Seeking Caesura (text & audio)

Elizabeth Schell, Guest Speaker
What my professor was trying to get across, besides obviously really having enjoyed the opening scene to Jaws, was how the poet’s use of a caesura intensified the focus within the poem. A lovely little poetic device, the “caesura.” It’s basically a complete pause in a line of poetry. Sometimes it just adds a breath to the poem, but it can also signal a significant shift in the feeling or narrative. Caesuras are most dramatic when they fall in the middle of a line and break the rhythm.


READING 1: A Story Heard on NPR:

READING 2: A Recorded Memory

Intro: Our second reading is recorded in my memory.  If I were Albus Dumbledore, I’d use my wand to thread out the wisps of memory from my mind, and place it in a pensieve for all of us to see.  But I’m not, so I’ll just have to share it with you in my own way.

We’re in a basement, windowless classroom at Boston University on a Wednesday afternoon in 1992. The course: Intro to English Poetry.  A man who seems too big for the room and his smallish tweed coat is pacing back and forth at the lectern, getting worked up over Alexander Pope’s mock-heroic poem, “The Rape of the Lock.” With a shock of white leaping hair and sparkly blue eyes, Mark Patrick Hederman, visiting professor, is trying to explain Pope’s perfect use of the poetic caesura. Sonorous!

Professor: Now what Pope does in this stanza is brilliant! And everything in the poetic narrative has built up to this moment, see—even the meter has sped up, all the syllables crowding onto the line and then BAM!  a caesura, a big breath, a  break in the momentum. All right before the cutting of the hair. It’s brilliant! It’s….. well it’s just like the beginning of the film Jaws…. Have you seen it!? Most fantastic opening sequence in cinema! First there’s the young people partying on the beach.
Then the young man and woman run off from the group. There’s expectation and inhibition. The woman is stripping off her clothes. Will the man catch up with her?
He’s drunk and falls on the beach. The woman leaps into the water, naked. The sun is setting. We see her gracefully swimming through the clear water. Then we are her and we are seeing the water on our body, seeing the light in the sky, the shore, the young man. Then, we are down below, in the deep. Looking up at her, at her danglingly tasty legs. Then we are her, swimming again. Then down below, getting closer to those legs. Then we are her and YANK! the first bite and she is pulled under for the first time. And the sound in the audience is truly audible. A GASP. An intake of breath. Not just because we are shocked by what has just happened. But because we were the woman. And then we were the shark. And then the woman. Then the shark. And now CHOMP! We have eaten ourselves. It is cinematic brilliance, I tell you! And it is just what Pope is trying to do here in this stanza!


What my professor was trying to get across, besides obviously really having enjoyed the opening scene to Jaws, was how the poet’s use of a caesura intensified the focus within the poem. A lovely little poetic device, the  “caesura.” It’s basically a complete pause in a line of poetry. Sometimes it just adds a breath to the poem, but it can also signal a significant shift in the feeling or narrative. Caesuras are most dramatic when they fall in the middle of a line and break the rhythm.

In The Rape of the Lock, the poem my professor was lecturing about, the poet’s use of rhythm—and especially the interruption of predictable rhythm – gets across a moment of crisis and transformation. In that space of interrupted rhythm, in that in-between space, something intense happens. A lock of Belinda’s hair is cut off and stolen. It is later humorously put on par with the abduction of Helen of Troy and the horror that follows. A ridiculous exaggeration. But, like all parody, there’s a root of bare truth. In Pope’s time, the early 18th century, women were judged on their “honor” without being given the rights to defend themselves.  A woman defending a lock of her hair—; a woman drunk and naked on the beach—women whose agency is in question—is this tragedy or comedy? It’s supposed to be both, and what does that say about us? The caesura is a marker, drawing our attention to a pause, telling us to take the time to think.

