Unitarians love their analogies to plants We see this going back as the 1800s with the Transcendentalists. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “Every thought that arises in the mind, in its rising aims to pass out of the mind into act; just as every plant, in the moment of germination, struggles up to the light. In truth we use this analogy especially during Easter, because many don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. But most of us have experienced planting seeds in the ground and watching them grow. To the passerby seeing nothing from the outside, then seeing something grow out of nothing. Most of us can recognize shedding one life, one habit, one way of being for another and thus have resurrected our lives in some way. Jesus death gave his followers resurrected lives with new purpose and new ways of being. Plants give us a way to talk about that. I want you to know this is true not just of Unitarian Universalists. Throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures the imagery of a seed growing is utilized often.
In the Christian Seminary I attended, I took a discernment class and we were asked to keep a journal, and one of the items I was asked to specifically journal about was my plant. Now one small problem, I didn’t own a plant, so I went to a plant store. I had not had any experience with plants in my life up until that point, so when I went into the store, I asked the person at the counter for a plant that would be really hard to kill. I think we would all like that in life. We would like a body that is immune to disease, we would like a lifestyle that limits risk to our health, we would like a job that is not physically or emotionally dangerous. Sometimes the circumstances in our lives make it easier or harder for us to thrive. Most of us just have to work with what we have, and too often we spend a lot of time mitigating the risk of living instead of just living. If we are lucky along the way we learn how to navigate the intricacies of the world and our life and we are given a chance to thrive. Just like the plant. Given the right amount of water, nutrients and placed in a suitable environment, plants thrive. Of course different plants thrive in different environments and with different nutrients.
So I talked to the person who was an expert on plants, I did some reading to learn the basics of how plants thrive. Then I saw how my plant responded to how I treated it. With different amounts of water, playing Bruce Springsteen vs. Mozart, being outside or inside. The same thing is true with living, we need to obtain wisdom from experts, we need to learn things on our own and then we have to pay attention and discern if how we are living is allowing us to thrive under the conditions we are in. And so I encourage us to pay attention to and water our souls, out Congregation and our community to pay attention and understand what care is needed for us to grow and thrive to reach our potential. Over time my plant did grow, so first that was a sign to me, that just because I hadn’t done something, didn’t mean that I couldn’t do it. Sometimes it just takes time and attention.
Secondly, over time it outgrew the pot that it was in. I had it in the same plastic pot that it was in at the store. And although I didn’t anthropomorphize the plant, I did give it a name (vertigo) and wondered if it felt stimuli the way I did. I imagined if it would like to be planted outside in the yard, feeling the wind against its leaves, but I decided to just get a bigger ceramic pot, to give it more time to gro and build stronger roots before it had to face the harsh reality of the natural world, that included not only hurricane winds, but many different and varied creatures. One night tough when it rained, I did put the ceramic pot outside so it could feel and take in the rain water, imagining it would like it better then the tap water I usually used to feed it.
I thought about it in the same way that I imagine we think about those we care about, wanting to be protect them as long as necessary to give them time to build strong roots to be as prepared as possible before we go out into the world with all its wonder and all its harshness. Some people have that luxury, and others don’t. In truth, we are never fully ready and at some point we have to go out in the world with our uncertainties our uniqueness, with ubiquitous opportunities with unknown consequences. And just as I put my plant out in the rain sometimes we have to try new experiences so we can determine if a certain path allows us to flourish. As an example one time it tried bungee jumping. It was exhilarating, but I found, I really didn’t need that for my life to flourish.
But one day I took the leap and walked into a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and someone said hello, I took a leap and trusted others and joined a small group discussion. And I took a leap and became a worship associate and led a worship , And my life, my vision, my perceptions expanded with each new experience. I had new branches sprouting in my life and my roots grew deeper. And that was similar to my plant. As it was growing new shoots and leaves were growing and yet it also appeared to be dying at the same time as some of its purple petals were falling off. Then at one point all its petals feel off, and I thought I had done something wrong. That is how it can feel when we make a change in our life or in the congregation. It can feel like things are falling apart. I can feel empty, because the new thing is uncertain, the new thing is not yet formed, and in that uncertainty, all we focus on is what is lost.
