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I was probably an amusing sight in church this morning, scribbling all over my Order of Service with a nubby pencil borrowed from the hymnal holder in front of me. Rev. David’s sermon (from which comes the title of this post) this morning was full of great soundbites, and I found myself outlining my thoughts and reactions on the program, so I wouldn’t forget the really great parts. This was a sermon I needed to remember fully. I think I will bring a notebook and pen to church with me in the future, both to ease the sound of scratching, dull pencil and to have room to let thoughts flow as they will.
The title of today’s sermon was “Befriending the Difficult Emotion of Fear,” and was a study of the 23rd Psalm (that’s the “The Lord is my Shepherd” one, for those of you – like me – not up on your Biblical studies). Yes, we UU’s do acknowledge that our faith has a foundation in Christianity, even though many of us have separated ourselves from a good deal of Christian teaching.
Anyway, the minister held up the 23rd Psalm as a tool of comfort for those of us with fear in our lives. (Yes, that would be all of us…many examples were given, with a certain focus on the current economic situation.) He drew out the metaphor of people as sheep. In [very] short, sheep are creatures of habit and will ruin their environments to their own detriment unless properly guided by the shepherd. Hmm. Lightbulb moment? Definitely.
The question, then, for us non-monotheists, is what is our shepherd? Our shepherd, according to Rev. David, is anything and anyone that helps us walk through the dark valley and fear no evil. There are several components he outlined, and I believe it is up to each of us to choose or identify those which work for us.
One – A healthy relationship. A partnership. Someone with whom to walk. I don’t think this necessarily needs to be a romantic partnership, although that’s what he was discussing. And in my case, it is the most important piece of the puzzle. Jason is my shepherd, as I believe I am his. My difficult days are made infinitely better by the knowledge that we walk through them together. Other shepherds in my life include my parents, my sister, and my children. Family shepherding. As it should be.
Two – The ability and courage to speak your fears aloud. I’m sure this was intended to be part of Number One, but they are separate in my mind. I see too many relationships that suffer from poor communication, or a complete lack thereof, for these two to be automatically defined as one. And you don’t necessarily have to have a single, all-important relationship of this sort to voice your fears. Voice them to yourself, to the universe, to your Twitter feed. But voice them aloud, and acknowledge them.
Three – A healthy community. Rev. David was talking about a faith community, a congregation, a church. Immediately, however, what I thought of was not my faith community, but of the June Mommies. This group of women I met online nearly nine years ago continues to be a source of strength, knowledge, love and comfort for me, as I hope they will for my whole life. I fear so much less in their embrace – and in the embrace of certain other of my “in real life” friends – than I would otherwise, I am sure.
Four – A divine shepherd. Here’s where you get into sticky territory as a UU minister, and Rev. David handled it beautifully. With such a diverse faith community, ranging from atheists, to agnostics, to multi-deist pagans, to liberal Christians and nearly everything in between, it is impossible for everyone to want to hear the same message here. However, it spoke to me. My “divine shepherd” is not the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God but an energy – a life force that guides the universe. I half-jokingly compare it to The Force, of Star Wars fame, because that’s the closest definition to my belief regarding the nature of the Universe that people can relate to. Anyway, remembering that your divine shepherd is there for you to lean on, whether that be God, the Goddess, your Spiritual Guide, or The Force, and that It, whatever “It” is to you, is GOOD…that is an instrumental part or your shepherding.
So, the message, as I received it today: Embrace your inner sheep. Acknowledge its existence. Look fear in the eye. Lean on your shepherds. Return the favor and sustain that which sustains you.