I was asked to do the Chalice Lighting this Sunday morning at the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois. If you are not familiar with a Chalice Lighting, it is one of the few U.U. worship rituals. A short reading usually accompanies igniting a flame in a chalice, the symbol of our faith, which help set the tone of the service. At our congregation we have monthly themes for worship. This month that theme is Beauty. Instead of searching out an apt quotation from literature or by some minister, I undertook a short original poem.Rev. Jenn Gracen with her wife Virginia and daughter Adalee at a protest of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v Wade in Woodstock this week.
Like our Interim Minister, the Rev. Jenn Gracen, I was having some difficulty reconciling beauty with some of the ugly realities we are living in. In her Minister’s Musing shared this week with the congregation in an e-mail she wrote:
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.” These words come from the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible and are later echoed in the Christian scriptures as well. Our Soul Matters theme for the month of May is “beauty.” When I think about beauty, images of feet are not the first that come to mind. But then I reflect on the events of the past few days—a leaked Supreme Court ruling that suggests that, for the first time, we are likely to see constitutional rights revoked rather than expanded. I reflect on the events of the past few months—an unprovoked and devastating war brought by Russia against the people of Ukraine. I reflect on the events of the past few years—a pandemic that has killed over 6 million people around the world, 38 thousand of them right here in Illinois.
We could really use some good news right now. But bringing good news to a suffering world means we must get up and get moving. We must do the active work of teaching and preaching, of writing and speaking, of meeting and marching, of stretching and sharing our resources.
If we’re doing the work we are called to, our feet (and hands and hearts and pocketbooks) are probably going to be sore and dirty at the end of most days. Is it any wonder that in ancient cultures, guests were welcomed to a home with foot washing? When we’re going out into the world to do what we are called to do, sore and dirty feet are part of the package.
So the writer of those ancient words—“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news” —was most certainly not picturing a person coming fresh from a pedicure. They were picturing the rough, worn, tired feet of those had taken on a long and difficult journey, proclaiming peace, good tidings, salvation, and the reign of God to a people who had suffered captivity and exile.
May we be such proclaimers today.
I was wrestling with some of the same stuff. So much so that I roused from a sound sleep with this short poem mostly formed. I rushed to scribble it down before it evaporated and have tinkered with it for the last few days.One of the can't-unsee-it images burned in my mind when I wrote this poem.
Like many of the verses I have shared in worship over the years, this one will stretch the bounds of what is in good taste for church. I think of it as a challenge to complacency.
On Beauty in a Difficult Time
For Tree of Life UU Service
May 8, 2022
Lilacs in a morning dew,
the memory of cupable breast
a vista of a glacial lake
shimmering among golden aspen.
Loving easy beauty isn’t hard.
It delights and refreshes
and even comforts us in revelry
like the Rose in the Wintertime
in that old hymn.
Hard beauty is something else—
a fallen oak twisted and shattered
in morning fog,
the smoldering ruins
of a bombed out city,
a naked woman kneeling and
face down on the floor
bled out and cold.
What beauty in these facts before us?
Truth is not beauty
nor beauty truth,