Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 5/26/13

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

Once upon a time there were two men splitting several cords of wood… a Baptist and a Unitarian.  The Baptist was good.  In an hour he split a full cord of wood.  Everybody applaud.  The n the Unitarian began, and in an hour… he split two cords of wood… everybody applaud.  But how did you do it?  “Well,” the wise Unitarian said, “I took time to sharpen my axe!”  Obviously I turned the story around!  We need a stop, don’t we?!

We need

‘the pause that refreshes’

the ‘rest’ in the musical measure

the ‘Sabbath’ or the seventh day

the one-week or two-week or four-week vacation

the seven-year ‘sabbatical’

the pause in the day’s occupation that was known as the ‘Children’s Hour’… thank you, Mr. Longfellow.

“Man, I need a break!  Some time off!”  But, “I am so controlled by the Protestant Ethic… and convinced that if I’m not working full speed… I’m wasting the time on Earth that God has given me… and I should feel guilty.”

And if God doesn’t make me feel super-guilty… then my spouse does, or my kids… or my frantic neighbor on the other side of the fence… or the community!

Are you with me?

And then along comes Sheryl Sandberg, with her book Lean In, and then Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and the ongoing struggle of women in the workplace and at home with the kids and without kids, and more guilt.

The good news is that we are recognizing the problems with working and leisure and discovering how we find time for ourselves, without feeling guilty.  Can you help me?

I’ve discovered three insights here that are helpful to me in discovering the balance between work and leisure.

The first is the concept of the Sabbath, or Shabbat Shalom… “May Sabbath peace be yours.”  The Jewish Research Center states:

“Shabbat is the most important ritual observance in Judaism and the only one instructed in the Ten Commandments.  It is also the most important Holy day in Judaism, even more important than Yom Kippur.  Shabbat is primarily our day of ‘Toshuva,’ re-entering the inner silence, the silence that reveals the supreme identity of God, and of man, woman, and nature.”

The Center says,

“We need to make Shabbat a time for mindfulness, meditation, contemplation, and silence.”

Shabbat is far more than a day… it is a concept for you and me… we all need our ‘Shabbat time.’  Every culture around the world has discovered that human beings need one day… different days, different frequencies… but one day in a week – we need for ourselves, for recreation, for contemplation, for reflection, for a change of pace and direction… when ‘our souls can catch up with our bodies.’

Recently some U.S. businesses have set aside rooms, on site, for personal time, relaxation, and relationships; they have discovered that employees are more efficient, happier, healthier, and more creative… imagine that!  Shabbat time!

In the Hebrew Scriptures there is an amazing, transformative passage from the prophet Isaiah that goes deeper… and sees Shabbat as a gift… a gift and a blessing of a richer, fuller life!

“If you honor the Sabbath, not going your own selfish ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”

The concept of Shabbat is for many… not only a pause ‘to sharpen your axe’… but a blessing, a sense of victory – to “ride upon the heights of the earth.”

The second insight for me… is the connection with community… “Thank God, I’m not alone!”

On Monday we started seeing those pictures of the horrific destruction and desolation in Moore, Oklahoma from the tornado, at times 200 MPH winds, some 1 ½ mile wide sweep, the two elementary schools completely wiped out, some 24 dead and hundreds wounded and in hospitals through the area.

And then we heard about the courageous teachers, one who put her body over her 4th grade kids as they huddled next to a wall and cried, as the roof came off over their heads.  Over and over and over again, we heard about the goodness and sacrifices of the community.  They were not alone… they are still not alone.

When we’re in trouble… when we’re scared… when we’re really vulnerable… when we need help, there’s a community… family, close friends, fellow employees, church, neighbors… there is community… sisters and brothers!

But to insure that community… to give it life… we have to be there for others!

I love this story told by Naomi Shibab Nye…

“After learning my flight was detained four hours, I heard the announcement, ‘If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4A understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.’  I went there.  An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress… just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor wailing loudly.  ‘Talk to her,’ said the flight service person… ‘What is her problem?  We told her the flight was going to be four hours late, and she did this.’

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly in Arabic… (phonetically) ‘SHU DOW-A SHU BIDUCK HABIBTI STANI STANI SCHWAY MIN FADLICK.’  The minute she heard any words she knew, she stopped crying.  She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.  She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the following day… so I said, ‘We’re just fine.  You’ll get there, just a little late.  Who’s picking you up?  Let’s call him and tell him.’

