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(c) Rev. Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved

The title of my message this morning is “Blessed to Be a Blessing”.

To paraphrase a very old story, there once was man who was walking home when a large storm moved across the land.  The winds were fierce and the rainfall torrential.  The man leaned into the wind and slowly moved forward.

Soon, he noted how creeks and rivers were overflowing.  The water spread across the land and rose steadily.  It reached his ankles, then his knees, and then his waist.  

Fearing for his safety, the man called out, “Source of all life, save me from this flood!”  Soon thereafter, someone saw him struggling through the water and offered him a rope.  “Here, tie this end around your waist.  Together, we will get to safety.”

“No,” said the man.  “I’ve called out to the source of life to save me.   So I trust it will do so.”

He trudged on as the rain continued and the water rose.  It was now up to his chest.

“Source of all,” he cried out.  “I always have acted with good in my heart.  Please save me!”

A minute later, a motor boat came by filled with people.  The boat captain called to the man, “Climb in!  We are headed to high land.”

“Thank you, but no,” said the man.  “The source of all life will save me I know.”

The flood rose further until it was neck high.  The man could barely move the water was so swift.  He again cried out, “Power of love, source of goodness, save me I pray.  I am a faithful man!”

Just then, a helicopter appeared and as it fought against the wind, its door opened and out dropped a rope ladder which fell  into the water only a foot away.  Someone in the helicopter motioned for the man to grab hold.

The man waved his arms for the helicopter to fly away.  “The source of goodness will save me,” he shouted.

And then the rain intensified.  The flood waters rose so that he was swept along with the current.  He became exhausted and could no longer stay afloat.  He slipped under the waves…

Immediately, his soul encountered a bright and warm light.  The man knew he was in the presence of the divine.  

“Oh great power of love,” he humbly said.  “I trusted so fervently in you to protect me from the flood.  Why did you not save me from drowning?”

The light enveloped the man so that he felt overwhelming love.  A soothing voice spoke.

“Dearest one,” the voice said.  “Three times I came to you and tried to save you.  I was the man with a rope, I was the boat captain to take you to dry land, and I was the helicopter pilot to fly you to safety.  But you did not perceive my blessings that were there for you……”

That story speaks to me on many levels.  It’s about trust, listening, wisdom, and most of all not taking for granted the many blessings I have.  Such blessings give me joy, peace, comfort and sustenance – ones that, when all is good, I barely acknowledge.

During these difficult times, I’m also a lot like the man trodding through a rising flood hoping he will be saved by providence, but oblivious to all of the blessings around him.  I have a roof over my head, I have food and drink, work that I enjoy, a loving partner, two precious daughters I communicate with regularly, and deeply good friends who offer me their support.  In the midst of a worldwide crisis, I have abundant blessings that enrich, soothe and yes, help save me.

And yet I have too often looked past them to focus on worry and anxiety.   I fail to see the power of love and good things I already have.  My anxiety is what many experts call “internalized oppression.”  It’s something each of us feel at one time or another and perhaps right now.  It’s  characterized by inward feelings of hurt, worry, or trauma caused by something or someone.   We take the negativity, which may or may not be real, and we internalize the energy from it.  We ourselves literally become a source of negativity.

But psychology experts say we can cure ourselves from a negative mindset by recognizing that we have the cognitive power to banish it.  We have the cure and it is through changing our thinking by reflection and meditation on the good in life.  Optimistic people have figuratively set around themselves a barrier that only allows blessings through.  We have the tremendous ability to build our own cognitive barriers that permit us to only focus on good things.

Mostly, experts suggest that to be positive means to refuse being a victim.  Everybody can feel victimized by this virus, or any other negative thing, if we choose to think that way.  We can also choose to see ourselves as powerful people who have the capability both to avoid catching the virus, and to not be one of its emotional victims.  One way to do that is to think, feel, and thereby BE blessed.  

