Happy Father’s Day - If you came for a FD service today I apologize as due to scheduling challenges our minister Rev. Phil Schulman gave the Father’s Day service last week.
This week the topic is Love, as it is a Universal subject, I hope you find it fulfilling as a Father‘s Day sermon as well.
Love is so universal that in preparing for this sermon I have collected books, ideas, metaphors to the point of being totally overwhelmed. There is so much information out there about the meaning of love. So many ideas of how we can be “Guided by Love” (as our banner suggests) So many opinions as to - what it means to love God, ourselves and others. So many books, religions, philosophers, trying to help us understand “This Thing called Love“. (Bil play - A Thing Called Love)
I understand now why Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Non Violent Communication says that love is not a feeling - it is a NEED. But you know he isn’t the only one that has ever said that…
(Bil play All you need is love….Love love love love is all you need - love is all you need - the Beatles.)
We are all needing to be loved and to give love. We need it so much we are constantly contemplating it and trying to figure out how to get it and how to give it. And even how to Be it. It’s like we are all life-long students of love. We may never be experts but hopefully we will get a little closer to embodying the experience of love in all of our relationships most of the time.
Don’t you treasure those warm special moments when you fully connect with another. All problems melt away, you feel One with the interdependent web of life. Peace and serenity abide in you. You are fulfilled to the core! IT’s just grand!
I found that every time I started to get overwhelmed with trying to downsize the massive amounts of information, I would pick up the book Love’s Garden by Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward, (students of Thich Nhat Hanh). Just reading a paragraph or two would help me become more relaxed and centered and ready to move forward again. As a result I will be quoting quite a bit from the book. We will be exploring the concept of creating a garden of True Love and ways to maintain it even when the pests, weeds, and dog poop of life intervene.
So the book begins: “Welcome to Love’s Garden, We invite you to step in. A garden, like a relationship, is constantly growing and transforming. A garden like a relationship, requires care, attention, weeding, watering, harvesting and times of rest.”
Now is your opportunity to become a Gardner of Love. (Bil play some music)
I bought this book because it is about love and I thought I might use a few lines for this sermon.
But I also bought it because I love to garden. No you don’t understand I LOVE TO GARDEN! This has not always been the case. In fact it took me 2 years of contemplation before I could commit to spending any time at all in my back yard, to turn the barren wasteland into a place where anything could even think about growing was beyond comprehension for me.
The surprise for me, was that the more I got to know my yard, Houston climate, naturalistic gardening, the more I experimented and dedicated myself to the relationship, the more I fell in love with my garden. It was no longer just hard packed dirt with a few weeds. As I rejoiced in the new growth, the new life, the new beginnings, I fell in love.
As I worked to transform my yard into a garden -I was literally transformed. I grew to love the very thing I thought would be drudgery and work. I do love my garden! Love relationships take on many forms. There is the obvious one on all of our minds this special day and that is the love between a Father and his children. (Smile)
I want to honor that relationship as the sacred union that it is.
The relationship that most songs are written about is - the romantic love relationship. There are so many more relationships: those with peers, co-workers, church members, friends, our pets and Yes, even things like gardens & video games. In Everything we do, we are actually in relationship with someone or something else. We must keep this in mind if we are to be mindful of the true meaning of being guided by love. All of these relationships “require care, attention, weeding, watering, harvesting and times of rest.”
Relationships also offer lots of opportunity for growth Am I right? (None of you are ever challenged in relationships are you? Did you know, it takes one year to adjust to having a new person (or pet) in your life? This includes babies and grandparents as well as a new partner. Although it may be a joyous life change, it affects the way you do everything. It can be exhausting and stressful.
Have you ever had one of those days where it seems that your needs are totally disregarded? … Where you put your feet on the floor as you are getting out of bed and realize that the warm mushy sensation between your toes is from your pet that got sick next to your bed while you were sleeping? Then after you clean that up, you get ready for your day and find that the reason you cannot find your dental floss is because your daughter decided to use it to make horse pens for her “My Little Pony” horse collection. While you may be impressed with her creativity, you would still like to floss your teeth and to be asked before your things are taken. You think to yourself: Take a deep breath and go downstairs to get a cup of coffee and everything will be ok only to discover, your partner left early and put a note on the fridge that states: “we are out of coffee please pick some up on your way home.” You haven’t even left the house yet!
It can feel as though everyone in your life is plotting to make your life miserable. The last thing on your mind is loving people. Especially those people who have done you wrong! In this moment of frustration, it is so easy to lose perspective. The feeling of no one cares about me can be very powerful and it can be very difficult to find a way out of self pity or anger.
So what do we do when the garden is more full of weeds and pests than beauty and comfort? How can we get to a place of being able to water the seeds of love in others if our seeds are not getting nurtured.
You may even be saying to yourself “where is the love“… (Bil play Where is the love you said was mine all mine till the end of time)
The Course in Miracles says: “God is but Love, and therefore so are you.”