We called her son, and I spoke with him in English.  I told him I would stay with his mother and ride next to her.  She talked to him.  Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. 

Then we called my dad, and she spoke for a while in Arabic… and of course, they had ten friends in common… we called them.

She was laughing a lot by then… talking about her life.  She had pulled out a sack of homemade MA MOOL cookies… little powdered sugar, crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts, out of her bag… and was offering them to all the women at the gate.  To my amazement, not a single woman declined one… it was like a sacrament!”  

That’s the world I want to live in… the shared world… the diverse, inclusive world… the powdered sugar cookie world.

We’ve got to engage… we need to connect with our communities…

The third insight from me… is the still, small voice within!

We’ve all heard the guilt-producing mantra… ‘Don’t just stand there… do something!’  Well, how about the Baptist-Unitarian sequel… ‘Don’t just do something… stand there!  Stand there!’  ‘Sharpen your axe!’  Maybe some of those times we are incredibly busy, we are scared of the alternative.

Listen to a scene from Toni Morrison’s novel Paradise.

A woman, Soane, is struggling with her life, remembering having miscarried a baby, remembering, months later after the miscarriage, standing at the clothesline, fighting the wind as she pinned sheets up to dry.  She looked up to see a strange lady in the yard, smiling, wearing a brown gown and a white, “old-timey bonnet and carrying a peck basket.  When the lady waved, Soane returned the stranger’s greeting as best she could with a mouthful of clothespins… The lady turned and moved on.  Soane noticed two things:  the basket was empty but the lady carried it with two hands as through it were full, which, as she knew now, was a sign of… an emptiness that would weigh her down, an absence too heavy to carry.  And she knew who sent the lady to tell her so.”

The scene is a powerful reminder.  It is often emptiness that weighs us down, not fullness.  It is emptiness that is too heavy to carry.  It is an absence of something that drains us.  It may be that a terrible sense of emptiness is behind our frantic pace, our crowded calendars.  We try to fill the emptiness with busy-ness, and it only gets heavier.

It’s a painful, but unavoidable question – what have we found to fill our emptiness?  When we are alone with ourselves… what happens?

Remember three months ago we talked about the Old Testament prophet Elijah… as he waited for God to fill his emptiness.

“Elijah heard a great wind… but God was not in the wind.  And then a great earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake.  And then a great fire… but God was not in the fire… and then… a still, small voice.” 

Biblical scholars agree that the ‘still small voice’ was probably the voice of Elijah from within… his inner voice… his spirit from deep inside.

Maybe the still, small voice for us… is the same… our family remembrances… our deepest thoughts… our long-held dreams… our creative energies… our strongest beliefs… our purest loves!

Not in the wind, earthquake, or fire… but the ‘still, small voice’… alone with ourselves, spirit in touch with spirit, the eternal spirit within!

Four weeks ago as part of our second AIL course on “End of Life Care,” Van Crawford from the First Baptist Church of New London and Hospice led us on a ‘guided meditation.’  “With your feet flat on the floor, and your eyes closed,” she said, “imagine a ‘personal guide’ coming to you… and offering to listen to your needs… your anxiety… your fears… and then, aware of your breathing, you begin to sense that you are surrounded by all-encompassing love, and strength, and peace.”

Maybe this is the same message that comes from the story of Peter Pan…

It’s a wonderful allegory.  In brief it’s about a man who loses his children because he is so busy, so preoccupied, so lost himself.  The only way he can recover his children is to recover his own childhood.  He has to go back to being the Peter Pan of his boyhood, and learn to fly again.

Well, he does, and it’s delightful to watch.  He finds again his dear friend Tinkerbell, the fairy… or is it the angel?  At the end of the story, Peter has to return again to adulthood, to the world of struggle.  He has to remember to become like a child there too.

Anyway, just before he goes back to that world, Tink says quite a lovely thing to Peter.  She says, “I’ll always be there, Peter, between your sleep and your waking, when you still remember your dreams.  I’ll be there, loving you.”

A voice from Tinkerbell… from your ‘personal guide’… or from God.

And the only way we discover all this… is by ‘taking time to sharpen your axe!’


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