In the space of the caesura, this silent in-between space of interrupted rhythm, interrupted predictability, a lot can happen. I like to think of this caesura beyond the realm of poetry and music, but instead within our lives. What is the caesura to us? It’s kind of like an ellipsis, a pause, a break in the flow of thought. A space to soak in, to be awed, to empathize, to be moved. It is in these moments that we may be inspired to reconnect with what is meaningful, with our best intention. In these moments we might be challenged to question ourselves, our passive acceptance of something we know to be wrong or our lack of engagement with others. We might even see glimpses of what some of us might call divine, a space of unknown, a space of communion where we truly observe our 7th principle in action. Within the space of caesura, all things are connected.

Sometimes, it’s a personal moment. Have we knelt down and looked underfoot lately? Have we gone for a walk in the park or the woods with no particular purpose, but to just BE there? Have we unplugged lately? That distraction can be the biggest barrier to all forms of caesura space—keeping us from paying attention to who and what is directly before and around us.

Other times, the caesura space moves beyond ME to WE. This collective caesura is what happens… when the power goes out on a hot summer night and all the neighbors you may or may not know come out on their porches and the conversations and laughter and soft candlelight of each porch creates this kind of gorgeous hush of sound that is usually lost under the electrical hum and the daily routine. A moment of communion instigated by a disruption. Other kinds of collective caesuras might be during a snowstorm or on a stopped elevator and usually bring us closer to the people we are with. Even if they are strangers.

Part of what makes these collective caesuras meaningful is how they break into our ordinary lives and shake us up a bit. We creative humans often design our very own collective caesuras specifically for the purpose of breaking through the familiar to make space for deeper connections. These times include holidays, retreats, weddings, funerals, and family reunions. Many of these events include special rituals, but often it’s the time leading up to and after these highly charged events where there is the most potential for a meaningful caesura between people.

Of course we’re in one of the most traditional forms of scheduled caesuras right now. All of us. Here in this human invention: worship. People all over the world in all kinds of religious traditions do this. It really doesn’t matter the tradition, the speaker, or the topic. The point is the space given for connecting. To each other. To our inner selves. To the outer unknown. And we do that through making Sabbath. At root, we humans created Sabbath in order to build in Caesura, spiritually transformative space, within the routine of our lives. Think of it, this Sunday “thing” we do here, it’s definitely a break in our weekly routine. Because in this place we DO things we don’t do in our everyday lives: We SING! Sometimes we even dance a little. We hold hands. We say words together… out loud… that affirm what we believe, what we intend. We celebrate rites of passage. We warmly—and unconditionally—welcome strangers. And sometimes we just sit in our pews & cry.

But sometimes nothing happens. The service is over & we feel unmoved, unchanged. You can’t force the sacred. You can’t force “aha’s” and sighs. And even though we may crave the caesura space, we’re kind of built to resist it. We keep people at arm’s length emotionally. We rarely go out into nature. Our world and our hearts can become pretty calcified by concrete routine. But we are hungry. We are hungry for that moment when all that is expected goes out the window. The moment when words and expectations are consumed. What is left? The possibility for something new to enter. The possibility of finding the strength to not fill the silence with the thrust of our own arguments, of our certainties, but to instead let the unknown settle and hear what might be within it.

And we need to listen for that possibility. Because sometimes we really need to draw upon some strong communal energy to get thru stuff. Because there are communal caesuras that aren’t just little “happenings” in our everyday or intentional experiences we humans craft. No, there are also these capital “C” caesuras that come to us, whether we want them or not. These are events like September 11th, 2001 and they make a pause that’s very hard to fill—even together. Whether you were in NY on that day or in a neighborhood far far away, regular time stopped for hours, even days on end, as we all watched and waited and mourned. Caesuras can be caused by natural disasters or human enacted violence: Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, a building fire, a bombing, a school shooting. These are not really the kind of caesuras  any of us want, but disaster can certainly bring about all kinds of transformation—as people are forced to move beyond themselves as they are ripped from their everyday to reach out to cling to their fellow humans. We are challenged to rethink how we view the world and this “rethinking” may bring us more in line with our values, or it may push us more towards behaviors based on fear. We want these events to be turning points;
we say “Never again,” but our differing reactions to these tragedies can actually make it harder for us to work together or even talk to each other.