That thought came to me as I read a column in the most recent UU World magazine by Reverend Ana Levy-Lyons.  The article is entitled “Kindness to the Thousandth Generation” and its message is that while the Bible’s Old Testament says people suffer the consequences of bad actions by past generations, the opposite is more true.  We enjoy and are  blessed by the good actions of our ancestors.  

Rev. Lyons asks us to therefore focus on positive blessings in life and to forsake negatively focused commandments and rules.  Indeed, she implies something I’ve long believed.  Framing in positive terms how we should act and speak is much better than constricting life with more negatively focused rules.  In other words, might we think more about encouraging love and our blessings, instead of being warned against lying, killing, stealing, or being envious – as the Bible’s Ten Commandments do?

A blessing is an act, utterance or encouragement of kindness wished upon or done for another.  A blessing provides an opportunity for the recipient to feel loved – and to sense the presence of something greater than themselves.

When we encourage people to be a blessing – to be more loving, speak more gently, or find peace in their hearts, I believe we are far more effective in creating the attitude we wish for – both in ourselves and in others.

This idea has, for me, great usefulness in how I think about the present challenges.  Instead of dwelling on the negatives that face the world, I can remember my blessings – and the power every person has to be a blessing to others.  The world may seem like floodwaters are rising, but in most of our lives there are countless people and things for which to be thankful.   And there are countless things we can do to be a blessing.  If we do these, I believe we can transform our thinking.  As we deal with the figurative flood, I want to see and appreciate the figurative ropes of kindness, boats of human connection, and helicopters of uplifting joy that I either already have, or that come my way.  And I want to be a symbolic boat of human connection and kindness myself.  As I am blessed, I want to bless. 

One way to look at the morality of blessings is with the philosophy of utilitarianism first proposed in the eighteenth century by Jeremy Bentham.  He suggested that the only good thing in life is happiness and that the only way to do and be good is to provide happiness to others.  A full stomach, shelter, affordable healthcare, freedom from discrimination – these are all good because they bring well-being and happiness.  In other words, utilitarianism says that an action or thing is only useful if it causes the greatest possible good for as many humans and creatures as possible. 

And during these past few weeks, I’ve better understood that concept.  That’s because I’ve done what many psychologists and psychiatrists say is one way to overcome depression or a negative attitude.  I’ve tried my best to think about good things and to mostly shut out the bad.  Experts encourage people to write a blessings letter to oneself or write in a blessings journal about all of the enriching, good and happy things in one’s life.  Several studies show that those who do one of these exercises, they later experience a significant decrease in depression and increase in happiness.  Literally counting one’s blessings is a key to feeling content.

And blessed people usually become blessings themselves.  The study showed that happy people are more likely to be altruistic and caring to others.

Another study showed that couples who are very satisfied in their relationship, they share with their partner one thing a day that they are grateful for in that person – 70% or more days a year.   I’m grateful for how you hold my hand.  I’m grateful for how you make the bed every day.  I’m grateful for the love and companionship you offer me.  

Couples that are the least happy, including those that break-up, offered a daily word of gratitude to their partner less than 45% of days in a year.  

Telling your significant other how and why they bless you will make not just both of you happier, it will be one way to build a meaningful and lasting relationship – and that includes not just romantic partnerships, but friendships, family relationships, and parent / child interactions.

For me, remembering my blessings – and trying to be a blessing to others – is a way to deal with current anxiety and worry.  It’a a way to get out of a Me-ism mindset.  “I don’t like being isolated.”  “I miss being with Keith and all of you at church.”  Instead, my goal should be to adopt more of a “I am blessed” mindset: “I am richly blessed by my daughters’ phone calls.”  “Keith blessed me with his visit last weekend.”  “Church friends bless me with their support, emails, and phone conversations.”  In other words, life right now, and life at any other time, is not about what I DON’T have, but about the good I DO have.  I need to do everything I can to think that way.

