Environment

Earth Day

Author: 
Madelyn Campbell

Earth Day, a sermon by Madelyn Campbell delivered to the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church on 27 April, 2014   

Happy Easter! Yes, last Sunday was Easter Sunday, but in the Christian liturgical calendar, this is still Eastertide. In the Jewish liturgical calendar this is the counting of the Omer - the 50 days between Passover and Shavout - also known in the Christian calendar as Pentecost.  In the northern European pagan liturgical calendar, this is Beltane-tide - the time between Ostara and Beltane, or May Day, in late spring. 
I like liturgical calendars. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with them and it seems natural to me, but I think I like them most because they tie us into the seasons. There is a rhythm.  Maybe it’s the musician and the dancer in me, but I think we need to pay attention to the rhythms - and the earth has a rhythm.
We had a long, tough winter, didn’t we? It was cold. I know some of you are gardeners. I keep hearing rosemary horror stories. This winter wasn’t kind to rosemary. Did anyone here lose rosemary? Or any other plants this winter? I confess that I’m not much of a gardner. I’ve tried, I really have. I grew a $15 tomato a couple of years ago. I accomplished that by getting all the things I needed to grow my one tomato plant. Which then produced…one tomato. It was a good tomato, though. Even though I don’t seem to have much of a green thumb, I do appreciate the gardeners in my life, and the beautiful fruits of their labors.
So it was a rough winter. My gardener friends have been assessing their losses. And yet. Did you see the cherry blossoms? The Yoshindo cherry trees  - the ones with the white blossoms that line the tidal basin - have already had their peak and we’ve been showered with white blossoms, but the Kwanzan cherry trees are in full bloom just about now. Giant pink balls of blooms hanging like party lights in the trees.
For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
It feels like the trees are clapping their hands now. It feels that way to me. I hope you can feel that. Even after the very long winter, the earth is awakening again, and new life is springing forth. The rhythm of the seasons carries us forward.
The earth is resilient.  She weathers many things. Even us.
We’re a part of creation, and we act in it and on it. We sometimes think of ourselves as set apart from creation - as if humans are one thing and the environment something else. I’ve heard some people talk about the seventh principle - “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part” as the environmental principle, as if that were all it is - as if we, somehow aren’t included in that. But in the Hebrew scriptures, in the language itself, there is no language for the separation of humanity from the rest of creation.
In their book, The Predicament of the Prosperous, Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen talk about our relational responsibility to creation. Bruce Birch is a professor and friend of mine and an all around wise and respected academic. They tell us, “God calls us toward the shalom of the whole creation.” Shalom - that doesn’t just mean “peace” it means wholeness. The wholeness of relational responsibility, then. They go on further to tell us about redemption as new creation - redemption as, quote, “the effort to restore the whole network of relationships that have been broken by sin.” I don’t want to get too off the mark here, but perhaps we should define sin so that we’re all speaking one language. Sin literally means to miss the mark. So when we’re doing things that take us away from relationship - with each other, or with the rest of creation, that is sinful. When we’re repairing that, then it’s redemptive.
Birch and Rasmussen point to today’s passage from Isaiah as the place where this new creation theme appears most fully in Hebrew scripture.  They say, “Here the salvation history and creation history are wedded. They are both a part of the work of one God. God’s redemption of Israel and the nations renews nature as well.” 
Think about that. Renewing the people renews nature. How does that happen? Why are the trees clapping their hands? Why are cypresses growing instead of thorns?
We can’t renew nature without renewing our relationships with each other. It’s all intertwined. Well, that makes sense.
When we don’t treat each other as equals - when we  aren’t in right relationship with each other, it’s much easier to dump our waste on those we don’t care about. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is breaking apart ships. You won’t see this happening in the U.S., though. This work, damaging to the environment, and often deadly to the people who do it, is done in Bangladesh, by “Other” people. People who are poor, and brown. Because they’re desperate for any work. They break the ships, and it breaks the world and our relationships.
But we don’t have to go halfway around the world to find brokenness.  Back in January, a chemical spill from Freedom Industries polluted the drinking water of Charleston, West Virginia. Four months later, residents were still using bottled water. But what would happen if we cared enough about everyone to stop manufacturing and storing dangerous chemicals in poor communities?
I’m not saying this is a simple thing. I’m not saying “all we have to do is” - there are no simple answers. But we can start with considering how we are all linked, and how we all deserve to be surrounded by beauty.
How can we make that happen? What happens if we just sit and wait?
We haven’t been kind to our planet. We’re using up fossil fuels and spewing lots of carbons into the atmosphere. We’re demolishing wetlands and then we act surprised when cities flood. And then some among us cling to the belief that we need do nothing, that God will rescue us. You’ve probably heard about the man who climbed up to the roof of his house during the flood and a boat came by, but he refused to get in, saying “God will save me.” Soon, the water was up to his hips, and another boat came by, but he said, “God will save me.”  By the time the water was at his chest and he was clinging to the chimney, a helicopter came by. He still refused the help, saying, “God will save me.” He drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” and God said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!”
We have to do some of this work ourselves.
I’d said earlier that the earth is resilient. It is. The earth will be here with or without us. Creation will continue. Do we want to take the hand of the Holy and do the work to repair the garden?
There are many ways we can do that work. For some people, it means really getting out there and doing the work in the garden. Have you been in our garden? Whether you’re a gardener or not, I hope you can appreciate the  beauty of the garden.
Of course, we don’t just have a garden. We have 11 beautiful acres of open fields, and woods, and the garden. We have room to run around and fly a kite, or to sit and absorb all the beauty. What a gift! How are we caring for it?
Some of you are stewards of the grounds. You mow the lawn. You pull weeds. You care for the garden. Thank you. You’re doing the repairing work. Working on our own grounds is important, because it keeps us in touch.
We don’t all do that, and we don’t all have to, but there are things we all can do. The Green Sanctuary team has a lot of information they’d like to share with us after the service today.   Information about things you can do around here, and things you can do at home.
And once we’re taking care of each other and our own local garden, well, how hard can it be to move out from there?
When I was little, I lived in Manhattan. If you’re not a city person, you might not think of cities as green spaces, but my parents took me often to Central Park and to Ft. Tryon Park - my favorite. My father took me to Ft. Tryon Park nearly every Sunday, and we’d walk through the formal gardens and then run around and play in the open spaces. Sometimes I’d run around in bare feet and feel the grass beneath my feet. I want all of my brothers and sisters in creation to have that experience. Do you?
Go out. Enjoy the grounds today. See the trees clapping their hands. Look at the Bradford pear trees just outside here. And imagine. Imagine how it can be - how we will go out in joy and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Let us make this garden here. Now. Let us join with all that is Holy in repairing creation.