Supposedly one of the motivations of Elliot Rodger, who killed six people in Santa Barbara last month, was the young man’s feeling of rejection by women. In the aftermath of this disturbing revelation, there’s been a groundswell of commentary shared under the Twitter hashtag “Yes All Women.” Women of all ages  breaking silences to share their experiences. Though a great deal has changed since the 18th century, women’s experiences reveal that patriarchy and misogyny are alive and well. And that’s pretty loud and clear when you read some of the horrific responses of many men to the “yes all women” tweets. And not just the overtly misogynistic. But just the flat denials of the women’s truth: “You’re just being paranoid.” “Men aren’t after you.” “Men aren’t going to rape you.” “You don’t have to fear every guy you see.” And women know that they don’t have to fear EVERY guy they see. The point is, we are talking past each other and not taking the deep pause for listening. Tweets and talking points aren’t a conversation. Each group entrenches itself against the other and just continues to solidify its position, instead of stopping. Pausing. Breathing. Listening. Making a caesura space. A space where different opposing voices can actually stop and pay attention to each other.

And it’s not just gender issues and gun violence where we need to make space for listening and thinking; it’s every issue that divides people into an “us” and a “them.” Equal marriage, health care, income inequality, race, religion, privilege. Moral Monday versus the North Carolina legislature in a nutshell.

Our congregation’s covenant declares that, “Our life together declares that the future of each depends on the good of all and the future of all depends on the good of each.” That “all,” that “each,” that “everyone” —they include the people we disagree with, the people we can’t stand, the people who hate us.

Personally I think we need to enact our own big fat caesura in our culture right now.  A big pressing of the PAUSE button where we LISTEN; where we hear different interpretations and opinions of what true liberty means. That doesn’t mean we have to accept discrimination, gun violence, or anything that is harmful to another. But it does mean that for any progress to really happen, we have to be willing to talk to each other and not vilify each other. Do what the Campaign for Southern Equality has been doing. By performing acts of loving civil disobedience in every town in the south, they are enabling, emboldening really, people to come OUT and talk with each other about what they’ve never talked about; talk about what it means to be IN relationship, to be neighbors, to be fellow citizens in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Big awesome people-enacted Caesura Activism that is.

The NPR story talked about breaks in the rhythm. Musical gaps that seem to be these open spaces that our bodies want to jump into. And that’s fantastic. That’s something we gotta do more of. Boogieing is definitely something that needs to be a part of our day to day. How often do we let our bodies move to the beat the way they desire to? But it’s interesting that what gets our bodies moving is not the rhythm, it’s the gaps in the rhythm. And too much of our daily lives, even our weekly Sabbath, can become too scheduled, predictable. And we need moments that aren’t predictable—by chance or by planning. We need breaks in our rhythm. We need to mix it up, stretch ourselves. We can’t let this precious time with each other be rote. There’s too much at stake.

But even when we hear that gap in the rhythm, that gap that entices our bodies to break out of our cocoons of complacency, it can be really hard. Because our bodies are holding on to so much. All this tension up through our spine. We stay so tightly wound within our bodies because we’re holding on to all this hatred. Of self. Of other. All this internalized violence. And all this feeling of failure. We’ve learned to tune Violence out because that’s what we have to do to survive. We think, “we can’t make a difference.” We think “it is impossible to overcome.” If the horrific caesura of Sandy Hook couldn’t make an impact, what can? Has this become our new normal?  We move on because we feel powerless to do anything. But our bodies hold onto it. Obviously the hurting people who enter schools and college campuses, places of worship,  malls, and movie theaters…these people who feel the need to arm themselves and go out and destroy life and then themselves—something is causing that. And it’s not just mental illness. Not just the availability of guns. Not just misogyny. Not just racism. All of them, to me, seem interconnected: Hatred of Other. Hatred of Self. 

