ON LINE WORSHIP: Many Branches, One Tree

Two transcripts – the Message (by the interim director of religious education) and Homily (by the interim minister)

Message: Tiny the God / Becky Brooks / Marsha Thrall (Video & audio recording by Marsha)

Hi, friends. Remember a few Sundays back when we talked about myths during service, just before we worked on the Art Assembly? Myths are stories that are told in order to help people understand the complicated times they are living through at the moment, and perhaps how they can help. Perhaps myths are spaces for people to try to feel better, not so sad or scared or anxious, about the moments they are living in right now. Today for our message I have a story that I think we can think about as a myth, or maybe we can think about it as true, I think the choice is up to you. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

The story is called, “Tiny the God,” and it was written by our friend Becky Brooks, and it goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time there was a tiny, little, itty bitty, very small, tiny little god named Tiny. She lived her life hearing stories of all the big gods and, well, let’s face it, she was jealous. She knew she needed to think of some kind of special spark of an idea that would make her existence meaningful. 

After watching humans for a long time, she hit upon something that just might work, something to make people think, yeah, that Tiny has really got a good idea going. This was it! This was going to make her famous! Ready? Here it is: “You Are Not Alone!” 

She took the form of a very light breeze, and in a voice so quiet each person heard it only in their mind, she said, “You are not alone . . .you are not alone.” People loved it. It was perfect because who doesn’t want to hear that? 

Pretty soon Tiny was comforting people all over with “You are not alone.” Every evening she took the form of the breeze and whispered it in people’s minds. 

Until one day, she encountered someone who wasn’t comforted at all. When Miriam heard Tiny’s words in her mind, instead of feeling comforted, she felt . . .agitated. Something was just kind of off about it. She kept saying it to herself over and over again: “You are not alone, you are not alone.” She tossed and turned. She couldn’t sleep! 

In the morning, she went to read the paper, and instead of skimming everything she found herself drinking in every single story. She was only halfway through when she found herself crying. “I am not alone,” she said. “I am . . .connected . . .to every one of these people. They live in my town and my country and my world. They love their children like I love mine. They’re scared sometimes and so am I. They hurt like I hurt. I am not alone. I can help.” 

Tiny was surprised. It hadn’t occurred to her that someone might think of it that way. 

Tiny kept watch over Miriam to monitor this interesting development. Miriam and a coworker met online in a meeting and talked about a law they hoped the Senate would pass, and Tiny noticed when Miriam wrote a letter to her senator about it right away. 

She noticed that when Miriam turned in her grocery order, she bought a few extra things for her neighbor and left them, with a colorful note, on their porch. 

She noticed that Miriam had tears in her eyes when she joined in her congregation’s worship on her computer and she heard her favorite hymn through the small speakers. Miriam got out her phone and made an extra donation to her congregation. 

She watched as Miriam wrote postcards to friends and family near and far, waved to the dog walkers who passed by her house, and strung up colorful lights in her living room window. 

But most importantly for Tiny, she noticed when Miriam received a phone call one evening from a friend she hadn’t heard from in a long while. His voice was shaking. “I’m having a hard time,” he said. He started to tell her about his troubles, but he began to cry. 

Miriam got herself comfortable in her favorite chair. “Take your time. I’ll stay on the line with you. You are not alone. I am here.” 

“I am here.” Tiny heard those words like an echo in her mind, “You are not alone. I am here. You are not alone. I am here.” 

“You are not alone. I am here.”

In that moment, Tiny knew that she was nothing without Miriam’s hands and heart and spirit. And she knew that what she wanted—what the world needed more than anything—was what Miriam had learned to give. 

So Tiny went to work. Instead of just spending her evenings spreading the gospel of “You are not alone,” she spent her nighttimes doing it too, and her mornings and afternoons. Pretty soon she was spending every moment doing it, until she became the breeze itself. 

And that is why there are no paintings of Tiny. No busts or holy books. Just a breeze, a low voice, and many, many helping hands, loving hearts, and caring spirits. 

You can hear the echo, if you listen closely: “You are not alone. I am here.” When water bottles are left in the desert for those who risk their lives to cross it: “You are not alone. I am here.” At the bedside of a dying man: “You are not alone. I am here.” In the jailhouse and the sanctuary: “You are not alone. I am here.” Separate and together: “You are not alone. I am here.” 

May it be so

Homily: Many Branches / Rev. Lyn (audio & video recording of Rev. Lyn)

Thank you, Alexander family. For all of the gifts of time, talent, and financial support that sustain this community, and for the mission and values that unify us and help us find meaning, we are truly grateful. 

The seventh of our UU Principles is about respect for the interdependent web of existence. This principle teaches that power flows through things, that the universe is not necessarily set up as a hierarchy or a great chain of being, and that we are called to care for the earth. 

In this current moment, we are learning again about interdependence. Our interdependence means that what happens to one affects us all. It also means that we are not alone, we have common ground through which we can find strength and resilience and kinship. We’ll talk more about the justice implications of that next week, but for today I’d like for us to reflect on the meaning of our relatedness and our heritage of adaptability. 

