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April 5, 2020 | Online Worship

Recording of our April 5, 2020 online worship service

Worship manuscript:

This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (mandy.beal@bucmi.org), unless otherwise attributed.

Welcome

Good morning, and welcome to virtual Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I’m joined today by our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing. Our services will be hosted on Zoom and then posted on Facebook every Sunday morning at 10:30 for the foreseeable future.

Birmingham Unitarian Church is a Welcoming Congregation. This is a designation that a Unitarian Universalist congregation can earn that demonstrates a commitment to learning about and doing the work of being fully inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We’re also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which is a similar designation for environmental justice. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.

As we continue using Zoom for worship services, we have some reminders. First, as a service to your fellow participants, we ask that you don’t type comments during the service. Second, we recommend that all participants use the “speaker” view. This will automatically make the worship leader’s window the largest on your screen. Next, you were automatically on mute when you signed in, and we ask that you stay that way during the whole service, including the hymns.

There will be a virtual coffee hour after our service. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you and invite you to join our virtual coffee hour. There are no announcements this morning. Should you have an announcement for next week, please contact our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis.

And, finally, a quick reminder to reach out to our folks that don’t use the internet. Give them a call and make sure they’re OK. Also, help us reach out by adding them to our phone call list, which you can do by visiting our website.

Today’s service is centered around the theme of balance. Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.

And with that, our service will begin.

Chalice Lighting

We worship this morning from our separate homes, but we join with a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice:

May our chalice flame, dancing on its wick, be a reminder that balance doesn’t always look like stillness, nor does it always look like movement. During this tumultuous time, let us seek a surefooted balance.

Opening Words “Meditation on Letting Go” by Carol Allman-Morton (adapted)

Many of us carry a burden of worry.

Anxiety over the state of the world Worries about money About the pandemic, Our families, About peace and justice.

May we trust that nothing will get worse for us putting that burden down for a moment. May we let go of what weighs us down. May we find that we can set down worry for longer and longer periods of time.

In our experience of letting go, may we be open to the possibility that we need not pick some of our worries back up. May we find passion and strength to work for change where we have the power to do so, and to let go where we do not.

If not forever, let us put down our worries and anxiety, for our time of quiet.

May we be in quiet together.

Offering

The time has come in our service when we ask for your financial support. Our beloved community relies on the support of our members to provide worship services, religious education, our music program, and so much more. We all know that the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted personal finances and the economy. Our church is also deeply impacted by the recent events, and we need your support now more than ever.

Your contributions can be sent using Venmo or our website. Our Venmo username is @BUCMI. You’ll see Joanne Copeland’s name there, but it is linked to BUC’s bank account. Or, if you navigate to our website, there is a “donate now” button. If you need to set up accounts through either of these giving platforms, I urge you to do so when the service is over. You can also put a check in the mail to us. We can’t do what we do without your contributions. I invite you to give generously.

Joys and Sorrows

We set aside time each week for prayer and reflection. We begin with a sharing of joys and sorrows. If you’d like to submit for next week, please use the link provided in the BUC Shout Out. Remember if you submit a joy or sorrow through that portal, it will be shared in this space and available to the public.

This morning, we have one sorrow. Christina DuChamp died last Sunday after a brief battle with COVID. She was a part of the BUC community in the 1990s and participated in our first Daffodil Sunday. She had several health complications that prevented her from being a part of our congregation, but she felt she had a spiritual home here. Christina is survived by her partner of almost 20 years, Nancy Foerster.

Reading Excerpt from "No Man Is an Island" by Thomas Merton

We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm. If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth.