Environmental Justice Curricula

Our Place in the Web of Life: An Introduction To Environmental Justice, a five-week course from the UU Ministry for Earth

The Right to Water, a five-week covenant group gathering, from the UU Service Committee

This Is Our Earth

Author: 
Rev. Mark Belletini

This is our earth.
It falls through heaven like a pearl in a glass of plum wine.
There are no other earths that I know of.
There are no other skies that we have mapped.
This is our earth.
The Oneness who gave birth to it
remains nameless.
There was no midwife then
to bring us word of the birth-cry.
We only rejoice that it is.
This is our earth.
Ice caps its head. Glaciers clasp its feet.
Warm wind, like the breath of a lover,
breathes around its breast.
Mountains thrust up to the clouds, brining joy.
Storms blow across its shores, bringing fear.
Silvery fish capture sunlight and haul it down
into the deep, as on shore, valleys spread
with ripening fruit. Cities teem with the
Poor and disenfranchised in the shadow of
golden towers. Children live and also die.
Highways throb. Monks sit in silence. Mothers
work. Crickets chirp. Teachers plan. Engineers
design. Fathers write letters.
People marry
with and without the blessings of law.
People cry.
They laugh, and brood, and worry and wait.
This is our earth.
There are no other earths.
Before its wonder, philosophers fall silent.
Before its mystery,
poets admit their words are shadow, not light.
And all the great names religious teachers
have left to us
Ishtar, Shekinah, Terra Mater, Suchness, Wakan Tanka, Gaia
suddenly refuse to announce themselves.
And so we too fall silent,
entering the time where words end
and reality begins.

