Friday, January 5, 2024

Living Life with Ordinary Delight by Reverend Tom Capo preahed on 8/13/2023


Living life with ordinary delight.  What does that mean to you?  Is it what Carly sang “Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”  What are the ordinary, simple gifts of your life that make it worth living, that make it delightful?  Perhaps some simple gifts or delights might be the beauty of a butterfly, or of a smile on a person’s face, or getting a task accomplished—no matter how small--, or getting a hug.  How often do you notice, affirm and are grateful for such simple gifts or delights?  Do these ordinary delights impact your day, your emotions, your attitude?  Should they?  Do you want them to?
Last week I ended the sermon with this quote from writer, activist and facilitator Adrienne Maree Brown:  “put your attention on suffering – which is constant and everywhere – and it is all you will see. Joy will come, and laughter, but you will find it brief, possibly a distraction. Put your attention on joy [and delight], being connected and feeling whole, and you will find [them] everywhere. Your heart will still break. You will know grief, but you will find it a reasonable cost for the random abundance of miracles, and the soft wild rhythms of love.” I have spent much of this week unpacking that quote in my head and heart.  

How do you feel as you move through your life; do you primarily feel fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, disgust, delight or joy? There isn’t a Disney image for anxiety or delight.  Perhaps you do not have a primary feeling; you just go with the emotional flow. How about this: what emotions seem to rise up most often as you go from one experience to another?  You may not be keeping track; you might not even notice what emotions rise up most frequently.  I offer these questions because these are where I began as I thought about living a life with ordinary delight.  

When I became a Unitarian Universalist minister, which will be 20 years ago this October, I started asking myself more questions about my own feelings, reactions, attitudes.  I can tell you for many years before I began my ministry I was a pessimistic person and I was quite insecure, at least in some areas of my life.   For instance, I was pessimistic about finances and financial stability, despite always having enough to pay our bills.  We raised our children, have owned houses, and we’ve never wondered where our next meal was coming from.  We’ve been able to go out to festivals, movies, and restaurants.  Now granted, sometimes our meals were a little plain, many of the festivals were free, the movies were early-bird matinee specials, and the restaurants were infrequent and almost always with a coupon, but we always managed, despite my insecurities about finances.  And I was insecure in both of my vocations— psychotherapy and ministry—despite being sought after for my expertise and providing consultation to Universities, NASA, industry, and hospitals as a psychotherapist.  And for a number of years, I was insecure in my ministry despite providing consultation services to various congregations, professional groups, and non-profits, and serving a number of congregations, serving on a UUA district board, and being president or on the Board of various interfaith organizations.   Many of you might recognize this as the imposter syndrome, feeling that you are not really competent, capable, knowledgeable or educated enough to do whatever you are doing.  

I have to agree with Adrienne Maree Brown, it is easier to focus on sadness or anger or resentment or guilt or pessimism or insecurity than on the gifts and delights of ordinary life.  These gifts seem like anomalies, not important enough to register, certainly not important enough to be given more than a passing thought, not so important that they might change an attitude, a feeling, or the way we live in and face the world.

I have to say I am fortunate to have Martha, my amazing wife, in my life.  She often reminds me of the abundant gifts in my life and our lives.  I can’t tell you how many times she has pointed out the gifts we have, so much more than other people in this world, and of the many accomplishments I have achieved and the people I have helped.  She reminds me very much of the story of the man and his son.  I wish you enough.  Martha reminds me that I am enough, I have enough, we are enough, we have enough in fact we have much more than enough.  What might change for you if you started everyday by looking yourself in the eyes in a mirror and saying aloud “I wish you enough”?  What might change for someone else if you were to tell them “I wish you enough”?
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.
I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.
I wish you enough.
I may not ever be the best at anything, but who I am is enough to accomplish a great deal and help many people.  I am enough and I have enough, more than what I need, really so much more than what I need.  And I wish each of you individually as a congregation, enough.

Over the years, with Martha’s many reminders, I have internally begun reflecting on what I truly want, need, desire, and what I actually want to feel, and what attitudes I want to carry through life. And with her support and my internal reflections, my attitudes and reactions have mediated and I notice the gifts of life more frequently and am grateful for them.  The stain of pessimism and insecurity has almost completely been washed away from my heart.  But this change has been a decades-long process and the process continues to this day.

A perfect example of this process is when I am in an argument.  As you probably know we are more vulnerable to old insecurities and negative attitudes when we are feeling powerful emotions.  This can happen about silverware in the dishwasher or really any argument when my emotions become intense.  It becomes so easy to react, to let my emotions control me or cause me to revert back to pessimism or insecurity.  

In the midst of such a conflict, where once I used to just ride those emotions to wherever they took me, I now ask myself questions and sometimes ask others for a reality check.  Do I really want to hurt the person I am in conflict with?  Do I want to resolve this conflict in the spirit of love and collaboration?  Do I want to hold onto this anger because it feels justified or do I want to let it go because I want to return to love and connection with this person?  When conversations start veering toward arguments, it is not uncommon to ask myself, what do I ultimately want in this relationship—distance, connection, love, peace, power, control.  I cannot tell you that I always respond in the most effective manner, but being reflective, questioning, wondering in the moment, at least for me, has resulted in more positive outcomes, with more love, more connection, and somewhat surprisingly, more mindfulness of the delightful things in life.  

    Let me share this passage I found recently by an author of several books on happiness,  Doe Zamamata:
Begin each day with optimism
and end each day with forgiveness.
Happiness in life begins
and ends within your heart.

The part about forgiveness really resonates with me.  I know that holding onto resentment only hurts me.  I have heard many times that holding onto a resentment is like taking poison and hoping the person you resent dies.  I worked through the resentment I held toward my alcoholic father, which took years, and I continue to end each day with forgiveness for those whom I hold resentment toward.  I can feel an eases in my emotionalism and an increase in the spiritual space inside me when I do this.  Space for happiness, joy, and delight, space for optimism, for peace, for security.  When we clear out space within ourselves, we make more room for the ordinary delights that are constantly around us.  When we allow the problems of the world to fill all the space inside us, then there’s no place to pocket the wonderful, awe inspiring, loving, beautiful gifts in our lives.  Again, this is not to say that we ignore the issues in the world, but we don’t give them the primacy to define who we are, how we feel, what is most important in our lives.

    I want to leave you with this invitation as you make space inside yourself for the many delights that this world has to offer you.  This Invitation was written by poet Mary Oliver.
Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy
and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles
for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,
or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air
as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine
and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,
do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.
It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

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