As a big fan of science, I go pretty quickly from the spiritual idea of our oneness to our shared origins on the evolutionary tree of life. Humans have something in common with other primates. Primates have something in common with other mammals. The species that traveled the planet before us made life possible for us, and left a legacy of adaptation and resilience. The story of life on earth is not so much about individuals as it is about expressions of life that show up in unique and ever-changing ways across millions of years. Beginning with single-celled organisms and branching out over millions and millions of years, life has appeared in an unimaginable diversity of sizes, shapes, and habitats. Those forms keep changing in relationship with all of the other life that is adapting nearby. One of my favorite ways that we and some other species have adapted is the practice of caring for one another; compassion is part of the meaning of being human. 

As a planet, we are one family, all related to our common single-celled ancestor. We can be very different from the other life around us and within us. In fact, the survival of life depends on diversity. The branches of our family tree spread out into a beautiful number of forms. 

I wanted to talk about our relatedness because I think some of us might be feeling isolated. Maybe you miss your friends or your routines or your familiar places to have fun. Those feelings are valid. I miss you. I care about you. I am holding you all in my heart and praying for your well being. 

I am so proud of the way so many of you have adapted to this new way of protecting each other’s health. Continuing to follow the guidance of reason and the results of science, continuing to listen to the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health and our friends in the medical professions, will help us to keep as many people safe as possible. We want all of our relations to get through this time with as much strength as we can bring together. You are not alone. We are not alone. Our choices matter. Our heritage is one of resilience and adaptability. 

That adaptability can show up in astounding ways among all kinds of living things. I was reminded this week of migrating geese. You probably already know that geese migrate in a formation shaped like the letter V, so that the leader goose at the front helps distribute the wind resistance and makes the flight a little easier for the geese along the two legs of the V. When that goose gets tired, it moves to the back of the V, and a different goose comes to the front. They take turns. [During the service, one astute member wrote in the comments that every goose makes flying a little easier for the one behind: https://www.loc.gov/everyday-mysteries/item/why-do-geese-fly-in-a-v/ ]

This journey we are on could take some time. This will feel like a long flight. There are people among us showing compassion and leadership. Let’s be ready to take point when they need to slip back into a different place in our formation. If you are that goose, write down the things you know and the names of the people who help you so that when you are ready for a break, someone else can take the headwind for awhile. 

The V formation of the geese also reminds me of our new Contact Tree. We have organized everyone in the directory into twelve branches of the tree, each one led by a Lay Minister or an Outreach Volunteer. Several branches of the tree have branched further with the help of people who are assisting their Outreach Volunteer with contacting others. We’re learning a lot about our community and the ways people like to connect. 

The Contact Tree as a system depends on an interdependent network. It depends on people who understand that we are in relationship with each other, and will keep the wave of contacts going. The tree will probably change a little each week as the needs and preferences of our community change. Some of our branch leaders might have to fall back, and new leaders take point for that branch instead. Please respond warmly. Answer the call. Reply to the email. Lend the strength of your wings to this journey we are on together. 

Adaptability is our heritage as living beings. At the same time, this is a season of tremendous challenge. It is hard to learn a lot of things at once, and even more difficult to learn when we are stressed. Be gentle with yourselves and each other. Let’s reach back into our roots for inspiration. There’s the roots of all life, and there are also the various branches of legacy that are present differently for each of us.

As Unitarian Universalists, we can trace the history of our faith back to several places, and out into several places, with different rituals and languages and customs in every setting. Last week, you met my colleague, the Rev. Katie Romano Griffin, who says that our history is like strawberry plants, popping up in unexpected places when the runners and roots beneath them are hidden from our awareness. To me, what that means is that Unitarian Universalism is adaptable. 

There have been so many different ways that Unitarians or Universalists or Unitarian Universalists have responded throughout history to emergencies or crises of public leadership or attempts at suppressing their faith. There are many examples in our history of times when our ancestors found a way forward in coalition with people of other faiths. We have reached out. We have gone underground. We have organized. We have spoken up when it was unpopular. When necessary, we have taught our traditions in secret. We have created new rituals for celebrating our diversity. We have reclaimed and reinterpreted rituals that have always been part of our heritage. Different times and places have called for different strategies, while maintaining continuity with values like justice, inclusion, and compassion. If you want to talk more about this, ask Mary Beth Lerner about the Pop Up UU History event we’re doing on Zoom on April 2 (I mistakenly said Tuesday in the recording, but I meant Thursday). 

I don’t know what we and Unitarian Universalism are going to adapt into during this current historical moment. What I know is that we are capable of rising to whatever the occasion is. We find strength in each other, in our heritage of resiliency, and in the persistence of the Spirit of Life. From the roots of life to the roots of our faith, we as a united community have tools for figuring out the journey ahead. 

So be it. Blessed be. Amen.