Festival of the Ancestors

Introduction

As the harvest season comes to an end, it is a time of both fruition and death - fruits such as apples lay heavy on the branches and squashes such as pumpkins are at their full weight, but the leaves are turning and falling off baring branches and the vines are whithering.  The days are shorter and there is a chill in the air. It is a time to think of ancestors.  Indeed, several cultures Coming six months after the Festival of the First Fruits, and being its mirror image, let this be a time to celebrate our members of the community who have passed into ancestorhood during the previous year.


Personal

 If a loved one has died within the past year, use today to honor them.  If no one close to you has died, you can use today to honor someone who has touched you spititually or honor your ancestors in general.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring photos/momentos of loved ones who have passed into ancestorhood over the previous year.  (For folks who forget, you might want to have a notepad and pencils on which to write their names so that they can be included.)  Also, for the potluck dishes, ask folks to bring a favorite dish of their departed.  The ancstral icons and food should be placed on the altar as usual, but ask folks to hold on to their icons *of the newly departed* until after the ritual starts.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Today we honor those who have joined the ranks of the ancestors this past year.

Invite folks to state the names of the recently departed, and as they do so to add the photo/momento of the recently departed among the icons of the older ancestors.  Ask them also to state their loved one's favorite food, being shared today.  When finished, turn to the altar and say:

You who have passed on into glory,
Your memories still live in our hearts and your spirits still guide us.
Through Love we are never alone.

Water Communion

Introduction

It's the Atumnal Equinox and fall is in the air.  Daylight is receding, harvests are being brought in, and folks are coming back from summer vacations - it is a time of ingathering.  The UU ritual of Water Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Loaves and Festival of the Ancestors, focus on harvest and other aspectsof fall, the Water Communion is not really seasonal in and of itself.  We will use the autumn equinox as a time to focus on ingathering - that is, a time for community.


Personal

The communal aspect of Water Communion obviously cannot be replicated as a personal ritual.  However, since the Water Communion is about interdependency, that aspect addressed.   


Communal

Have a large empty basin, near the center of the altar table, but leaving room for the offering plate.  In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small amount of water from a place that is meaningful to them (which could include their home).  Ask folks to place their potluck dishes of seasonal foods on the communion table as usual, but to hang on to their water.  (You might want to have a bowl of water - perhaps from last year's water communion - and some small containers on hand, in case anyone forgets.)  After lighting the chalice but BEFORE the invocation of the ancestors, insert the Water Communion. (You want to do it before so that the water is consecrated along with the communion food.)

Communion leader (or someone else for this part) lights the chalice and says:

Just as many little streams join into rivers which join into the oceans, their waters intermingling,
So to do we voluntarily join together as one.
Alone we are small; together we are powerful, as wide and as deep as the oceans.

Invite participants to come up and pour their water into the basin.  This can be done silently or with a very few words as they are pouring, whichever works best for your congregation/group.  When all are finished, commence with the rest of the communion ritual.  If desired, you can use some of the water from the water communion bowl as the libation for the ancestors.  Many congregations boil the water communion water afterwards to sterilize it, and then use it in their child dedication ceremonies throughout the year.  In addition, when new congregations are starting up, many congregations will send some of their communion water for the new congregation.  In that way, there is a continuous stream of transimission from established congregations to new ones. 

Some congregations include as part of the ritual a recognition that not everyone has access to water, so essential to life.

Blessing of the Loaves

Introduction

Remember the Blessing of the Seeds back in the beginning of spring?  This is the mirror image ritual six months later as we begin autumn. the first wave of harvests.  I don't expect many folks to grow their own grains, mill their own flour, and then bake bread, but this again is to remind us of our ties to the land.  However, in many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start harvesting grain.  And while the grain eaten may vary from culture to culture, the importance of grain itself is pretty ubiquitous, whether wheat, rice, corn, millet or others.  Moreover, the making of bread requires many different steps - planting the grain, tending, harvesting, milling, the making of other ingredients - all go into a loaf of bread.  Thus, the Blessing of the Loaves gives us an opportunity to recognize these things.


Personal

Whether you bake or not, this ritual can be performed on a personal level.  You will need some bread.  Light your chalice or candle. Hold the bread, breaking off a piece, and say:

Seeds planted in spring and tended over the summer have come to fruition.
This sustaining food, whether baked or bought, is the tangible result of my efforts.
But even so, I know that I could not accomplish this alone.
I give thanks for the fertile earth, the sun and rain,
I give thanks to those who grew, tended, harvested, milled, and baked.