To find True Love we must remember that it is in us first before we can see it in others. According to the authors of Love‘s Garden,
As “Gardner’s of Love (special music)
You actually have two gardens to tend and cultivate. Yours and that which you are in relationship with be it partner, friend, or co-worker, garden, work, or video game. “ The Ward’s say “First you have to take care of your own garden and master the art of gardening. In each of us there are flowers and there is also garbage. The garbage is the anger, fear, discrimination, and jealousy within us. If you water the garbage, you will strengthen the negative seeds. If you water the flowers of compassion, understanding and love you will strengthen the positive seeds.
What you grow is up to you.”
Peggy and Larry continue to explain that: “True Love is first of all to accept ourselves as we actually are. Then what we do for ourselves - any act of acceptance, tolerance, kindness, gentleness, any gift of peace - will affect how we experience the world. This will not happen later. It will happen right now. As we grow in acceptance of ourselves, we become a safer, kinder, gentler place to inhabit for ourselves and for others. We experience peace in coming home to ourselves and that peace radiates out into our world, offering unconditional friendship.”
The Introduction of the Course in Miracles states “The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, f or that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance.”
To be Gardner’s of Love (special Music)
We need to cultivate practices that allow us to water the flowers of compassion, understanding, love & joy on a regular basis.
By doing so we remove the blocks to loves presence and we are Love for ourselves and others. Our well needs to remain full ,so that we can draw from it when a difficult situation occurs.
In order to emphasis the importance of tending your garden first, I would like to tell you the story of our friend Chuck. He has always been considered to be one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Like Bil and, I he is in the piano business. Bil has known him for about 30 years. We have contracted work back and forth used each other’s equipment, talked almost weekly for the last 12 years. After we downsized our business a year ago and we no longer had employees, this method of peer support greatly increased and highly valued.
Any time we called on Chuck to take a tuning or move because Bil’s schedule was full, he would find a way to fit it in. This constantly amazed us because not only was doing the piano work full time, but he had a fulltime job as a machinist as well. He hired contract laborers who were homeless and alcoholic. Some of them changed their lives as a result of being in relationship with Chuck. He charged very little for his services
and would take jobs that most of the piano guys avoided. The only time he went out of town was to work or visit his children, and then he was usually doing something for them.
He lived in his warehouse and ate prepackaged food or fast food. I believe he says he sleeps 2-4 hours a night. I think you get the picture.
Chuck had been sick for 2 weeks or more and refused to see a doctor in spite of many urgings from friends and family. His daughter who was 5 months pregnant at the time had found him passed out at his shop and he was rushed to the hospital. When we went to visit his daughter told us every organ had shut down. His gall bladder failed, then the pancreas, then the kidneys. His family was called and told they need to get to the hospital ASAP because he was not expected to live. The nurse said she had been in that hospital for 30 years and never seen anyone survive with vital signs like his. He was pretty much given a 5% chance to live.
Love requires Responsibility to care for yourself
Love requires Balance in all things.
The good news is that he survived and tells us that he is a new person. There were people from all over the world praying for him, including those people from this church who were at Morning Blessings the morning I shared our concern for Chuck. Thank you.
Needless to say He is incredibly grateful to be alive. Chuck has been a really loving guy to everyone – but himself. And if he had died he would not be there for those he loves, especially his grandchildren.
Love is Hard Work and sometimes it hurts. It hurts to watch people we care for be in pain and it hurts to lose them.
Makes a person feel very vulnerable.
One of the awareness’s I had of myself through our experience with Chuck was how easy it was for me to drop everything when I thought he was dying and visit him in the hospital , but how difficult it was once I knew he would pull through. I could rationalize that Bil was going to the hospital and calling, I could rationalize that I would be more helpful scheduling appointments for Chuck’s customers so he would have his business to come back to when he was well enough.
Chuck was very blessed because he is in a very strong Christian Community that visited often and his daughter lived in town and was there every day (except for the 2 days Chuck insisted she take off).
But not everyone in the hospital has such support. It seems the longer you are in the hospital the fewer visitors you get. When I was employed at the Women’s Home I met several women who were involved in Christian Outreach – going to hospitals and prisons, not only witnessing but also giving of themselves and their gifts. Bringing toiletries, prayer shawls, whatever they thought people might need.
Love requires Dedication and Commitment.
I made a commitment this year. To learn what it means to be a friend - the True Love kind of friend. I know that might sound a little strange for a grown up to say but, I had some experience in my past that left me feeling like I would be inconveniencing people if I asked them to do things with me. And forget about asking them to do anything FOR me!
The fear of rejection was lurking under the surface for years. I recently realized that I sub consciously decided that the way to connect with people is to volunteer! It was a good plan if you think about it. You have a reason to interact on committees and you have a purpose for talking to them. Also when you ask people to do something it isn’t for you it is for the organization.
I have done a lot of healing work in my life and at some point forgot about the fears on a conscious level but had continued to portray the same behaviors that kept friendships at a surface level.
As I healed my inner garden thru years of watering and fertilizing my soul I came to realize that I didn’t know how to make friends and my soul was yearning for another BFF best friend forever. (Bil (my husband) is my first BFF). I have gotten to the point where I want some close – True Love – Friends. And have looked at what I have been doing to keep that from happening. True Love – Friends are different than loving everyone – which I honestly can say I do. (I had a spiritual Director say that is easier to love a person than to like them.) But a true love friend is someone that you risk their disappointment, you risk their difference of opinion, and the love is strong enough hat you will not be shunned or shamed or gently ignored until you go away.