Homily

During this time of many emotions and a disrupted schedule, I keep coming back to the idea of balance. All of us are used to living at peak capacity, or “the height of intensity” as Thomas Merton called it. This time of physical stillness and emotional intensity has laid us bare. We are stripped down to our basic components and confronted with a kind of existential crisis. One of the struggles that I’ve witnessed this week, in myself and in others, is how to find order and meaning in these days. Structuring our time, having a schedule, gives us the order and meaning that supports emotional balance. Many of us rely on structure from external forces like work or school. These institutions are the driving factors in many people’s schedules. The loss of structure for people in this category is readily apparent. But, even if you are retired or a total free spirit, your schedule has been disrupted, too, by travel restrictions and the closure of stores and restaurants. Whether our lives are highly regimented or free-flowing, we all rely on having some kind of structure to our days. Now those structures are disrupted and we are left to balance our time and emotions on our own. I imagine this has been destabilizing for all of us. The need for structure is inherent to our nature. Our ancestors used the seasons and cycles of the natural world to put meaning to their lives. The sun lessens in the winter, buds appear in the spring, crops grow in the summer and are ready for harvest in the fall, in time to stored for the winter, and the cycle continues. The natural world goes on much the same way, but our daily rhythms have been disrupted. We are now largely responsible for creating order and meaning in our days. And that’s hard. I tend to default to the extremes of overwork or listlessness, so this past week, I felt compelled to put a daily schedule in place. This helps me create the structure otherwise missing from my life. It is completely artificial, but it helps me maintain a balance that supports my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. When I start to feel myself doubting the validity of an artificial structure that I created and can easily ignore, I am reminded of my greatest childhood fear. I grew up outside of Houston, in an area where everyone’s parents worked for NASA. This was during the height of the space shuttle program. Because of this unique environment, most of our school projects had some kind of reference to space travel. Math problems such as: “If there are three astronauts and fifteen packs of astronaut ice cream…” Essays about discovering alien life forms. Art projects like drawing a blueprint for the International Space Station. It was all space, all the time. I was terrified I was going to have to live in a space colony. It was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I hated the idea of space. Space was dark, cold, and quiet, and I was none of that. In a space colony, you’d be confined in the same setting, with the same people, doing the same thing, over and over, forever. It sounded boring and awful. And now here we are, on alien terrain, facing many of those challenges. One of the things that makes for a successful astronaut is unyielding discipline. They must be able to tolerate confined spaces for long periods of time, maintain collegial relationships in a high-pressure environment, and keep a relentlessly strict schedule for every aspect of their life in space. This strict regimen is necessary and they could not survive without it. While in space, their circadian rhythm is completely disrupted. There is no day or night. They must adhere to their schedules in order to stay healthy and sane. Their schedules also support those collegial relationships by ensuring everyone has the physical space they need and can go about their work with minimal disruptions. Everyone on a space shuttle, and now the International Space Station, must sacrifice their freedom for the good of their companions and to meet their greater goals. And in exchange for the monotony - they’re in space. Their highly structured lives and the sacrifices they make are balanced by amazing rewards. They get to see the Earth and the moon from a view the rest of us only see in photos. They contribute to groundbreaking scientific research. They have an experience that makes it all worthwhile. Regardless of how hard it is, they’ve dedicated their entire lives, and risk their lives, to these greater ends. Although we don’t have exactly the same payoff by staying in our homes, we do have the opportunity to meet a greater end. We all know that staying at home saves lives. It eases the burden on our medical system. It helps slow the spread of a deadly disease. These benefits require our commitment to staying at home and staying 6 feet apart. The rewards that we enjoy don’t quite parallel the rewards of astronauts, but then again neither does the amount of structure that we must place on ourselves. We might be getting tired of whatever we have in our freezer, but I promise you it is nowhere near as gross as astronaut ice cream. That stuff is an insult to ice cream and to astronauts. The precautions placed on us are annoying and disruptive, but necessary. We are used to living at full volume, at the height of intensity as Thomas Merton put it. But withdrawing from that level of stimulus, into the slower physical pace of our current circumstances presents an opportunity to reflect on true balance. Perhaps even a more natural balance than we are used to in a world dominated by the structure of obligation over individual need. Merton called the peak of intensity, that is our usual lives, a hell on Earth. It’s important to note that he was writing in 1955 and the intensity of our lives has increased exponentially since that time. Although our current circumstance is new and challenging, it can be the corrective to the fast paced, high intensity lives we have been living. This is our opportunity to discover our own meaning-making and find the balance that we may have been missing. Creating our own balance by imposing a structure in our days that supports our emotional well being might feel overwhelming. But, if we learn to do that now, perhaps we will be able to carry it with us when this experience is over.

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