Celebrating Abundance

READING     Good Bones, Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.

For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.


REFLECTION                  
Selling the World
“I’m trying to sell my children the world.”    

This has been a hard 10 days.  Beyond the walls of our small community and within them.  We’ve lost Elliot Ross, a young man who grew up in our RE program.  We’ve lost Bob Rundquist, who had been a beloved member here since the 1980s.  There was what for many of us was good news in electoral results nationwide – a return of Democratic control of Congress.  And that was followed by the announcement of what many see as an impending serious constitutional crisis, with the firing of the Attorney General to pave the way for a head of the Justice Department who, it’s feared, will put loyalty to the person in the White House against duty to uphold the law.  One of the remaining voices of balance and liberal interpretation on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is hospitalized after a serious fall.  A crisis is pending at the Mexican border.  And there was another mass shooting just a few days ago.

A lot of this I, like the poet, would like to keep from my children.  But they’re grown.  I’d like to keep it from my grandchildren.

I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real dump, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

The theme of this morning’s service – and the gatherings that follow – is abundance. 

How would you describe abundance in your own life?  What shapes your sense of it?  How do you celebrate that abundance and share it with others?

This place, this country, this world – has good bones.  What we do and share can make it more beautiful.

STORY         The Magic Fish (traditional folktale)

REFLECTION
        The Grass is Always Greener
When I was a child I thought the first request in this morning’s Magic Fish story was pretty reasonable.  Why shouldn’t they trade a tiny shack for a nice little house? 

But one of the sub-texts of the magic fish story is that getting more stuff doesn’t make people happy.  It just makes us want more.

The fisherwoman in our version (it’s traditionally a fisherman, of course) is content with the way things are.  It’s the younger sister (traditionally the shrewish wife) who is dissatisfied. 

The younger sister can’t be content with how things are.  She wants a bigger, nicer house and a break from her chores.  But getting those things doesn’t keep her happy for long.  She wants more, and then more – until.  Oops!  In some versions the fish finally gets annoyed.  In my version the older sister speaks her own truth and the game is over.

Then what?  As long as the fish is magic – maybe it has a de-neuralyzer that it borrowed from an agent in the Men in Black movies.  That’s a device that instantly and permanently erases memories.  The fish’s de-neuralyzer would erase all the younger sister’s memories of the time after the older sister caught the fish.  And maybe the older sister didn’t get zapped.  She remembered, and decided to she spend a bit less time out in her boat staring at the sea.   She started helping with the garden and the chores.

I have no idea what the younger sister thought.  I hope it made her happier.

How would you describe abundance in your own life?  What shapes your sense of it?  How do you celebrate that abundance and share it with others?


I’ve been reminded of an old song I heard in childhood, when I was five or six or seven.  It was the sign-off on the Big Brother Bob Emery show, weekdays at noon on Boston’s public TV station.  The last part of refrain, as I remembered it, was:
“But if we all could wear green glasses now, it wouldn't be so hard
you know the grass is always greener in the other fellow’s yard,”

This never made sense.  I never understood it.  That’s probably why I remembered it all these years.

So this week I looked it up on the internet, and learned that for nearly sixty years I’ve remembered it wrong.  It really goes:

The grass is always greener
in the other fellow's yard.
The little row
we have to hoe,
Oh boy that's hard.
But if we all could wear
green glasses now,
it wouldn't be so hard
to see how green the grass is in our own back yard.

Just a metaphor.  When I stand in my own front yard, I look down and see all the crabgrass and dirt patches.  Looking across the street at my neighbor’s lawn my vantage point is on a different plane.  And that more distant, angled vantage point helps me see, over there, a nice, even expanse of green.  (Although in our case it really is only a metaphor, because our front yard really is browner and substantially more replete with crabgrass than is our neighbor’s.  Green glasses won’t help.)

But that’s me – I, and maybe you, need reminders from time to time to put on my green glasses regardless.  And to enjoy the abundance of our gardens.

READING     “Monet Refuses the Operation,”   Lisel Mueller


Claude Monet, who lived between 1840 and 1926, is considered the founder of the Impressionist movement in painting. 

Monet was known to have suffered from cataracts, and in fact late in life confessed at one point that he was painting from memory, depending on “the labels on the tubes of paint and the force of habit.” 

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?

I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,

above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.

To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

REFLECTION                   Celebrating Abundance
Art critics note a change in Monet’s style in his later years.  “Brush strokes became bolder, and colors strikingly blue, orange or brown. His images lost detail and flowed into one another.”  Contrary to what Lisel Mueller imagined, Monet did, in fact have successful surgery on one of his eyes in 1923, and there was a noticeable stylistic reversion to his earlier work in the last three years of his life.[i]

How would you describe abundance in your own life?  What shapes your sense of it?  How do you celebrate that abundance and share it with others?

Art and music and poetry are part of the abundance in my own life.  They illuminate and transform the prosaic and the difficult, they expand my perceptions, challenge me, deepen my feelings and understanding, touch my soul, and bring me joy.

So forget the facts about Monet’s cataracts.  Remember the poem.  What is abundant in our lives changes, from stage to stage, decade to decade, moment to moment.  There are wonderful moments, and ordinary ones, and moments of loss and sorrow.  And we live in unsettled and dispiriting times.  Lisel Mueller reminds us that at every stage and moment there are possibilities as well.

Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end

How infinitely the heart expands to claim this maybe less than 50% good world, with its beautiful, beautiful bones. I hope many of you will be able to join one of the gatherings to share a meal and get to know each other better.

One of you reminded me of something else this week, when we spoke about Bob Rundquist’s death.  He reminded me about finding abundance in the things that truly matter.  In family, in friendship, in community, and in working together to make the place more beautiful.

 

[i] Guy Gugliotta Simulations of Ailing Artists’ Eyes Yield New Insights on Style

NY Times Dec 4 2007 https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/science/04impr.html