Eat, thinking both of what you've accomplished and what you owe to the help of others.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) who do bake to bring "bread."  (Interpret "bread" *loosely.*  This can include tortillas, steamed buns, cornbread, whatever. In fact, there should be something present without gluten in it for those with sensitivities.)  Those who do not bake should being seasonal dishes as usual.  (If no one bakes, you will have to buy some bead.)  Place the food on the altar table as usual.  Make sure that everyone has washed their hands before this ritual because there is going to be touching of food involved.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Blessing of the Loaves.

Take a large loaf of bread turn towards the group and break the bread, saying:

Seeds planted in spring and tended over the summer have come to fruitiion.
This sustaining food, whether baked or bought, is the tangible result of our efforts.
But even so, we know that we could not accomplish this alone.
We give thanks for the fertile earth, the sun and rain,
We give thanks to those who grew, tended, harvested, milled, and baked.

Give half a loaf each to pre-designated people on each side.  Invite folks to form lines to come up and tear off a piece of bread from the halves, but ask them not to eat it yet.  Depending on how many people are involved and/or there are people with gluten sensitivities, you might have to take a second, different type of loaf, and break that in half as well, giving each half to two more pre-diesignated people.  Make sure that someone is still holding bread for you.  When everyone has a piece of bread, finish the communion blessing by breaking off some bread from the person still holding it and placing it on the plate.  Pour the libation, etc.  Break off a piece of bread for yourself from the person still holding bread.  Then invite everyone to eat, thinking both of what they've accomplished and what they owe to the help of others. If there is a variety of different kinds of "bread," invite folks to try something they don't normally eat during the potluck communion meal.

Day of Reflections

Introduction

Summer solstice is the longest day/shortest night of the year.  It is the sun at its greatest strength but also the mark of its decline.  From this day forth until the winter solstice, light wanes into darkness.  There is still a lot of growing yet to do but now in the heat of summer things start to slow down a bit compared to frenetic spring.  Now is a good time to take stock of how the year is going and make any necessary adjustments.  The word "reflection" can refer both to light, as in reflections in a mirror, and to thought, as in self-reflection.  So this ritual plays on the double meaning of reflection as we celebrate the peak of light. Also, as the winter solstice ritual represented light expanding outwards, this summer solstice ritual represents light contracting inwards.  (Note: I'm not against bon fires, either today or for any of the other holidays.  They just don't work well indoors.)


Personal

For this ritual, you will need a hand mirror.  Light your chalice or candle.  And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the days are bright, from this point on the light dims.
May I be mindful of the time I am given.

Tun away from the chalice and hold up your mirror.  You can either look at your own reflection or the chalice light, whichever makes more sense to you. Enter a moment of reflection.  How is the year going?  Are you where/who you want to be?  Are there changes that need to be made?  When you finish your reflections, turn back around, facing the chalice.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks to bring a small hand mirror or anything reflective, one for each participant.  (You might want to have some extra mirrors on hand,to be loaned, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the days are bright, from this day on the light dims.
May we be mindful of the time we are given.

Invite participants to turn around, facing away from the altar and the lit chalice, and hold up their mirrors.  They can either look at their own reflections or the chalice light, whichever makes more sense to them or is more feasible.  (Some people may not be able to see the chalice from where they are.)  Invite them into a moment of reflection.  How is the year going?  Are you where/who you want to be?  Are there changes that need to be made?  As they finish their reflections, they are to turn back around, facing the altar table and chalice.  When everyone has turned back around, say:

Festival of the First Fruits

Introduction

This ritual gets its name from the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of the First Fruits. This is traditionally the time when the first harvests occur and are celebrated.  While spring is a hopeful time of new life and new begnnings, it is also a more tempestuous time when late and/or unseasonal frosts still happen.  By the time we get to late spring/early summer there is more certainty that what has grown is firmly established and even beginning to bear fruit.  Coming six months before the Festival of the Ancestors, and being its mirror image, let this be a time to celebrate new members who have been born into the community during the previous year.


Personal

 If a loved one has been born/adopted within the past year, use today to celebrate them.  If no one close to you has had a birth, you can use today to honor the children in your life in general.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants to being their babies!  Hopefully people have been bringing their children all along, as these rituals are meant to be intergenerational.  But on this day in particular, bring your infants who have been born during the previous year, and other children who have joined the community within the past year.  If for some reason that can't be done, then encourage folks to bring a photo or momento.  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Today we celebrate those who have joined our community this past year.