As an alternative to the Ten Commandments which tell us what we should supposedly do or not do, I suggest we look at what Jesus taught in his famous sermon on the mount.  As always, I offer teachings from Jesus or other religious figures not to say that their religion is the most insightful, but rather to point out, in this case, the greatness of Jesus as one of many very wise human prophets – and not about him as a god.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus listed ten blessings.  As I read each one that I have paraphrased, think about the message he wanted to get across in an encouraging and positive way – and not as a commandment.  Think about how a particular blessing speaks to you during these times.

  1. Blessed are the poor for they mostly rely on the power of love to feel happy – and not on money or things.
  2. Blessed are those who mourn the death or illness of others, for they will find comfort in the compassion they feel.
  3. Blessed are the humble for they have true greatness.
  4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice because they will build it in our world.
  5. Blessed are those who show mercy because they will receive it in return.
  6. Blessed are those with pure hearts because they understand truth, beauty, and kindness.
  7. Blessed are those who promote peace, because they themselves are at peace.
  8. Blessed are those who act and speak with love, because they are part of the greatest force in the universe.
  9. Blessed are those who are criticized for trying to do what is good because they are courageous.
  10. Blessed are those who are happy, because they become a blessing to others.

  Dear friends, I believe all of us are blessed people.  We belong to a loving and caring community.  We have friends and families who care for us.  We have the basic needs of life – food, water, and shelter.  We have meaning in life to create good in the world.  That gives us a purpose which thereby defines who we are as individuals and as a community.  

We are in the midst of a mighty struggle not just against the corona virus, but against internalized oppression – our own anxiety, fear and depression.  Let us be blessed by knowing we are overcomers.  Let us be blessed by our grateful hearts.  Let us be blessed by one another.  We are fortunate beyond measure.  In knowing and feeling these truths, we will feel more content, loved, and joyful. 

I wish for all of us the blessing of feeling blessed.

And now, while Sue Cline opens up Michael Tacy’s mic for him to play some soothing background music, let us share a brief time of meditation.  If you wish, please close your eyes.  I will read famous blessings from several world religions.  Use this time to take in the words and perhaps find meaning for yourself…

From Celtic Spirituality – words slightly changed:

I weave a silence onto my lips.
I weave a silence into my mind.
I weave a silence within my heart.

I close my ears to distractions.
I close my eyes to attractions.
I close my eyes to temptations.

Calm me, O Source of Life, as you still the storm.
Still me, Power of Love, keep me from harm.
Let all tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Great Mystery, in your peace.

From Native American Spirituality:

May the Earth bless us with stillness

     as the grasses are stilled with light.

May the Earth bless us with humility

     as blossoms are from the bud.

May the Earth bless us with caring

     as the mother who secures her young.

May the Earth bless us with courage

     as the tree which stands all alone.

May the Earth bless us to forget ourselves

     as melted snow forgets its life.

May the Earth bless us to remember kindness

     as dry fields weep with rain.

From Judaism – words slightly changed:

May Yahweh bless thee and keep thee. 

May she make her face shine upon thee, 

and be gracious unto thee.

 May Yahweh lift up her countenance upon thee, 

and give thee peace.

A Christian Blessing from St. Francis – words slightly changed:

Great mystery, make me an instrument of your peace.  

Where there is hatred, bless me with love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is fear, trust; 

where there is despair, hope; 

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy.

Bless me that I may seek not so much

to be consoled – as to console

to be understood – as to understand

to be loved – as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive; 

it is in blessing that we are blessed,  

and it is in dying to self that we find life abundant.

From Islam – words slightly changed:

Almighty Allah, bless those who are sick by removing their sickness.  

Bless them by easing their suffering and healing them.

Bless us with steadfastness and patience.

Bless us with caring hearts and truthful tongues.

Bless our daily affairs and grant us the gift 

of forgiveness for our shortcomings.  Amen

  I am grateful for each of you and what you give the world.  Thank you for listening.