Tangled Webs

Tangled Webs
April 3rd, 2016                              Rev. Fiona Heath       

Marc, Silas and I once stayed on a farm in Washington state in a pretty little valley. Each morning we would walk out to nearby meadow full of spider webs sparkling in the sun. They were entrancing. The intricate webs were so delicate and beautiful shimmering on the green shrubs.

The web, I think, is a fitting symbol of Unitarian Universalism.


We are not a hierarchy but a network of people and communities across the country and across the world.

We have arisen out of community and conversation for the last few hundred years.

Each strand tied to other strands, some extending into history to the brave heretics who believed differently and said so.

Some extending around the world, threads connecting us to Unitarians in Burundi, the Philippines, India, Europe.

Some of the strands connect each of us to one another.

Many of the strands connect us to the neighbourhoods and land around us.

We are held in this fragile, shimmering weaving of connection.

It is this image - the web of life - which led me to this spiritual tradition.

One summer in university I had a job at a historic house on the shores of Lake Ontario.  It was a quiet place that rarely had visitors.  We did a lot of garden work to pass the time.

I was raking wood chips onto a path, standing barefoot in the back of a pick up truck, listening to music on the truck’s radio. The sun was shining and there was a wind coming off the water.  As I raked the pile down onto the ground, I lost track of myself.

One moment I was only me, the next I was everything.  Time fell away, space grew, and I was the sky and the trees and the truck and the birds and even the wood chips. Then I was just me again.

The intense experience of being all life – the sheer wondrous immensity of life – has stayed with me.

It was the briefest of moments but it changed my understanding of the human relationship with nature.

I understood – deeply, completely - that I belong to the earth, that I am part of this harmonious whole.  And it is amazing!

Even though I am unaware most of the time, I am part of it all.

A couple of years later I went to York University for environmental studies, trying to find meaningful work that would allow me to honour that profound sense of connection.

It was easy at York to be aware – at least at intellectual level - of the inter-connected nature of all life.

As a student I had the time to think about my values, and no money to tempt me to abandon them.

I was with other people who cared as deeply as I did about connecting to the earth.

It was more difficult after I left the academic bubble.

Although in Waterloo I became part of a community of people who continued to experiment with new ways of living, daily living made it hard to honour my values.

It became harder to remember the wonder of connection.

And in seeking out a religious community to help me live my values, it was the seventh principle which brought me to Unitarian Universalism.

We affirm and promote the interdependent web of all life of which we are a part.

This principle told me the way of the chalice was the way I had been seeking.

I follow the light of the chalice because of the seventh principle.

For me, living interdependently is the path forward for people and the planet.

It is the path, the paradigm, the truth that we need now.

And it seems many Canadian UUs agree.

The Canadian Unitarian Council has proclaimed a new vision for the future:  we seek to create a world in which our interdependence calls us to love and justice.

In this statement, the CUC has acknowledged the foundation of Unitarian Universalism as interdependence.

This is both an ecological truth and a theological truth.

We belong to the earth, we are part of an interconnected whole.

I know this deep in my heart because of that summer’s day.

As the Unitarian minister James Ishmael Ford says, “we are completely woven out of each other and the cosmos itself.”

In the web of life, we are all part of the pattern.

As writer Donna Henes notes, “there is no such thing as opposing sides.

There is only one side.

Just us folks here, all just trying to live life as best we can.

There is no us and them. There is only us.

We — all of us who occupy this planet: organic and inorganic; living and not; past, present, and future — are the world. “

Trying to live this truth in our lives is the ultimate challenge.

But the planet, the plants, the animals, the people are in desperate need of new ways of living.

The imperative of next decade will be learning how to live in connection, in respect with one another and the planet.

We need that Unitarian Universalist story – that we don’t stand separate and in charge of nature, but neither are we insignificant specks of dust.

Humankind are co-creators with trees and water and bugs.

We have changed the earth – for better and mostly for worse – through our choices.

But we know the earth is resilient, we can help it return to function, we can help restore it.

We envision a world in which our interdependence calls us to love and justice.

We can be – must be -  champions of interdependence.

The earth, the people, all creatures, need a better way of being.

May we help find that way.


As writer Donna Henes notes, “there is no such thing as opposing sides.