So what can we do about it?    Well, we can and should do the things many of us have already been doing—vote our conscience; sign letters and petitions; get out there in the streets and protest. We may not see the change we wish to see in our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean our actions aren’t meaningful, aren’t part of the longterm pressure needed to move things along.

But there is something else we can do. It’s radical, but it’s simple.

We need to be the shark. And we need to be the woman. We need to try to have these different camera angles. We need to try to see through the eyes of the person without privilege and the person with privilege, both sides. And in different situations we are one and in others we are the other. But in every situation we need to try to see from both places, without hatred of self or hatred of other. This can be done silently, in our own heads, trying to think out different point of views. But we also need to really do this work outside of our heads, person to person, and not just on Facebook or Twitter, but actually face to face. Take time for a caesura, a breath, a break in the ongoing me versus you, and find a way to be A “WE.”

We have to be the shark and the woman. The terrorist and the hostage.
The rapist and the victim. The shooter and the child.
Or, less dramatic, but no less problematic: the Republican and the Democrat;
the Christian and the Atheist; the Religious Conservative and the Religious Liberal; the Pro Lifer and the Women’s Lifer advocate; the Politician and the Constituent; the Parent and the Teen.  

But we must come towards each other, not seeing each other as ferocious predator or vulnerable prey, but as two equal beings, each seeking sustenance, meaning, acceptance. When we, the shark and the woman, come together, the giant GASP need not be because we’ve eaten one another, one or both of us slaughtered in the altercation. Because instead that gasp is when the two of us sit down together and commune. Break the rhythm of the planned and the expected interaction. Break the rhythm. Break bread. Exchange questions and answers.  And listen…. 

When we allow this kind of caesura space, it is certainly not an easy place to be in. It is a true gap in the rhythm. And it is physically torturous to be in that gap. But if we make it a communal caesura, instead of a poetic-in-our-head caesura, then we can endure it. Then our bodies will want to move together, and we can slowly work towards making things better. 

To me, this worship space, this community, is where these gasps and gaps really happen; where we can be energized to go out and make these caesura spaces become reality. Can you feel the entry point? The break in the rhythm that invites us to move? The space where we can experience a kind of happy where we feel like we are a “room without a roof” ?  Nothing can hold us back. Not when we are in it together. 

May we seek and find and make space for all these caesuras…..
and may we boogie our hearts out in the process.


Refulgent – Still! (text & audio)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
It was on an April morning 10 years ago that this congregation gathered to get its first look at this middle-aged seminary graduate who your search committee was proposing be called as your next settled minister. As I had prepared for that service, I learned from the chair of your search committee, Linda Bair, that there was much amusement in the congregation at the rather hifalutin word that I had tossed into the title of my sermon, “This Refulgent Moment.” Oh, boy! What does this guy have in mind?


It was on an April morning 10 years ago that this congregation gathered to get its first look at this middle-aged seminary graduate who your search committee was proposing be called as your next settled minister. As I had prepared for that service, I learned from the chair of your search committee, Linda Bair, that there was much amusement in the congregation at the rather hifalutin word that I had tossed into the title of my sermon, “This Refulgent Moment.” Oh, boy! What does this guy have in mind?

On reflection, it may not have been the best tack. Here I was waltzing out of seminary seeming to flaunt an arcane vocabulary: not a great way to win friends and supporters. But you were kind. You listened with forbearance and decided in the end that I just might work out. And you gave me a vote of confidence for which I have never ceased to be grateful.

