Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, November 10, 2019
Ring the bells that still will ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
That’s a quote from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem.”
Last month I went to my 45th college reunion. When I was in college, I had many ideas and ideals about the world and my power to change it for the better. Since then, I’ve struggled with the fact that I haven’t lived up to what I hoped, and the condition of the world seems to be getting worse in many ways. Yet, I still have hope. Cohen reminds me I still have bells to ring, I still have “offerings” to give. I trust the Divine is still working through me in spite of my cracks, or maybe because of my cracks, and that the Light of the Divine is entering me and inspiring me. And once the light enters me, I need to share it, as Jesus told us: No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.
At one point during the reunion, we were wandering around campus looking at trees. There are some beautiful ones there and they were just moving into fall colors. Nuts and acorns littered the ground. I picked up this walnut shell, which I know you can’t really see, but you can check it out later. Meanwhile, imagine how it looks. The outside is dark brown, beat up, chewed upon, broken, and scratched- nothing to catch your attention or make you pause. But the inside! The walnut is gone, which must have been a perfect offering for some creature, but the shape of it remains, curvy and arresting. Like us as we grow and age, our outsides may not look that fresh, aren’t a perfect offering, but our insides are beautiful, have developed interesting twists and turns, and have offerings to share.
At this past summer’s yearly meeting session, Lisa Graustein’s message about using our spiritual gifts resonated deeply with me. We Friends often speak of the gift of ministry, or spiritual gifts. When I was young I understood that to be spoken ministry, or the ministry of leading an organization or movement. Later the idea expanded: for example, my mom is recognized for her gift in organization. Jan Wood has identified many different areas of spiritual gifts, which I’ve posted, and Lisa spoke about those. I’ll share a few examples with you.
Jan has given some of the gifts unexpected names. One is exorcism- the ability to liberate from systemic oppression. Wendy and Brown exemplify this gift, as they work to create a world not dominated by environmental degradation or militarism, but one where respect and justice for all beings and the earth is primary.
There is the spiritual gift of translation, the ability to translate or understand languages you don’t know or the ability to understand and help others communicate across seemingly impossible divides. Craig exemplifies this with his facilitation of Makeshift Coffee houses.
There is the spiritual gift of service: the ability and desire to meet the practical needs of people. Dorothy Curtis exemplifies this as she cooks bounteous portions when needed, leads the Woman’s Society, and helps organize memorial service refreshments. Dan as trustee and soundman and Kitsie as treasurer and trustee also exemplify this gift.
Margaret Wentworth exemplifies the gift of trust, or faith- the deep assurance that “all is well” even when circumstances go awry.
Paul Miller’s work as a counselor exemplifies the gift of healing- the ability to cure and restore body, mind, emotions, and/or spirit.
With her work with the Kakamega Orphan Care Center, Sukie exemplifies the gift of shepherding or pastoring – the ability and desire to care for a group of people over time.
I could go on and on, as many Sunday mornings I have gone around the room and thought of each person and the gifts that each one brings to this meeting and to the world. Everyone has bells they are ringing, whether or not it was the bell of their perfect offering, or the one that still rings no matter what.
After my closing prayer, I’ll hand around a basket. Please draw a slip and look at the gift written on it. We did this at yearly meeting, then Lisa asked us these questions, which I modified slightly for our circumstance:
1. If this gift is new to you, how might you be asked to breathe life into it in the days and weeks ahead?
2. If this is a gift you currently manifest, how can you deepen and exercise this gift to a fuller extent?
3. If this gift is not for you, who do you see manifesting this gift that you can affirm and support? How can you name this gift in another, thereby empowering it to work among us?
Again, as Leonard Cohen wrote: Ring the bells that still will ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
I offer this prayer: Dear Divine Spirit, thank you for filling us with light, for giving us spiritual gifts, for accepting our imperfect offerings. Thank you for giving us the strength, courage, and wisdom to share those gifts with the world. Let our lights shine brightly and our bells ring out clearly. Amen.
If you want to learn more about Jan Wood’s descriptions of spiritual gifts, go to https://goodnewsassoc.org/associates/jan-wood/spiritual-gifts-resources/