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Sermons at First Parish Church

Sunday, January 6, 2008



Another morning and I wake with thirst
For the goodness I do not have.
I walk out to the pond and all the way God has
Given us such beautiful lessons.
Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar
but sulked And hunched over my books past the
Hour and the bell;
grant me, in your Mercy, a little more time.
Love for the Earth and love for you are having such a
Long conversation in my heart.
Who Knows what will finally happen or Where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things away,
expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the Prayers
which, with this thirst,
I am
Slowly learning

— Mary Oliver (Thirst)

Stepping Out of the Current

Sunday, January 6, 2008
Rev. Elea Kemler
First Parish Church of Groton

Of course people have been asking me what I will be doing during my sabbatical, which begins, as you know, this Friday. I have attempted to answer with the truth: read, write, study, walk, practice yoga and learn and practice a kind of prayer called contemplative or centering prayer. I am going to do a little bit of nothing, and a little bit of everything. I have a thousand plans but none of them involve doing very much. My answer sounds, even to my own ears, both overly complicated and underly interesting. So I have decided to tell people that I’m going fishing. I recommend that this is what you tell people too. Our minister has gone fishing. A year and a half is perhaps a long time to prepare for a fishing trip. But as Mary Oliver describers herself, “I was never a quick scholar.”

But really, I am going fishing, at least emotionally and metaphorically speaking. I may go actual fishing too, as long as I don’t have to fool around with worms and hooks. The one time I actually caught a fish I was so startled, I not only lost the fish, I threw the whole fishing pole into the river by accident. I was completely unprepared for an actual fish to come flipping and jumping out of the river like that, all slippery and so alive! And I suppose the fish was never my true intention. I just wanted to stand there with my line in the water. So for the next four months I am going to take myself to still waters and cast out a line or two and see what, if anything, finds me.

I like the idea of fishing without the expectation of catching something in particular. I like the reality of it too. For the past two summers, we have visited Fran’s parents at Edisto Island in South Carolina. Both times, my daughter Isabel has been extremely devoted to her fishing net — it is just a small hand-held net you can buy at all the local stores down there, which most people use for crabbing. Isabel always wants to fish in the ocean with her net but she is also a bit afraid of the waves because the surf is pretty rough. So she and I spend a great deal of time fishing at the shoreline. Here is our method in case you want to try it. We sit in the wet sand just at the edge of the surf where the waves come in and wash over you but far enough back so they don’t knock you over, at least most of the time. She sits on my lap with her fishing net and sticks her net into each receding wave. And we get quite a catch - we get a lot of wet sand and some shells and sea weed and parts of crab bodies and every so often a perfect sand dollar and sometimes bits of plastic or the handle of a child’s beach pails and a whole bunch of soaked cigarette butts.

I understand that someone walking by might be a bit perplexed if they looked in the pail where Isabel and I keep our catch. And we have, in fact, gone crabbing and shrimping on Edisto and caught actual food, though don’t get me started on the raw chicken necks that we use to catch the crabs. But for me, Isabel’s net fishing at the edge of the ocean is definitely the best. So this is the kind of fishing I am going to do on my sabbatical and the kind of fishing that I hope you will be able to find a little time for too — the kind that involves sitting still — the kind that involves holding out your net to see what comes and then poking around to see if you can find treasure in all that ordinary grit and debris. Granted, the results of this kind of fishing may be startling; we may find some things we were quite unprepared for. But this adds to the mystery.

I have had a tiny poem by the Sufi poet Rumi over my desk for the last four or five years. It reads, “Jars of spring water are not enough anymore. Take us down to the river!” In some ways this one line of poetry sums up my deepest hope for my work here with you — that, as a people, as a community, we will yearn to know more of holiness than we now know — that our longing for the river will be so strong, that we will cast aside our little jars and wade into those deeper, more turbulent and powerful spiritual waters. But lately, this line of poetry has also come to speak to me of my own thirst — my thirst for time and for solitude, my thirst to draw closer to the God of my understanding.

In another, rather amazing poem entitled “The Basket of Fresh Bread” Rumi, writes about spiritual thirst and how we might quench it. He writes:

If you want to learn theory,
Talk with theoreticians. That way is oral.
When you learn a craft, practice it.
That learning comes through the hands.

If you want dervishhood, spiritual poverty and emptiness,
You must be friends with a teacher.
Talking about it, reading books and doing practices doesn’t help.
Soul receives from soul that knowing.
The mystery of absence
May be living in your pilgrim heart,
And yet the knowing of it may not yet be yours.

Wait for the illuminated openness,
As though your chest were filling with light…

There is a fountain inside you.
Don’t walk around with an empty bucket.
You have a channel into the ocean,
Yet you ask for water from a little pool.
Beg for that love expansion. Meditate only on that…
There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,
Yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on the inner door, no other.
Sloshing knee-deep in fresh river-water,
Yet you keep asking for other people’s waterbags.
Water is everywhere around you, but you see
Only barriers that keep you from water…

You are like a pearl
On the deep bottom wondering inside the shell,
Where’s the ocean?
Those mental questionings form the barrier.
Stay bewildered inside God, and only that.

So I am going to go fishing — I am going to knock on that inner door, I am going to learn again to drink of the water that is all around us, even when we cannot see or sense its wetness, that water which surrounds and infuses our lives even when our lives feel like a desert, bone dry and barren. It is hard for me to leave, to step out of the strong and compelling current that is our congregational life but I am deeply grateful for the gift of this time to go fishing that you have given to me. And other strong and graceful swimmers are wading in to join you, Sue Phillips and David Rynick being two of these. I also know that you will keep one another good company, that you will help each other through whatever rough waters may arise, as you always do.

Every September we begin the new church year by bringing water to church. We gather water from our summer travels and adventures, water from our kitchen sinks and backyards, water from oceans and rivers and ponds and birdbaths and we pour all that water into a big copper bowl. Before we start pouring in the water I always say same the same words. I say:

Here we are. Like raindrops forming streams, like streams joining into rivers, like rivers flowing into the sea.

We come to join our voices, our spirits, our lives

We come to join our memories, our deepest hopes and our dreams for how our lives and our world could be

We pour our water into a common bowl

We pour trust and hope and fear and yearning into a common bowl.

This is how we create our holy water, our blessing water for the new church year, by pouring trust and hope and fear into a common bowl. This is the water that we used to dedicate and bless new babies this year. It is the water we will use to bless the Coming of Age youth in June. It is the water the children just used to bless me and Sue as we begin this new journey, a journey of leaving and returning, of stepping in and out of the stream of life that is flowing here. So I carry your blessing, but also this little bit of your memories and dreams and sorrows and hopes, with me as I go.

One of the truest and most important things I believe is that there is more to life than we can see on the surface of things — I believe we are upheld and sustained by currents that are usually invisible to us but are as real and true as gravity or electricity. As Rumi might put it, there are fountains inside of us, we have channels into the ocean, we are sloshing knee deep in fresh river water. That water flows through us all — I stand in it and so do each of you. In this sense we are not separate, not disconnected, even when we are apart.

Robert Howell puts it this way:

Like a rock God is under our feet
Like a roof God is over our heads
Like the horizon god is beyond us
Like water in a pitcher, god is within us and in the pouring out of us
Like a pebble in the sea, we are in god.

So I carry your blessing with me on this fishing trip and I offer you mine: May you drink deep of living waters so that your thirst is quenched. May love bless you and keep you until we meet again.


3 Powderhouse Road … Groton, MA 01450-4700 … 978-448-6307 …   …  

Most recently updated 2009-06-06