Ten years later, though, I want to return to that fancy word. For, in truth, as you might imagine, I had a greater purpose in introducing it to you than simply hoping to impress you. Indeed, to me that word represents a thread that has wound through my ministry with you these 10 years and that guides me still. Even more, I think it points to a center of energy that holds hope for our future as a congregation and for the future of our movement.

So, why refulgent? I think initially I wanted to signal to you some of what most strongly influenced me in my development as a minister. Long before I entered ministry I was drawn to Emerson’s Divinity School Address. I’m not sure I could have told you why in those early days, other than the wonderful lyricism of Emerson’s prose here – the way that he evokes the soul-stirring beauty of the natural world – and how it echoes my own experience.

Like many of you – I have since learned – my first spiritual awakenings took place in the natural world and I am still renewed there continually. It’s certainly part of what drew me to Asheville. How could anyone living here help but be inspired by the glorious world around us?

But it’s worth remembering, as Emerson’s biographer Robert Richardson puts it, the opening sentence of Emerson’s address, “In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life” is not, in Richardson’s words, “a casual allusion to the weather or a clearing of the throat. It is the central theological point of the talk.”

Hear him for a minute: These words, Richardson says, are “a description of the religious impulse in human beings. Emerson says that the ‘religious sentiment,’ the religious feeling, is universal and that it derives from or is awakened by the ‘moral sentiment,’ which is the even more fundamental perception that the world has an essential balance and wholeness. The feeling of veneration or reverence that arises from this perception is the basic building block of all religion.”

There is a reason why Emerson’s address was received as scandalous by so many of the Harvard faculty who heard it that day. In many ways, he was contradicting key teachings that they had offered the tender seminarians in the audience who they were sending out into the world.

Recall that Unitarianism emerged in response to the Puritan doctrine that we are each born depraved, stained with sin, and that our only hope in appeasing an angry God is to give ourselves over to what the church declared that Christ taught in the hope that he would enter our lives and save us. Unitarians insisted that God was not so angry and that rather than left to fate, we each have a role in our own salvation in how we lives our lives, and that we can use the minds we were given to sort out our duties in life.

Behind this “reasonable” approach to religion, though, remained some essential doubts about humankind. Yes, we can be clever and kind, but we can also be deceptive and deceived. Jesus’ ministry, they insisted, offered the only sure path to right living, and it was the duty of the ministry to deliver it.

Here is Emerson, though, saying that the source of religion is to be found, not in church, but our individual experience. Here is Emerson, saying, “Go alone, refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination.”

As I said, it’s no wonder that he created a furor among his contemporaries. But what interests me more is that, what I think he and others with similar views at the time were doing was opening the door to a new understanding of what religion is and does that is central to us today.

Religion begins, Emerson suggests and I want to claim, in an experience of the fullness of the world around us, the refulgent – that is, shining, brilliant, resplendent – world that breaks in on us every moment of our lives. And that experience awakens our sense of the wholeness of all things. We today articulate this as the awareness of an interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

It also evokes in us a sense of gratitude, wonder and awe that feed and affirm an elemental capacity within us that blossoms into love: Love that we are each born with and that, if nurtured, can deepen and grow and fill us to overflowing.

We require no meditator, no influence outside of ourselves to experience this. It is what living gives us, and it is available to us all.

But what am I to do with all of this? What consequences does it have for my life, how does it help me to live with meaning and integrity? These are the questions of religion, the questions that tie us back to that original experience of fullness, of wonder, of joy.

This is that to which we bring our agile minds to bear, where we posit such notions as God, the goddess, the Tao, the unnamed source of eternal mystery, or simply that great moral center within. It is where Jesus found the Kingdom of God, where Siddhartha Gautama located the Buddha nature, where Elijah heard the still, small voice. And there is so much more beyond. The heritage of humankind is to be found in how people have struggled to come to terms with their experience.

But all that history and all those big thoughts are only the prompts for our own explorations. How shall we speak of this? Bring in the poets, the artists, the dancers, the musicians; the theologians, the astronomers, the naturalists, the psychologists! What shall we leave out, or shoe-horn in?

