Renewing Roots and Wings
Rev. Grace H. Simons
Rev. Joe Cherry
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A liberal religious voice in the Central Valley since 1953.
This Sunday [In gathering] is one of my favorite days here at the Fellowship. I love the energy and excitement that fills this space as we reconnect with each other, welcome new faces and remind ourselves and each other how good it is to affirm the aspirations and values that guide and inspire us. Our Water Ceremony symbolizes the way we find meaning in many places, then bring our insights home to share. At the same time, we join our hopes for a better world and commit ourselves to work toward changing those hopes into reality. As the Thought for the Day (printed at the head of your order of service) has it - "our separate waters join into one sacred stream as we add our lives into the stream of living souls who live out love, work for justice and hunger for peace." Our individual stories and talents merge into a rich resource for these efforts.
On other In Gathering Sundays, I've spoken about the symbolism of water, the way it flows along, finding ways past obstacles, moving through periods of abundance and periods of drought. A lot like life. There are plenty of reasons that water is symbolic in nearly all the world's religious traditions.
This morning, I'd like to link the powers of water to one of our signature UU songs - Spirit of Life. It's a wonderful song. Carolyn Mc Dade wrote it one night when her work in Central America seemed most hopeless. The wells of her energy and inspiration were dry, yet she cared deeply about the people and their situation. She wrote out of yearning. What rich imagery the song offers! I find myself coming back, again and again, to the lines about roots and wings.
Roots hold me close, wings set me free!
They are so evocative!
Who doesn't want deep, sturdy roots to anchor us as we meet the storms of life?
Roots that reach down to water deep in the earth.
Roots that grow and spread; that find, even make, cracks in bedrock and hold fast there.
Roots that draw water and minerals to the growing canopy above ground -
At the same time -
Who doesn't want to fly -
stretching and soaring to new heights of possibility?
Seeing the world from a whole different vantage point?
Traveling on wind-filled wings?
At first glance, these two yearnings seem incompatible - roots and wings? But there they are in the song: one right after the other! How cool is that!?!
So imagine with me, the roots of a tree - let's say it's a Valley Oak. Its brown acorns are long and hard-shelled. There's no sprouting till the outside soaks up water and softens. Then the taproot emerges and tunnels straight down into the earth. Well, not quite straight. When there's a stone or another plant's root, it will make a little detour around the obstacle before returning to its vertical path. Once it's deep enough to be sturdy, side shoots begin to develop. Each one branches and spreads, reaching out for minerals, yes, but even more, for water. Every small, exploring branch of each root is covered with minute root hairs, each pulling water into itself and then sending it back - up through the small roots and then larger ones, ever upward. For sprouting above that root, the seedling stretches upward into the air and away from the damp resources of the earth. Yet none of those limbs, twigs and green leaves can live without water.
Now our Valley Oaks are tough. They're adapted to our long, dry, hot summers. Those deep roots find hidden sources and deliver scarce and precious water to leaves high above in the dry air. These same roots anchor the widespread branches, holding steady through both wet and dry times, through wind and storm and winter fog.
But we want more than strong roots; more than the height and breadth of a mature oak, as wonderful as those are. We want the freedom to move around, to soar above the topmost leaves.
We want wings.
Wings to lift us above the everyday,
to give us at least a glimpse of the wider world,
perhaps to carry us to new ideas, new places.
We want to soar.
And again, we find the need for water. Bird or bat or insect, all our winged creatures carry water within and must replenish it regularly. The wildlife experts tell us that if we want wild creatures, we must ensure a water supply. Refuge areas are protected along creeks, rivers and estuaries. Birdbaths and fountains draw winged visitors. Without water, no wings can fly. With it, journeys of ten thousand miles are possible, as well as soaring on thermals and fluttering from branch to branch.
And here we are, talking about branches again. Which, of course, depend on roots!