I wondered if the plant was dead. But within a few days all the leaves sprouted again. For a short while, I left eh dead petals of the plant just lay in the pot for awhile. In fact for a while I felt I comforting to see the dead next to the living. It not only made me appreciate the living all the more, but it was a solid reminder of the inevitability and connection between death and life. It is good and right to recognize what has been lost. For better or for worse what has been lost was a part of our life, and the truth is it is not about better or worse, or good or bad, often until we gain a certain self awareness we are not even aware of how circumstances create us. But it is important to try to become self aware and when we do, to change what we can, but that which we have experienced even if we have put it behind us is always with us in some way. To repress that or ignore that fact does have consequences.
Here is the mask I had to wear last year during radiation treatments for my cancer. It somehow allowed the machine to more accurately pinpoint the laser. I still keep this in my home office (actually right on top of my pile of old sermons) Now some have found this to be maudlin. For me it is a reminder every day to value this day, and this life for I came close to not being here. And it is a reminder to act to care for my body and soul, and to live my life fully, without apology, as my true unique self, as I am today, and how that may change tomorrow.
That is something I wish for you and this Congregation as well. To treat each other well, to live fully as your true unique selves. Life, like the petals of my plant, is fragile and precious, and beautiful and tragic. In every moment we need to recognize that.
With the plant, at some point felt the dead leaves were taking away from and detracting from beauty of the living growing plant. I didn’t want the dead petals to be a distraction from the live plant. So I cleaned out the dead parts to give more room for the live plant to live and continue growing. We will all know when it is time for us to do that. To let go of the old and welcome the new. Sometimes it takes patience and resilience to see change through before we see the new leaves appear in our life. Whether it is a new relationship, a new golf swing, or new worship service or program at the Congregations, we have to constantly water the seed in our life that help us flourish and give us time to grow. You cant take anything for granted.
If something is I important to us, we need to make its care an ongoing practice. This became abundantly clear to me towards the end of the experiment. I had been coming home late from work and had been skipping watering or writing about the plant. One night as I was thinking about whether to make that long trek all the way outside my sack door to water the plant, I realized I was thinking this just as I was pouring water for my dog….and I thought…well how can I give water to the dog and not the plant…and then the connection was made…my plant this earth, is just as much a living thing as my dog and deserves my attention. I had to confront my own commitment to living in a way for caring for the earth. It cant just be a sometime thing, an every now and then thing, a when I get around to it thing. Caring for the earth has to become a new ay of being, a new way of living, every day of our lives, just as I feed my dog, and just as I feed myself.
Eventually like all living things, the plant died, but its beauty, and my experiences with it still affect me, still live within me and now after my sharing it with you its story remains alive. And I imagine that was very much how the death of Jesus of Nazareth affected his followers. Amidst the crushing occupation and oppression of a foreign government and rigid religious establishment, Jesus pointed to a new way of living, a new way of being in and with the world. His followers allowed the beauty o f Jesus’ teachings, his way of being, even his tragic death affect them and transform them. Their old way of being had to die and a new way of being had to be born.
The early Christians created communal communities, fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, welcomed the stranger and outcast, visited the prisoners, cloted the naked, shared their wealth, and were willing to sacrifice their lives for this new world they believed in. It was this way of living together, not a belief system, or a place in heaven that rought so many people to early Christianity. After a couple of hundered years as this new way of living attracted more and more people, the empire coopted and corrupted the religion. But a truth if it is a true thing cannot be killed.
Unitarian in the 19th century saw a need to have Christianity die and be reborn not with a dependence on the deity of Jesus, or the infallibility of scripture but rather because the teachings of Jesus were true and they led to a more compassionate life and the betterment of humankind. And as truth continue to unfold in the world we are Unitarian Universalists do not hold to rigid ways of thinking, rather we believe revelation is ongoing and we adapt to new knowledge an new understanding and we have created something new in this religion.
As Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, when sown in the ground is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes a great tree and puts forth long branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shades.” The message of this parable, is that what we see today is not what shall be in the future. Every little good deed we do today every seed we plant for peace, every seed we plant for justice has ramifications we cannot envision today, but we must continue to sow the seeds, and see where they take.
Even when things seem dark, and you cant quite see the way clearly, do not think of yourself as buried, rather see yourself as a seed, waiting to burst forth into the air, and feel the sun on your face. Imagine what can be new in your life and in the Congregation. Rest and ready yourself in the darkness and take the actions necessary that will allow you to go forth and grown, and lead towards your flourishing and the flourishing of our Congregation. Happy Easter everyone.