This, it seems to me, is the project of liberal religion: Not to debate the terms of salvation at our deaths, but to learn the disciplines that make for a meaningful life before death: real-living, not going through the motions, never losing sight of that refulgent truth that awakened that spark of awareness of our own worth and that of our fellows and all things.


Several times a year here our Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper and I lead a series of classes that we call Beginning Point and Connecting Points for people who are considering joining this community. We walk them through the history of this congregation and Unitarian Universalism, and we talk about some of what goes on here – our classes and small group ministry, our social activities and justice work. But to my mind one of the most important things we do is ask them to take part in facilitated small groups where we invite them to share some of their stories and some of their hopes.

It is a privilege to sit in on some of those conversations, and I have to tell you that if you ever doubt the need for this congregation and this religious movement, you should listen in sometime. For those who come to us from other UU congregations, it is a bit of a homecoming. You should know that these new arrivals are often quite complimentary of the congregation that you’ve created, the way they feel welcomed, and all that you’ve done to make a strong home for liberal religion in the mountains. That’s not to say we don’t stumble sometimes or don’t need to make improvements, but as a rule UUs arriving here are happy to find their tribe among you.

The majority of people who attend our newcomer classes, though, are new to Unitarian Universalism. They may have just moved to the area or may have lived here for years, but something in their lives got them out the door and over to a UU congregation – sometimes the first time they’ve darkened a church door in decades.

By the time they’ve made it to our classes, of course, they’ve done more than just scout us out. They’ve seen enough to be ready to throw their lot in with us. Each person has her or his own story, but among them I find a remarkable consistency. Essentially, they want their lives to be about something. They want to make a difference. Many are quite accomplished, but they want to make deeper connections in their lives, and they’re hoping that we might be a part of that happening.

My colleague Tom Schade, who you heard from earlier, writes a blog that often tweaks us UUs for our foibles and confusions. I was taken with this essay, though, as it seemed to land particularly close to home. In polls here we’ve found consistently that when asked what the most important work of this congregation is, the answer tends to settle, as Tom suggests, on “building religious community.”

Is that bad? Heavens, no! In fact, it’s wonderful. The support that members of this community give to each other is inspiring and makes such a difference in so many of our lives. There are many occasions here where, as Tom puts it, what we do “blossoms into the experience of beloved community.”

But, is that enough? Let me take this occasion of celebrating my 10 years with you as your lead minister to offer you a challenge: What if we answered, “No,” and what might that reply require of us?

I suggest that the place we would begin is by recognizing that, as Tom puts it, naming “religious community” as our main focus is to place our focus on ourselves. The work of caring for each other, of listening, of sharing, of creating a village to help raise our children is crucial work. But as a community, it is crucial mostly for how it prepares us for carrying the hope, the deep grounding we find here forward into the work of creating a better world.

In a sense, our newcomers give us our charge. They tell us what they see in this community, that this is a place where they can make a difference and make deeper connections in their lives. I think that hope resonates with all of us. As individuals we affirm it, and some of us take the time to dive into the task. But as a community we still struggle with making it real.

It’s easy to pack our busy lives so full that we take little time for the slow work that feeds us here, the time we spend with others to create space to listen and open to each other. This listening and sharing is the groundwork for everything else we hope to achieve. So, I want to invite you to find space for this good, slow work, and I will commit to working to create opportunities that work for you and open the conversations that help you grow.

Once in conversation, we can begin asking deeper questions. What do we know about this community where we live? How we might even widen our understanding of who is part of that community? Who are our neighbors, what are the challenges that they and we face, and how might we be agents of change for the better?

Our justice work gives us an entrée into this, but we would be more effective if we were more deeply engaged. One way I am proposing to do that is that we expand how we contribute to the work of justice. Beginning in July we will expand our practice of sharing our offering, as we are this Sunday with The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center, from once a month to every Sunday. All cash and any designated checks that we receive will be dedicated to outreach to the larger community.