You can fearlessly let your shadows escape sometimes and they won’t cringe and avoid you the next time they see you.
I have been thinking about this for a while, because like my garden it is a commitment. One of the things I realized is that to cultivate a deeper relationship with someone you must give of something that is very precious.
It takes time to grow trust. And you can’t just do the surface stuff like going out to eat. You have to dig in the soil with your hands, be there when the car breaks down, Or hear someone’s deepest fears and cry with them. Help them clean out their closets when they ask. Going to the hospital again, and again and again, and again….. because you know THEY need support.
Love takes time – and as my mother used to say “elbow – grease”. It is the hardest, most meaningful work we will ever do.
A quote from love‘s Garden that I love:
“No matter how much we water our garden, no matter how fertile the soil, there will be weeds and pests. This is the nature of gardens. There might be moments when the relationship seems doomed to failure. This is because it takes practice to live fully in the present. We bring to a relationship all our old hurts and preconceptions from our past- our troubles, our afflictions - as well as unspoken hopes and dreams.” Sometimes it is painful to love because the unknown can come along like a hurricane and wipe out all of the things you deem precious in your garden. There are no guarantees.
So who wants to be a Gardner of Love (music) now? Are you strong enough, brave enough to let down your guard and be vulnerable to True Love? Grace)
To be a Gardener of Love (music) you must work on your garden to prepare you for the support you offer others, so they can bloom to the truth within them. There has to Be Love for you to Give Love.
Here are 6 suggestions from the Ward’s to help you in your gardening:
1. Compost is your friend - When you are hurting you can feel like you are sloshing around in the compost of life. Remember that Compost is your friend; learn to love your compost. Sit in the pain and be fully present. It is through our greatest pain and challenge that we have the greatest opportunity for Growth and transformation - allow yourself to feel - Our natural instinct is to avoid things that are painful. But really all that does is allow the pain to build up and then explode when you least expect it.
2. Present moment - Being present with the pain is good but sometimes we only focus on what is not going right (meaning how we perceive things should be and we miss the good stuff). Story - Recently I asked Bil to take a walk with me through our garden. I wanted him to see how wonderful it was but instead of seeing the beauty I noticed everything that was not my version of perfect. I pointed out the white bird splatters on the elephant ears, snails everywhere, the irritating flies that were very numerous in one spot of the yard and then saw that was because one of our dogs had dropped a bomb!
He stopped walking and looked at me and said - why don’t you tell me what You get from walking in the garden. He was right - I had been focusing on negative seeds and not on positive seeds. As we continued the walk I observed the smell of ginger and mint, the growth of new plants, the sound of the brilliantly dressed cardinals and blue jays, the flittering of 3 types of butterflies I have seen, the coolness of the shaded jungle.… The negative seeds died away and the positive seeds bloomed! Those negatives are there and need to be dealt with but not be the main focus.
3. Watering Positive Seeds Offering the gifts of time, space, understanding, and no fear will ensure your relationship has rich and fertile soil to work with. And it is through creating routines and rituals that the spiritual component of your relationship deepens and strengthens and creates a love that is indestructible.
4. Right Effort - Many of us have the intention of watering positive seeds but find that actually putting this into practice in our lives is very difficult.
It’s not that we don’t want to live more mindfully; rather it’s that as we look deeply at ourselves, we can see we’ve built up many barriers to loving others and ourselves. We may find that we’re full of rules, opinions, fears, biases, and perceptions that we’ve used to create a false sense of security They go on to say… Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of key practices for clearing through the weeds and watering seeds of love within us. The Buddha called these practices “Right Effort”. The word “right” here does not mean making a judgment or discriminating between right and wrong. Rather, in Buddhism, “right” means cultivating clarity of mind and going in the direction of what is wholesome. It is in the daily practice that the negative seeds die off.
5. Water good memories - As our relationships grow, more and more memories build up -- good as well as difficult ones. Often in relationships we remember the difficult memories. We nurse perceived hurts and slights and give them disproportionate weight. One of the easiest ways to water the positive seeds in our relationships is to spend some time recalling some of your happier moments together. What we pay attention to has power. It’s easy to fixate on something that is not working or to get stuck with something that annoys or frustrates us. When we are focused on how a person “teases their siblings, or how messy someone leaves the kitchen counters,” It’s easy to forget that our relationship is something nourishing that can water the best seeds within us.
6. Loving Speech - If we can learn to listen genuinely, profoundly, and lovingly, we create a loving environment of deep safety and caring.
7. And please, remember to take time to rest. (Smile) I am closing with an abbreviated version of Buddha’s Discourse on Love:
“May everyone be happy and safe, and may all hearts be filled with joy.
“May all beings live in security and in peace May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.
“Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will, wish anyone any harm.
“Let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below, and across. Our love will know no obstacles. Our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and hostility.
Our Closing words are by Jorge Luis Borges Nevertheless it means much to have loved, to have been happy, to have laid my hand on the living garden, even for one day.