A Hint of Loveliness

by BC

Our reading today comes to us from the poet William Wordsworth, titled, “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud.”

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

You never know what you’re going to get when you buy a house — especially for the first time. And all throughout searching for a home you find that you are so glad you are not required to buy the first one the realtor shows you. And the next one. And the one after that. When you buy a home, you get very good at saying no or contorting your face in a way that the realtor automatically knows you want nothing to do with the home you are looking at.

I was disappointed to learn that buying a house was nothing like the tv show “House Hunters” — but also relieved to see that sitting down and figuring out exactly what you want with your impossible must have lists is as close as you would ever get to that show. If you don’t watch that show already — don’t. Hours will fly by. And now you know what I do on my days off.

In the midst of searching for a home, my partner and I were surprised to find the one we ended up buying. It felt too good to be true. It had everything we needed, it was in good condition. The style is what I envisioned — somewhat southern, somewhat colonial. A backyard you can live with, move-in ready, a postcard home to send to my heart that I might finally believe the upheaval that is answering one’s call was finally settling down and finding balance.

It still does not feel like it belongs to us, at least for me. That somewhere someone will tell us the secret that it is a house of cards and it will fall apart seems somehow possible. But for now, it is ours.

Much like many of those others house hunting shows, you start to find out that the perfect nature of your home isn’t so perfect after all. The previous owners used some clever tricks to cover up a few minor defects — likely in fear potential buyers would run and hide.

A broken set of blinds, a missing screen, some lackluster painting, a few loose fixtures — and two dead plants in the front yard — they were hanging plants put in the ground to pretty up the landscaping. Nothing shocking, nothing I wouldn’t do myself to sell a home. But amidst some of the quirks and imperfections, there are lovely and refreshing notes popping up that were not in the real estate listing.

The warm breeze on a sunny day that comes in when the sun room is open, the mourning doves, starlings, robins, and wrens that hang out on the deck overlooking the yard, and the green bulbs of soon-to-be happy daffodils bursting from the earth in unexpected places. All things that belong to us, though not always so.

The daffodils were the biggest surprise. Autumn and Winter hide them, the bulbs retreat to seclusion for most of the year, hiding, waiting, living, dying, just sitting. Waiting for that first hint of loveliness that is Spring to wake them up. Should we ever need to buy a home again, I know what will be on my must-have list: daffodils in unexpected places, waiting to blossom with the coming of Spring.

And so, today, with the rising of the sun, is the first day of Spring. It is the equinox. It is official. Even if it chillier than we’d like for Spring. It is here and it is lovely and the balance has been restored to the days and the nights for one glorious day. Yes, today, on this first day of Spring, though the weather is not as lovely as we may have hoped, but thankfully it’s not snow, there will be equal hours of day and equal hours of night.

This is a day that has long been celebrated across cultures, across religions, across the spectrum of humanity — celebrated as a celestial event or celebrated as a factual occurrence, it matter little except that it is celebrated. The themes have been similar no matter what the holiday is called — and wherever human beings have gathered to honor the passing of the seasons, this day has always marked the return of balance.

With a couple exceptions, I’ve made mention of most of the equinoxes, solstices, and cross-quarter days in the pagan Wheel of the Year — the eight holy days of modern (and, yes, ancient) paganism and folk religion. I know for many of you, the interim minister was completely pagan and now you’ve called a weird mostly humanist sometimes pagan minister.

So I understand that perhaps the eight days of the Wheel of the Year are feeling a little stale. Perhaps you wonder why these days are worth noting. I cannot tell you what they should mean to you, but for me, they are less about invoking something but, rather, remembering.

Remembering that life has a rhythm, that we are beholden to the turning of the wheel — the ticking of clocks, the passing of seconds, remembering that the seasons teach us all that we need to know about life and death — we will die, all things die, and from death comes new life and new possibility, and the thawing of grief is inevitable.

Days such as today, the spring equinox, remind me that there is a loveliness that is hidden away and waiting to pop up from the depths and bring us joy. I am reminded that today is also all about balance and how impossible and fleeting it is. Now, I happened to see part of that UK game last night. The scores were balanced for most of it — but oh how fleeting it was.

The church I grew up in always marked the spring equinox as a special and holy day — in the most humanist way possible. The choir would sing joyfully — not on Easter, but on the Equinox — the sermon would celebrate the coming of flowers and birds and triumph of life over death. I remember it fondly.

And I remember it especially because it was on the eve of the spring equinox that I preached for the very first time as a seminarian. But more important than that personal event is just how deep that day went. It connected the congregation to their mortality, their legacy, their fragility and yet strength — it gave us assurance that all things pass away but every spring those daffodils would bloom.

A brief moment of loveliness was guaranteed. For me and many Unitarian Universalists and I hope many of you as well — these holidays that are, for lack of a better word, natural — they happen, every year, guaranteed — and human beings took notice — these days reach across creed and crisis, and ground us as a part of the earth and not a separate entity.

Byron Ballard, an Appalachian pagan writes of Spring,

“I feel like an actor ready to step onto the stage.  What is that wonderful speech from Henry V? ‘I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game’s afoot! Follow your spirit…’

That is how the Equinox feels to me–as though I am leaning forward, into this rich and work-filled time. I am eager to leave the winter behind me and to get out into the world of soil and manure and food so fresh it is beyond compare. There is sweat in this season, and joy, and companions in the fields. For a few moments, I live in Hardy country–a land of magic and terror, of hares and ancient tended earth.”

