Presented October 7, 2018
These words come from mid-century American poet Margaret Walker, from a poem titled October Journey.
“I want to tell you what hills are like in October
when colors gush down mountainsides
and little streams are freighted with a caravan of leaves,
I want to tell you how they blush and turn in fiery shame and joy,
how their love burns with flames consuming and terrible
until we wake one morning and woods are like a smoldering plain —
a glowing caldron full of jewelled fire;
the emerald earth a dragon’s eye
the poplars drenched with yellow light
and dogwoods blazing bloody red.
Margaret Walker, October Journey
Life burns with beauty in October. It is a both/and season, autumn, the blaze of glory so particularly spectacular here in southern Ontario, the blaze that flares forth and then falls back into the dreary ash of decay.
Autumn is the season that confronts us with the complexity of life – asks us to understand that beauty and decay come hand in hand. The crisp blue air doesn’t deny the longer nights. The green becoming gold and red reveals bare and broken branches.
But nature is doing more than just decaying and falling away, it is also a mad luscious scatter of nuts, and seeds and fruit, preparing for coming of spring. Even now that summer has passed, nature is abundant, throwing it all out there, getting blown by the wind or buried into the earth, letting it all go.
Even my dog gets involved, moving burrs and seeds from the walking trail to my front hall.
The decay of life returning to the earth has its pleasures – like kicking through a pile of leaves, the chill wind blocked by a warm scarf, or the shiny chestnut smooth to the touch.
If I stop and think about it, it feels odd to revel in all this dying, this chaotic reducing of things back to the earth. It certainly isn’t how I feel in my own life, where I so often dislike change and endings. When I am immersed in endings, it’s horrible and painful, but autumn makes falling to pieces seem like a party.
A riot of colour and joy that shouts watch this! See how glorious right now is. Look at the dogwood blazing red.
Look at the poplar drenched in yellow.
There is beauty in every moment, if we have eyes to see.
It can be easy to focus on what is being lost – like the warmth of the summer sun – and miss the joy of crisp breezes that are here right now.
Autumn calls us to be thankful, right here, right now, for the beauty – and the decay – of the world. We can’t have one without the other. Autumn reminds us that transitions are part of living, and when the dying of the old season begins, we should celebrate as well as mourn.
The end of the harvest is a time of thanksgiving in many cultures over many histories. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy used to hold a days long festival to celebrate the harvest long before European settlers arrived here.
For Canadians, an official Thanksgiving day has moved around the calendar, celebrated on different days in upper and lower Canada, mostly in November. Originally intended as a protestant holy day by the lawmakers in Ottawa, it quickly morphed into a secular holiday, particularly when it got moved to the second Monday in October.
This was chosen so that outdoor sports would still be possible, so perhaps it truly is a holy day for football fans.
Of all the national holidays, thanksgiving, I think, is most reflective of Unitarian Universalist values. It’s about being grateful for all that is, to be connected to the earth, to be connected to one another.
As people of the chalice, we are called to gratitude, to be glad of the dignity and worth of all human beings, to be grateful for the interdependent web of all life.
Our principles call us to affirm the goodness of life, and an essential way to do this is through gratitude.
A Hindu guru in India is asked “what is the worst karma a person can undergo here on earth? What is the greatest difficulty?” The guru pauses for a moment, while those listening began putting together mental lists of every awful thing happening to people in this moment. The lists are long…
The guru speaks, “the worst karma is to be ungrateful. If you suffer from ingratitude then no matter how good your life is, you aren’t capable of accepting all that good. If you are grateful, then even in the most challenging of circumstances, you will be open to the gifts – however small – that are present.”
Rev. Barbara Merritt, adapted
While in this moment, this feels a little like white middle class Canadian privilege, easy for me to say, the need to for gratitude is a deep spiritual truth.
If in the middle of loss and destruction we can be open to gratitude, we will be steadfast.
If in the midst of injustice and oppression, we can be grateful for allies, for anger translated to action, we will be strong.
Steadfast and strong.
We need gratitude more than ever.
Being grateful for all the wonders of life reminds us of the good. In a minute, I am going to ask you to turn to a neighbour or two and talk about what you are grateful for.
First these words from writer Richard Wagamese.
Joy… is a spiritual engagement with the world based on gratitude.
It’s not the big things that make me grateful and bring me joy.
It’s more the glory of the small: a touch, a smile, a kind word spoken or received, that first morning hug, the sound of friends talking in our home, the quiet that surrounds prayer, the smell of sacred medicines burning, sunlight on my face, the sound of birds and walking mindfully,each footfall planted humbly on this earth.
What is one specific thing you are grateful for in this moment?
The smile of a grandchild or perhaps the taste of hot sweet tea? What small thing brings you joy today?
Earlier this morning Wendy told the story of sanctuary offered in the sharing of an umbrella. I’m grateful for the many ways people can be sanctuary for one another.
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for our relationships with one another – those small and those great gifts that tie us together and keep us steady in the stiff autumn wind.
It is easier than we think to extend our umbrella over others. At times we do it without much thinking – an affirming compliment, a kind gesture – that strengthens a stranger.
Other times it’s a conscious and collective sharing.
In Vancouver, the city of rain, Umbracity has introduced an actual umbrella sharing system.
You can borrow an umbrella at kiosks throughout the downtown and return it when you’ve reached your destination.
Offering umbrellas means that people don’t have to be so self-reliant, always carrying their own umbrella, and then losing that umbrella.
I like this because I am very good at losing umbrellas.
Umbracity is an ecological and elegant sharing solution, which acknowledges that people can’t always be self-reliant, carrying everything they need at all times.
It’s one very literal way to offer portable sanctuary.
We can share umbrellas collectively. But each of us can also can extend our umbrella over others in need. A gift of support can changes lives. This true story comes from Story Corps.
A young man finds out he is going to be a father after the relationship is over. He is in the Navy and deploys shortly after she is born.
The mother struggles and by the time their daughter is 11 months old, she can no longer take care of her.
Wil, the young man, takes custody of baby Olivia. He offers his daughter his umbrella.
He knows he can’t care for her and stay in the Navy, so he applies to college as a mature student. He gets some financial help for joining the basketball team.
They live off campus with a friend, and Wil works as a cleaner at night. Sometimes he has to bring the baby with him when he goes to class, when he works.
Learning how to be a student again, studying, working, caring for Olivia, and playing basketball is exhausting.
He loses 20 pounds.
A woman who works at the college checks in on Wil. He admits his struggles to her, and she offers Wil an umbrella.
She gets him into campus housing, reducing his costs and commute.
His basketball teammates offer their umbrella. They babysit Olivia while Wil is in class. He comes home to 4 giant guys and an 18 month baby with more energy then they have. They are the first people he trusts with her care.
The college offers its umbrella. When Will graduates, he carries Olivia up on the stage with him and both of their names are called. They get a standing ovation.
Wil offered his daughter his umbrella. Others offered umbrellas when he needed it.
None of these were large gestures, babysitting and acknowledging a child. But they made all the difference in their lives.
We are each other’s sanctuary.
Olivia is an adult now. And when Wil got colon cancer, it was her turn to offer him her umbrella.
We are each other’s sanctuary.
On this day of thanksgiving, we stand in amidst the falling leaves.
In these days of rain, may we share our umbrella with others, both literally and figuratively.
Let us keep our hearts open to the beauty of life.
Let us continue, today and all days, to offer sanctuary to one another.
May it be so.