Of course, just devoting more money to this work is not enough. If we are to shepherd these resources wisely, we will need to spend more energy getting to know the needs of this community and building relationships with other change agents across our community. Where would you like to connect? What opportunities await us? Help us find out.

We are blessed with a strong congregation here in Asheville, but we know that there are many people who identify with us in this region who live too far away to participate regularly, and many others who would but don’t even know that we exist. There are about a half dozen UU congregations around the country who have responded to this concern with a creative solution that I think could work for us – starting satellite congregations.

These are groups that gather in distant locations that stay connected to a home congregation. Key portions of Sunday worship are sent via the Internet or satellite to create a common experience, and the home congregation provides worship leaders and small group coordinators, as well as administrative assistance, to help the new group get started. It is a system well suited to the mountains, where travel across long distances is challenging.

We’ll be busy enough in the coming year with the capital campaign that I hope you will approve at our annual meeting today. But afterward I invite you to join me in exploring this exciting option for growing liberal religion in the mountains.

Meanwhile, the Internet and social media offer opportunities for us to be in religious community in ways we’ve never considered before. We already know that most people make their first connection with us through our Web site. How might an increased presence in cyberspace deepen and grow our work as a congregation? Let’s think, let’s explore, let’s dream!

REFULGENT, STILL!                PART 3

I joined a half dozen of our members on Wednesday at our weekly silent meditation time. We gather here from 8 to 9 a.m., light our chalice and simply sit in silence. People come and go; anyone is welcome.

It took a while for the buzzing in my head to settle down – all the busyness of this congregation and the many plans for this very full life that I’m living right now. In time, though, I found some quiet, and in that quiet I became reconnected to some delicious quality in that time and space. I guess the only way to describe it is to go back to our opening word – a refulgence that filled me and reminded me of the peace we can find in this place.

I stumbled on the Rumi poem that Sharon read earlier some months ago, and immediately I knew I would turn to it to help me close this sermon. Because, you see, I have struggled over how to explain what 10 years of ministry with you has done for me, and Rumi’s poem sums it up.

I’ve never understood this image that some have of religious leaders as people who sit around all the time in some sort of wise, imperturbable Zen state. What are they, crazy? Yeah, sure there are those moments such as I experienced on Wednesday where your feel the currents of the universe flow through your being.

And then there are those moments when you’re itching to get out the door to a meeting on the budget drive, which is coming up short, but you’re on the phone with someone explaining why they were unhappy with your sermon on Sunday, while you’re plotting in your head how to find time to meet with a family to talk about an upcoming memorial service.

It’s not that I didn’t anticipate this kind of juggling act when I came here 10 years ago. It’s just that I didn’t know how it would feel to be in the middle of it. The difference, as Rumi puts it, is between admiring wines and wandering inside the red world.

You can’t know ahead of time how it will fill you when someone you’ve counseled rises out of despair and how it will break your heart when people you serve, people you love and admire, die, and you must be present to gather their loved ones and tell their stories. It is not infrequent that I feel like nothing more than a burnt kabob on such occasions, and yet I am grateful to be with you.

I have learned in so many ways that this work – my work, our work – is not about me, about ourselves as individuals. It is about letting go of ego, letting go of expectation and being present. That presence opens us as nothing else can, opens us to the astonishing fullness of life every moment, to the wonders of our companions on this journey.

What a gift our presence can be to one another! What a rare occasion of meeting, and when we find it, oh, what a blessing! These are the moments of meeting that comprise perhaps the greatest refulgence of all, the brightest, most brilliant events of our lives and the sources of hope that keep us going.

My friends, this time with you has been most refulgent for me, and I pray will continue to be for some time. Let me close by telling you something that I don’t tell you often enough but is always present to me: I love you and am grateful and proud to be your minister.