Yes, roots and wings. Isn't it like us humans to want things that seem so different, even incompatible? After all, trees and other plants don't have wings. They aren't free to get up and move from one place to another. And birds don't grow roots that hold against wind and rain.
Ah, but we religious folk talk, and sing, both literally and in the language of symbol and metaphor. We want the groundedness of roots combined with the freedom and flexibility we see in flight, in having wings. Our spirits yearn to reach around both these possibilities, these fine traits we see in nature. We long for the best of both.
How can that happen? Well, I suggest to you that, like Valley Oaks and other trees, like robins and herons, geese and egrets, we need water if we are to develop our roots and wings. But for us, that water is spiritual. Oh, I know, we need good old H2O! But to find the stability and grounding of roots, and combine that with the soaring vision of wings, we must nurture our spirits. We do that with love and justice, with relationship and meaning, with insight and experience from far and wide, and with high aspirations and goals. What's more, it's not enough to know that these are good things. If we want results, we have to put them into practice. Sort of like physical water. Admiring the stream or lake isn't enough. Wave watching doesn't work. Running water from the tap won't help. You have to drink the water, wash with it, give it to others. You have to play with it and in it.
And that's where our congregation comes in. This religious community reminds us of our ideals and aspirations. We lift up ways to live them, day by day. And we offer companions in the effort to put those lofty goals into practice.
These companions help us carry on the work of serving and changing the world. None of us provides a shelter dinner by ourselves. No one develops a new program, raises a child or gets a law passed alone. No one of us can identify all the possible aspects and insights needed for a project. We can't do all that we want and certainly can't be in two places at once. With companions, a lot more is possible. Our skills, energies and abilities are pooled, even multiplied. We join together to share our celebrations, to help with the work; to give each other a break and bring humor to remind us of the funny sides of life. To offer comfort when hearts are broken.
But sometimes our companions are part of the challenge as we try to live our values. I know I can be, shall we say, a little irritating at times. Imagine that! Perhaps it's true for you, too. And maybe you've heard the pundit claim, "I love all humankind. It's the people I hate!" Am I the only one who can imagine that those words were spoken in a church?
Still, it's our religious community that reminds us to "... forgive ourselves and each other, to begin again in love." It's this covenanted community that wants to learn from our varied ideas and experiences; that welcomes and values us through all our life stages; that can say, "Well that didn't work out the way we hoped. Let's see what we should do now." It's this UU community that claims Love as its doctrine and Service as its prayer. That affirms the search for truth and seeks the paths that lead toward peace. Each time we are together, we are reminded. Each time we work together, share something that's touched us, talk and laugh over a meal, we put our ideals into practice. These things are water for the spirit. And the wells here are deep.
The waters we bring, the lives we bring, flow together as we each add our individual perspectives and talents. The stream is strengthened. It flows more freely. In Gathering reminds us of the rich resources available here. We renew our commitment to our religious community, to our ideals and values. We resolve again to act on those ideals in ways large and small, so that we bring ever more love and justice into our lives and communities. And as we drink this spiritual water, the unlikely becomes possible. It even begins to become reality. We are strengthened and expanded. Our spirits put forth both roots and wings.
September 11, 2011
Copyright by Rev. Grace Simons. If you enjoyed it or would like to use part of it, please contact our web wizard,
Rev. Grace Simons left us a
collection of her sermons
when she retired in October, 2011.
We have a brief biography
of Rev. Grace, and the last edition of
a column she wrote for our newsletter.
2172 Kiernan Avenue
Modesto, California See a map
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PO Box 1000
Salida, CA 95368
We are a liberal church and the only UU congregation in Stanislaus county. We serve Ceres, Denair, Escalon, Hickman, Hughson, Keyes, Manteca, Modesto, Oakdale, Patterson, Ripon, Riverbank, Salida, Turlock and Waterford. We welcome Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Deists, Free-thinkers, Humanists, Jews, Pagans, Theists, Wiccans, and those who seek their own spiritual path. We welcome people without regard to race, physical ability, ethnicity or sexual orientation.