Our Place in the Universe

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: David Morgen

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Jenn Miller

Good morning! I am Jenn Miller, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today. If you are comfortable letting us know that you are new in joining us today and would like us to contact you after the service, please let us know by typing a hello message in the chat box on Zoom or Facebook. I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour from the comfort of your own homes. You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this Zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude (or final message and song) is over. 

Next week on August 30th is our “In-Gathering” service, where historically we officially return from summer breaks and host a kick-off service to commemorate the new congregational year. For that in-gathering, we want to create a photo collage of all of you together showing the beautiful faces of our congregation and friends — so we ask that this week, you please find and upload your photographs of what you have been doing this summer whether they are pictures of you coping during quarantine, or taking a vacation away or both – please send pictures that include you and your families and friends in them so that we may combine the photographs and share our collective joy.  Please upload your photos by this Friday if possible to the Google drive link that we are posting in the chat box on Zoom (http://bit.ly/nwuucphoto).  If you are not able to access this drive, you may email pictures to the email address in the chat box instead.

If you would like to keep up-to-date on other announcements happening throughout the week, please feel welcome to sign up for our UNIverse Newsletter at https://nwuuc.org/news/ and click on the subscribe newsletter button.

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to find whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be partof your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to “worship mode” —  we won’t know, but you might enjoy the hour free from distractions.  And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

Although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

Now let us prepare for worship with the song “Turn The World Around” by Sarah Jebian

Music: “Turn The World Around” by Sarah Jebian 

Call to Worship: Tony Barbagallo – From Alan Watts, “The Watercourse Way” 

Although we speak of clouds as drifting freely and of streams as flowing freely, this seems to be no more than poetic imagery, for do not clouds obey the wind and water the force of gravity? It is most important to give up our military way of seeing the world as a chain of command – as a handing down of infrangible laws and orders from before to after. It requires a still more startling breach of common sense to see that the present is not governed by the past and that we shall seek in vain along the backward track of time to discover the determinative origin of the universe… So there was once a “Big Bang”…and before that? The child knows this intuitively when it asks, “But who made God?” Change the question a little, realizing that God is eternal, and ask, “Who makes God?”  You do. 

From Alan Watts, “The Watercourse Way”

And now Lily Alford will light our chalice

Lighting of the Chalice: Alford Family

Story Wisdom: David Morgen

Have you ever looked up at the sky to enjoy the beauty of the stars as they twinkle at night? Our story for today is entitled How to Catch a Star. It is about a little boy who loves stargazing and he tries to catch his very own star.

READING: Jenn Miller

Today’s readings are from the works of Thich Nhat Hanh (Tik Not Hahn) – who is a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, poet, scholar, and peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is the author of many bestselling books, including the classics Peace Is Every Step and The Art of Power.

First a passage from: The Insight of Interbeing. Everything relies on everything else in order to manifest.

Emptiness does not mean nothingness. Saying that we are empty does not mean that we do not exist. No matter if something is full or empty, that thing clearly needs to be there in the first place. When we say a cup is empty, the cup must be there in order to be empty. When we say that we are empty, it means that we must be there in order to be empty of a permanent, separate self.

About thirty years ago I was looking for an English word to describe our deep interconnection with everything else. I liked the word “togetherness,” but I finally came up with the word “interbeing.” The verb “to be” can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. “To be” is always to “inter-be.” If we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” To inter-be and the action of interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life.

There is a biologist named Lewis Thomas, whose work I appreciate very much. He describes how our human bodies are “shared, rented, and occupied” by countless other tiny organisms, without whom we couldn’t “move a muscle, drum a finger, or think a thought.” Our body is a community, and the trillions of non-human cells in our body are even more numerous than the human cells. Without them, we could not be here in this moment. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to think, to feel, or to speak. There are, he says, no solitary beings. The whole planet is one giant, living, breathing cell, with all its working parts linked in symbiosis.

We can observe emptiness and interbeing everywhere in our daily life. If we look at a child…at times we cannot understand why the child is acting a certain way, it is helpful to remember that she is not a separate self-entity. She is a continuation. Her parents and ancestors are inside her. When she walks and talks, they walk and talk as well. We do not exist independently. We inter-are.

Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest—whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.

Whether we’re at work or at home, we can practice to see all our ancestors and teachers present in our actions. We can see their presence when we express a talent or skill they have transmitted to us. We can see their hands in ours as we prepare a meal or wash the dishes. We can experience profound connection and free ourselves from the idea that we are a separate self through the conscious recognition of interbeing.

The next passages are from also from the writings by (TNH): Clouds In Each Paper

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are.

And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper.

And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper.

And the logger’s father and mother are in it too.

When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Interlude: “No Coming, No Going”

Joys and Sorrows: Karen Edmonds 

Prayer and Meditation: Tony Barbagallo “Consider the Journey”

Music Interlude: “Total Praise” by Carlos Simon, piano

Reflection 2: Tony Barbagallo – “The Dog Days of Summer”

The Dog Days.

Many of you know that I am a bit of a trivia buff – others might say a font of useless information – and so I cannot pass up this opportunity to tell you that the origins of the term dog days is unrelated to being dog tired, or a sleeping dog in the noon day sun. It finds its origins in the fact that month of August (named for Caesar Augustus) finds Sirius, the Dog Star, high in the celestial sky. The ancients attributed the late summer heat to the close proximity of this fiery red star, and also considered it a harbinger of good fortune. The latter is probably related to the coming harvest season, but that is beyond even my musings here today.