There is only one side.

Just us folks here, all just trying to live life as best we can.

There is no us and them. There is only us.

We — all of us who occupy this planet: organic and inorganic; living and not; past, present, and future — are the world. “

While “we are the world” is a cheesy charity song, it is also a profound truth.

We are co-creators in the world, shaping the earth to our stories.

We can choose the world we want to live in.

And the world I want is one in which we live interdependently, humans and animals, with clean air and clean water, enough for all.

I don’t want to sentimentalize nature and pretend we will live in the garden of eden if we learn to live interdependently.

My cute little kitten who purrs adorably on my shoulder also rips cute little mice to pieces.

Nature includes death and destruction.

But we can choose a world where nature is to be respected, where there are magnificent creatures that have their own inherent worth.  Where predators will kill prey but we can learn to co-exist.  Where we take less so other creatures can have more habitat, more food.

We can choose a world where we live within nature’s limits.  

We can choose a world that is not just about us.

I believe we have to, if we want our children’s children’s children to have a life worth living.

This is a tall order but we can start small.

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Each of you here today has already taken the first steps, we are already a few miles down the road.

In this chalice community, where we have a bio-filter septic system, where we have banned bottled water, we are seeking that new way of being in the world.

And the path isn’t always clear, we have to find our way through the asphalt and concrete and cars.

So we need one another.  We need to reach out our hands to one another and find the trail together.

Agustin Fuentes worked at an orangutan research centre in Borneo many years ago, long before the days of GPS.

Agustin had gone out into the rain forest to find the maroon leaf monkey.  

After hours of searching along the marked trails, he thought he spotted one deeper in the forest.  He decided to risk going off the trail.

An hour later, no monkey in sight, he started looking for a trail back to camp using his compass.  After another hour, night was falling and he still hadn’t found a trail. Agustin was getting a little nervous in the forest, off the trail, all alone, in the twilight.

Then he heard a rustling in the leaves and looked over and saw an orangutan.

Her face was familiar – she was one of the orangutans being brought back to health at the centre.

The man and the orangutan looked at one another.

She held out her hand and Agustin reached out and took it.

Hand clasped in hand, she led him back home.


Hand in hand, we can find the way.

When we remember “There is no us and them. There is only us.

Just us folks here, all just trying to live life as best we can.”

Hand in hand, we can find the way.

Of course being with one another can be a problem as well. Getting along is never easy for any group of people.

As we try to live into the vision of an interdependent world through advancing our mission to deepen in spirit, nurture community and act for an equitable, sustainable world, we won’t always agree.

We may have very different ideas of how to deepen, nurture and act.

And after an especially long committee meeting, we may just want to be shallow and lazy!

That’s why the Committee on Ministry is working on a Covenant of Right Relations.

A covenant is not a contract of legally required behaviour.

It is guide to how we aspire to be with one another.

It’s a promise to strive for healthy behaviour, even after an especially long committee meeting.

A covenant of right relations will remind us to speak with respect even in conflict, to speak directly to a person when there is an issue, to ask for help when help is needed.

A covenant is a reminder that we need one another to walk this trail into the future.  It's a call for all us to act with kindness, to live our mission to nurture community.

The Committee on Ministry plans to bring a draft covenant to the board in April.  If it is approved, it will come to the congregation at the June Annual General Meeting.

It is our hope that a covenant of right relations will make the path a little clearer, a little smoother.

It will be easier to clasp hands and walk together.

I’d like to close today with a responsive reading.

This reading from environmental writer Stephanie Kaza reminds us of the power of our connections to the planet.

The refrain is “we live in all things.  All things live in us.”

Let’s say it together:   “we live in all things.  All things live in us.”

I will raise my hand when it is time to respond.

We live by the sun, We feel by the moon,

We move by the stars.
We live in all things,

All things live in us.

We eat from the earth, We drink from the rain,

We breathe of the air.

 We live in all things,

All things live in us.

We call to each other, We listen to each other,

Our hearts deepen with love and compassion.

We live in all things.

All things live in us.

We depend on the trees and animals,

We depend on the earth,

Our minds open with wisdom and insight,

We live in all things.

 All things live in us.

We are full of life, We are full of death,

We are grateful for all beings and companions.

So Say We All!


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