage or grief or fear for the daily devastations of the earth and all the people on it. If you open the windows of your heart and let the world rush in, you could be swept away with sorrow, swept up in despair. But the risk of staying closed is even greater. I think part of why we come to church on Sunday morning and at other times, is to open our closed and weary spirit, which sometimes is a fearful spirit, to the wonders of life in community; to spacious, wide ideas and other points of view; to the joy of saying yes to helping someone else, when all along we thought we were too busy or too tired; to music, poetry, silence; the quiet breath, and even tears, and even joy, of other people.

From Sophia Fahs, Unitarian Universalist minister and teacher: Fling wide the windows, O my soul! The bright beams of morning are warm.