I have a lingering feeling about the common meaning of Dog Days from my youth. For me it is associated with that time in late summer when the simple joy of not having to go to school had waned, and boredom began to creep into our daily freedom. I distinctly remember sitting with my best friend, Kevin and tossing back and forth, “whatta’ you wanna’ do?”” I dunno” whatta’ you wanna’ do?” I recall saying, “this is pathetic, we have to go back to school in four or five weeks and we can’t figure out anything exciting to do with our time off.” That boredom, lack of direction and general malaise in the heat are what I associate with the phrase “the dog days of summer”. When the movie “Dog Day Afternoon” came out, I thought, sure it figures, you get bored and hot enough, maybe robbing a bank doesn’t seem like such a bad idea to liven things up.

But the Dog Days of summer also brought something special: family vacation. My mother worked for a large pharmaceutical company and almost everyone who worked there had to take two of their two or three weeks of vacation during “shutdown”, when major plant cleaning, maintenance and expansions took place. So the Barbagallo family put our boat on its trailer, hitched it to the car and headed north to the Adirondack Mountains and Lake George.  A crystal clear gem in the mountains, Lake George was an idyllic setting for a teenage boy, whose parents trusted him and could afford to let him run off with the family boat with his friends for hours at a time. And who got to bring one of his best friends with him. Invariably we would meet other teens where we were staying and the pursuits of pubescent boys and girls on vacation would ensue.  Maybe those weren’t the Dog Days, but the salad days? We would spend our days in the sun and water and our evenings were spent chasing and being caught, snuggling under blankets and whispering secrets, and…

Now you may not believe this, but what I most vividly recall about those nights when we were snuggling on beach chairs on the decks of the Stony Ledge Resort at Lake George was the stars. We would lie on those beach chairs in the brisk Adirondack evening, stargazing and counting the shooting stars. They would streak and zip across the sky with alacrity. I never before and have never since sat and watched shooting stars come and go with such frequency.  Years later I told some work colleagues that if only you could get out of the city and see the night sky without all the light pollution, you would see lots of shooting stars and told my story. A colleague who happened to be an accomplished amateur astronomer said, “Your vacations were always in early August, right?” I nodded in wonder as to how he knew. The answer came. “You were seeing the Perseid meteor shower. Shooting stars don’t happen like that all the time. The Perseid is in early August.”

So it wasn’t just being in the crystal clear mountain air of the Adirondacks that afforded me the spectacular show, but the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.

But what I didn’t tell my colleagues at that time and that I am going to share with you today, is that those nights were my first brush with The Holy. Recently I took part in an exercise to share with someone else my experience of “The Holy”. The exercise started with sharing a story about that experience. I pondered only a moment and thought back to those nights on the deck at Lake George.

It was the stars; the stars and the vastness of the universe. Lying on the deck and staring at the celestial sphere overhead, I felt as though I might fall. Fall into the vast universe and float away amongst those stars.

And then I had the transcendent realization that I am floating away, that I have fallen into the universe; that I am a part of this grand celestial dance of stars and planets and comets and nebulae and meteors. I may be riding the back of this planet we call earth that is tied to the tail of Sol at the center of a string of planets as we whiz through the Universe, but I am floating through the celestial sea that created me. I am at one with the universe.

Where?  Where in that vast ocean above me had been the star that exploded to make the dust that accumulated into this stellar system I call home and begat the elements that make up my being and course through my veins? It is the same stardust that we all share as we eat and breathe and drink; as we are born and as we die. I am a manifestation of the universe as much as the sun and the moon and the rest of the stars. As far away as they may seem, I can touch them all. I hold them in my hand. They are my hand.

And we are all of that same stardust. However we want to divide ourselves up: nations, races, species, animate and inanimate, animal, vegetable, mineral. We are all the same. The connection is immutable. We have borrowed these bits of the universe to take shape in this way and at this time. We will pass away and our borrowed pieces will return to the universe to redistribute as chance will have. We have no say over that.  The footprints we leave cannot be in sand or marble or air or water, but in the connection between all the things in the universe. And that includes you and me.

That was and is for me a comforting feeling. I am as eternal as the universe. Not in the sense that I, as a sentient being will always be here. Nor in the way that my Roman Catholic upbringing had tried to convey, and that I was struggling with.

No. I am eternal in that who I am is part of whatever and whoever preceded me in this universe and I will go on to be part of all that comes after. I won’t be separate from this universe and looking in, but will always be a part of the universe looking back at itself in the mirror, through a telescope, through a microscope and at the stars.

On a dark summer night;

On a deck;

On a lake;

In the mountains;

During the Dog Days of August.

Offering: Introduction by Jenn Miller

The offering that we take each Sunday isn’t just a stale habit: it’s an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. Our offering is an affirmation—a “yes.” When we give, we say yes to something we value. With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. May our text-to-give offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation, as tools to empower our mission. Please check the chat box for instructions on how you can give through texting. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: Jenn Miller

Now please join me in the dedication of our offering — “To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, 

we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.” 

Intro: Jenn Meunier “Here’s Traci Montgomery singing “Blue Boat Home”

Music: Traci Montgomery, “Blue Boat Home”

Benediction: Tony Barbagallo – From Paulo Coelho

Before the benediction, I’d like to invite you to participate in coffee hour which will begin immediately after the service. You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

In his work, “The Pilgrimage”,  Paulo Coelho wrote: “We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes”. 

Let us open our eyes, look up and around us, and recognize that we are one with the God of our creation in everything we see.

May we all be so blessed.  

Postlude: Jim Pearce