Invite folks with infants to name their babes.  Let participants be free to show their appreciation, as they feel comfortable, as each name is called.  When finished, turn out towards the people and say:

 

Flower Communion

Introduction

It's the Vernal Equinox, spring should have sprung by now, and nothing screams spring more than blooming flowers.  The UU ritual of Flower Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Seeds and Festival of the First Fruits, are about new life and fertility, the original flower communion is not really about that (although flowers are the plant's sex organs).  The way that I interpret the Flower Communion is that it is a celebration of diversity. And that serves as a nice balance to the Water Communion (six months later), which is about unity - the many flowing into one.


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the start of spring (about six-1/2 weeks prior). 

If you are not at the moment part of a UU community, you can perform a flower ritual by yourself.  Create a small bouquet of flowers, preferably from your own garden (but not necessary), making sure that there are enough flowers for each person you wish to honor.  Light your chalice or candle and say:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May I respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Then touch each flower thinking of the person it represents as you do.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants (beforehand) to bring a flower, one for each person participating, preferably from their own gardens.  (You might want to have some extra flowers on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.) Have two vases on the altar table and invite participants to place their flowers in the vases.  (Or use the number of vases appropriate for the number of participants. Someone should be in charge of making sure that the number of flowes in each vase is balanced.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Flower Communion.  Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May we respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Invite participants to line up to each take a flower that is different from the one they brought. (The nunber of lines should match the number of vases.)  Optional: Have smaller containers on hand in which participants can place their selected flowers to enjoy while they share the communion meal. But remind them to take their flowers home! 

Blessing of the Seeds

Author: 
Kat Liu
sprouting seeds, AndreusK via Getty Images

Introduction

There may or may not still be frost on the ground depending on where you live, but this is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring (hence the Groundhog Day ritual), and new beginnings. Chinese New Year is celebrated very near this time, where offerings are made to the gods for a prosperous year, including bountiful harvests.  In the Christian tradition of Candlemas, this is supposedly the day that Jesus was introduced at the Temple and such wisdom coming from someone so young impressed the old rabbis.  (In Catholic Ireland, this is the Feast of St. Brighid, a Gaelic fertility goddess.) Seeds planted at Tu B’Shevat become the "bitter herbs" eaten at Passover. In many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start preparing for the spring planting.  The seeds of the past year and even agricultural tools are consecrated/blessed for the coming year. 


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the vernal equinox. 

If you are a gardener and depending on where you live, this may be the tme of year when you are starting your seeds - planting them in temporary small pots to let them sprout indoors before they are planted outside in the ground.  If you have a personal altar, do this in front of your altar.  But you need not have an altar to perform this simple ritual.  Light your chalice.  Take some a seed and some of the soil in a starter pot and hold them in your hands.

A seed is a new beginning.
A seed is new life from what has come before.
As I nurture and tend this seed in the coming seasons,
May it and all others reach their fullest potentials.

With that, plant the seed in the starter pot.  Now would be a good time to remind yourself of what you wish for the coming year (your resolutions from winter solstice).  If you are not a gardener and do not start seeds, you can still perform this ritual by lighting your chalice or a candle (remember Candlemas) and thinking of the seed figuratively.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring any seeds they may have saved from last year's harvest, labeled.  If they plan to exchange/share seeds afterwards, the seeds should be divvied up into small paper packets. (You might want to buy a few packets of seeds in case no one brings any.  Also bring some extra paper in which to fold seeds and a marking pen in case folks want to share and did not come prepared.)  Ask folks to place the seeds preferably below the icons of the ancestors but above the food.  (If that can't be done, then place them where it makes the most sense.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the blessing of the seeds.

Picking up and holding some of the seeds in your hand, say:

These seeds are a new beginning.
These seeds are new life from what has come before.
As we nurture and tend these seeds in the coming seasons,
May they and all others reach their fullest potentials.

After the ritual, people who have brought seeds can either retrieve them or exchange them with others who have brought seeds or give them away.  Now would be a good time to encourage folks who have been thinking of gardening to give it a go!  Let experienced garderners share tips over the communion meal.

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