In this moment, like greyhounds in the slips, across the world, people are taking notice. Indigenous peoples of Mexico are hiking up pyramid steps, Wiccans have had or will have a joyful celebration, some Slovakian villages will “burn away winter,” Jews will celebrate Purim, a carnival like holiday to celebrate their liberation from Persia, Christians will commemorate the coming of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce her pregnancy, and astronomers will take note that the winter stars, such as Orion, are setting more quickly in the night sky.

This day of balance is also a day of change and a day to carve out our hopes from the snow mounds of winter — so that we may get on with living. I can say that safely here in Kentucky, but I’m mindful that New England is bracing to get buried. How fleeting Spring is.

But for us, as Unitarian Universalists, as diverse as we are — as pagan as many of you are, humanist, Christian, Taoist, Buddhist, name the tradition it is likely somehow represented, how do we mark this day, this equinox, this day that gave birth to all of the gods and goddesses of resurrection, all of the myths that are told about rebirth, and the striving for balance that is in every equinox ritual — old and new? How do we participate? How do we partake of the loveliness of the daffodils finding new life?

Many people take spring as a time to clean out their homes, offices, and, other odds and ends. They take time to simplify what they have. And that is all well and good. But when is the last time anyone has done a spiritual spring cleaning? When have you shoveled away what was no longer serving you and chipped away at the ice of a spirituality or philosophy that was no longer life-giving?

When did you last clear away the store bought decorative and dead plants so the good earth could show you what was in waiting? I often talk about beliefs that are life-giving and I mean it in every sense of the phrase. Unitarian Universalism affirms not everything, but only that which is life-giving in your daily practice.

And what better a time to reassess where you are on your path than today, on this spring equinox. I know each and every one of us could do with some spiritual or philosophical spring cleaning. There are things we are holding on to that are no longer serving us.

I know this because it is one of those all too human truths — we like to hold on to things even when they might not be right. What are you holding on to? It is important to let go, this faith tradition is all about exploration, imagining a spiritual life that is just right, and being open to those personal changes.

And this extends beyond those personal beliefs — spiritual or philosophical — that are not as life-giving as they once were. When is the last time you walked through a forest or a park and stopped, took a good look at the buds forming on branches, the flowers ready to burst open, the blades of grass getting greener and greener?

When is the last time you stopped and looked upward on a clear night and let the sight of the stars strike you speechless and humble you? When is the last time you sat down and fully contemplated your own mortality?

And even the simple and less existential questions can make room for the winter of ones spirituality to give way to spring: when’s the last time you learned a new song? Made something with your hands? Watched the sun rise or set?

While I understand not all of these will work for everyone — I ask that you think of that one thing that moves you to a place of contemplation, imagination, and renewal. Think of that moment, that practice, that essential component to your being — and go there. Let your spiritual and philosophical self be renewed. Make room for the new to emerge.

There is nothing worse in church and religious life than tired and worn spiritualities. And while, just like shopping for a new home, you might have your “must have” list for how you will be as a religious person, there is nothing to lose by throwing that list out of the window and letting yourself be surprised. As we are Universalists, I can assure you that the fate of your soul is not in danger in spiritual spring cleaning.

I believe that we, as Unitarian Universalists, must have the courage to rethink our ways of being religious often. And I know, yes, church must be a sanctuary — it is surely why many of us are here — but sanctuary does not mean letting go of the wondrous imagination that is spiritual exploration.

Here we are safe to do so. Here we need to do so more than anywhere else. Just last night I was asked what I thought about the future of Unitarian Universalism and the truth is, we are holding steady.

Our protestant friends are bleeding members for a variety of reasons — many of which remain unknown — but Unitarian Universalists have remained rather steady for a very long time, and there’s been some growth here and there.

The numbers do not necessarily concern me, our message reaches people that will never be Unitarian Universalist, but what does concern me is the possibility that we will lose sight of call to be spiritually imaginative, because I believe that is the only thing that has helped us keep steady amidst the fall of organized religion.

We cannot lose that sense of wonder that helps us see religion in new and different ways. We cannot wring our hands worrying about the bombastic preachers that condemn us — we will have to learn to love them, too, somehow.

We cannot hide from the wave of intolerant politics that is poisoning our democracy one voter at a time, we cannot keep telling ourselves that the message of Unitarian Universalism is one people should discover on their own.

We need to be out there putting out the fires of hell, showing people the politics of hope, and sharing, freely, this life-giving message that declares quite simply: You are loved, you are enough, you are not alone.

The balance that spring brings is indeed fleeting. Tomorrow, the days will be longer and the nights shorter — but just for today, balance is here. And then it is gone. This is true with our spirituality as well.

Find those moments of balance, find those moments that bring new loveliness and spark creativity, honor those moments, celebrate them — do something with them. Remember them. Let them be a way of clearing out what is no longer useful so the surprising may take hold.

Back during our winter solstice celebration we all sang a lovely song from Anne Hill and Starhawk:

I’ve been searching through the darkness
for the night’s gone on too long
I won’t rest until I’ve found you
And you bring me back the dawn.

We are the searchers in the darkness — and the world will let us dwell in that darkness if we want. But Spring tells us that there is always the return of the dawn — and we may find balance as fleeting as it is. We are always searching for that glimpse of a new day.

However you celebrate Spring, take a moment for your spiritual life today. Take that moment and enter in to a solitude that cannot be shaken — rest in your thoughts. And when your heart and mind find the place where you need to be headed, rejoice and dance with the daffodils.

Blessed Be. Amen.