Friday, January 5, 2024

Waking Up to Shorter Days with a Generous Heart by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 11/5/2023

I don’t know about you, but once Daylight Savings Time kicks in and it gets dark around 5:30 PM, I don’t just notice the shorter days, I physically feel them.  I try to rush home before it gets dark.  I am less prone to go outside in the evening.  It just feels like I have less time in my day, despite there being the same number of hours. It is easier for me to become more self-focused, even a little stingy, because I perceive there is less time to get my needs met.  And I have noticed that it is easier for me to experience larger swings in emotion, perhaps again because there seems to be less time to stop and process my experiences.  I can’t even imagine what it would be like in Alaska, where the day can be as short as 5 ½ hours.  I know one of our members, Jenna Way, has experienced this.  Jenna, I wonder how it impacted people’s mental health and sense of activity with such short days?

The physiological experience of humans to more darkness and less light seems universal.  Maybe that why so many religious holy days, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Solstice, etc. happen in the darker time of the year.  These holidays give people an opportunity to bring light into a dark time, to celebrate, to come together with family and friends, to take time away from work.  

And one aspect of this time of year that means a lot to me is the opportunity to open my heart and be generous.  Maybe that’s the way I resist my instinctive response to these shorter days.

When I was an intern minister at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, Texas, I remember that the co-ministers, Mark and Becky Edmonson-Lange, felt that people, especially people who were sick, homebound or had limited mobility, needed an extra little boost as the days got shorter, an experience of generosity and comradeship.  

They would, and I did as well when I served there, take poinsettias out to those people, both as a gift of something colorful and beautiful on the dreary dark days of winter, and as an offering of time—spending considerable time with them.  Sitting down and talking about what was going on at the church and listening to them talk about how they filled their days.  This generosity of heart and spirit had a huge positive impact in their lives.  It was a simple gift of generosity that brightened their days.

And when I first arrived here at UU Miami, Charles Bishop invited Martha and I to join him, his family and some friends to go sing Christmas Carols at a local nursing home.  I had a great time and the residents there seemed to enjoy our caroling as we wandered the halls.  Another simple gift of generosity that brightened someone’s day.

This year, Jessica, our Director of Religious Exploration, will be offering an opportunity for the families participating in the Christmas Pageant to share the pageant with a local nursing home.  Why should UU Miami be the only ones to enjoy this pageant created by Jessica and the kids of our congregation?
One event that has been part of the history of this congregation is giving to a local non-profit, to aid homeless/unsheltered families/children, or returning citizens, or families in shelters.  We put up a Christmas Tree with ornaments that have written on them items that are needed for whatever group we are giving to.  

Last year we brought toiletries and underwear, things really needed by returning citizens.  Jessica and I are making arrangements for us to repeat this tradition.  If you are interested in helping, please let us know.
“The Buddha said, ‘If you knew, as I do, the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing some of it.’ …Generosity is this powerful for very good reason. Because it is characterized by the inner quality of letting go or relinquishing, it reverses the forces that create suffering. It is a profound antidote to the strong habits of clinging, grasping, guarding, and attachment that lead to so much pain and suffering. Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression: we experience joy in forming the intention to give, we experience joy in the action of giving, and we experience joy in remembering that we have given. As Gandhi said, ‘The fragrance remains in the hand that gives the rose.’ (Unitarian Universalist Beth Roth of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the Community Health Center of Meriden)
It is certainly true that generosity brings joy into our lives, in the forming of intention, in the action and in the remembering.   A feeling of being generous can linger within us like “the fragrance in the hand that gives the rose.”

And yet, I find it challenging at times to focus on generosity when the dark times we live in are more than just the change of seasons.  There is pervasive darkness shadowing our lives with the Israeli war and the rise of Christian Nationalist hate groups in the United States, hate groups that are exacerbate antisemitism and Islamophobia.  Generosity has a different feel as I think about the war and the hate surrounding us.  In these dark days, generosity might feel like a bit of a stretch.

Take a moment and imagine yourself being the needy man at the end of the story.
"Take [the precious stone] back" he said.
“Instead, I hope
you can give me something
even more precious
than this precious stone.
I hope you can give me
whatever it is
within you
that made it so easy
for you,
when I asked,
to just give it away.”
What is it that makes it so easy for the woman to give that precious stone away?  How do we hold such an open heart in this time of fear, hatred, war, and darkness?  I can’t answer that question for you, but I and this community can hold a safe space for you as you discern what your answer is.  How can you maintain a generosity of spirit in these dark days?  Again, I can’t answer that question for you, but I and this community can hold a safe space for you as you discern what your answer is.  Generosity may not be about joy in the forming of intention, in the action and or even in the remembering.  It may be about the peace, justice, and the connection that comes from standing with those immersed in the darkness.  Saying, “I hear you.  I see you.  I will stay beside you, hold your hand, during this awful war.  I will stand beside while these groups spout hate and harass you.”

I sent out a letter this week regarding upcoming events—the visit to the Mosque yesterday, the Unity March against Hate today, and the visit by Rabbi Jaime next week.  I invited you to these events not just because I believe in peace, justice and beloved community and not only because these events are consistent with our Unitarian Universalist values, but because I believe that our Jewish, Muslim, trans, and black friends need us to stand beside them right now.  

I invited you so together we can embody this difficult, potentially dangerous kind of generosity.  American Evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody said: “Character is what you are in the dark.”  My friends we are in the dark right now.  In dark times, it is vitally important that we embody our values—this is our character, as compassionate human beings.  This is our character as Unitarian Universalists.  I am asking each of you to have an open heart with our siblings who are afraid, traumatized, and unsure of their future.  Your generosity can help reverse the forces that create suffering. Your generosity of spirit can help heal the broken hearts, the grieving and pain that our siblings are suffering.  Whatever we, each and together, can do to let our Jewish, Muslim, trans, and black friends know that they are not alone, will be make a positive difference.  Maybe you’ll feel like it won’t be enough, but I tell you, when you are lost and alone, battered and bruised, knowing that someone hears you, someone sees you—it can be a balm to the soul.  Don’t undervalue the gift of your generous heart, your generous spirit. There will be joy in our communion and our connections. And remember this is Big Work.  It’s is a marathon, not a sprint.  It is about being consistently generous with our siblings in need.  They cannot step out of the confusion and turbulence that they are experiencing, so we must step into it and be with them, again and again and again.  This will be how we embody our generosity.  

We all need one another when we mourn and would be comforted; when we are in trouble and afraid; and when we are in despair yet still must endure.   We need one another so that we may be recalled to be our best selves again and again and again. We need one another when we would accomplish some great purpose and cannot do it alone.  We need one another in the hour of our success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs.  All our lives we are in need and others are in need of us.  Let us go forth and be generous, for the world needs our generosity.

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