Service: "Les Oubliettes," Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Start Date

We all forget things.  Little things and big things leave our minds all the time.  Mostly, it doesn’t matter all that much to us, since we don’t know what we don’t remember.  But what if there was a way to forget less, and deepen our experience of life?  Maybe the little things wouldn’t be so little.

Sounding of the Singing Bowl (Rev Denis)                                                

Prelude     Sing and Rejoice, Traditional (#395)

Welcome     Julia Kotowski

Fern Jennings served was Music Director of the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland prior to her retirement four years ago. Previously she had served as organist of the West Shore Unitarian Church. Currently she stays busy as a substitute organist when not traveling. She lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband, Wayne Jennings.  We’ll be seeing more of her in the coming weeks, and we’re all grateful for her presence.

Opening Hymn #298 Wake Now My Senses

Call to Worship (Rev Denis)

I’d like to share with you a slight adaptation of a pagan prayer, by Druid teacher and writer Ceisiwr (Kaissyor) Serith

Like a lightning flash cleaving the night,

Like the sun rising inexorably over the horizon,

Like a stone exploding among the flames,

Like an arrow seeking its prey in the forest,

[Wake now, our senses]

Like a roebuck breaking free from a thicket,

Like and eagle stooping with claws outstretched,

Like a wildfire consuming tree after tree,

Like a hammer striking sparks against an anvil,

[Wake now, our senses]

Like a thunderstorm opening up in a summer heat,

Like an earthquake shaking the mountains,

Like a gale blowing across open water,

Like a cloud of spears showering down upon an battlefield,

[Wake now, our senses]

How’s that for imagery?  It’s beautiful and bucolic, folksy and fiery.  Violent in the way the natural world really is.

The natural world, out there beyond the man made, requires us to wake up.  To wake our bodies from their slumber and pay attention.  Or to pay the consequences.

And while we may not gather here with the same urgency as a wildfire, to get anything out of this .... We. Must. Pay. Attention.

We’re not running from eagles or arrows.  We have the chance to slow down and be present.

No.

We have the responsibility to slow down and be present, so that we may do what we are called to do together:  Love, Revere, Discover, and Connect.

Chalice Lighting (Rev. Denis)

______________, would you do us the honor of lighting our chalice, our sacred symbol commitment and promise?  As you light, I will share the words of John Welwood.

Forget about enlightenment.

Sit down wherever you are

And listen to the wind singing in your veins.

Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.

Open your heart to who you are, right now,

Not who you would like to be,

Not the saint you are striving to become,

But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.

All of you is holy.

You are already more and less

Than whatever you can know.

Breathe out,

Touch in,

Let go.

Story “Souvenir” (Rev Denis)

They loved their Bichon Frisé. 

George, a retired truck driver, never thought he’d be the kind of guy to fall in love with a little white dog that looked like it had been fluffed up by a blow dryer.  But Souvenir wasn’t fragile at all.  She had a solid build.  She was no German Shepherd of course, but she wasn’t a shivering, yappy teacup dog, either.   She was big for her breed, a muscular 13 pounds. And feisty.  

The Bichon is a French breed, so he and Michelle wanted to give her a French name.  They found her on vacation eight years earlier, while staying in an airbnb on the outskirts of Nashville.   She’d been abandoned, her hair matted, one eye clamped shut from an infection.  She timidly approached the porch of their little cottage to beg food, and after a few scraps of steak, she let George pick her up. He could feel her ribs and spine. 

George and Michelle were legally required to make an effort to find her owner, but figured if they couldn’t be bothered to keep her safe, they didn’t deserve her.  So the couple took her home, a memento of their vacation, more valuable and certainly cuter and more lovable than any trinket.

Souvenir, like all dogs, loved her daily walks.  As George fixed his coffee and put on his shoes, she’d sit by the door, trembling with anticipation. When he approach with the leash she’d start jumping, then become as still as a statue as he clipped it on. 

Everyday they walked the grid of streets a little differently, always passing the cafe called Les Oubliettes, where the manager would be setting out tables and chairs on the sidewalk for the heartier lunch crowd.  He always had a treat for Souvenir.

Michelle liked to joke that the dog and cafe complemented one another. In French, souvenir means “to remember,” and “les oubliettes” are the little things forgotten.  If one ceased to exist, the other would just ... disappear.

 

This morning, George was enjoying the weather, marveling at the beauty of the occasional aspen, golden among the dominant oaks, their leaves brown and brittle under his feet.  He smiled to himself as he took in the smell of wood burning in a fireplace nearby, the smoke and chill bracing his lungs.  Fall had always been his favorite time of year, but he knew winter was coming too fast, and might kill some of his shrubs.

Souvenir, not surprisingly, was smelling everything, even though she knew she wouldn’t be allowed to stop. 

This morning, they went further than usual.  She always knew exactly where they were because of the smell.  Even when George walked ten miles from home, even if she didn’t know the neighborhood from memory, she would pick up a scent a mile or so away,  in the direction of home, and from there she’d pick up another scent.  She always knew which direction home was located.

Today, like every day, George just wandered amiably, glad in the moment. They turned the corner onto their street and Souvenir began tugging.  As they approached home, Michelle and Jeanette were waiting.  Jeanette removed her hands from her hips to hug George.

“I’m sorry,” he said with as much charm as he could muster.  He didn’t want to offend the young woman.  She was quite pretty, and reminded him of someone.  “Have we met?”

“Of course we have, Dad! I’m your daughter,” she reminded him, as she did every time she saw him in the last few months.

He smiled in kind but patronizing disbelief, as if she were the only one not to know she had lost her mind.  He went inside to inside to feed the dog.

“Mom, how could you let them wander off like that?  They could get lost.”

Michelle sighed.  “Your father may not remember where he lives, but Souvenir always brings him home.”

Joys and Cares (Rev Denis)

When you came in, you had the chance to ....

Now, I would like to invite you to hold on to the stones you have, close your eyes if you like, and really feel it in your hands, as we share these

Joys and Cares:

Sarah and Paul Goerke are thrilled to announce the birth of their first son, George David Goerke, on Tuesday night.  He came into the world after a bit of a struggle, but he is beautiful and strong and long and thin and with lots of dark hair.   Like his parents.  They plan on calling him Geo.  They probably won’t be with us for the next few weeks as they settle in, but when they return, they are ready to become members, and for us to dedicate Geo.

Rev Tim Temerson, from our sibling congregation in Akron, shares that after almost 2 1/2 years in sanctuary, the family living in their church building has finally received a stay of both deportation and detention, which will allow them to safely leave sanctuary. Needless to say, the family is thrilled as is the congregation. Their sanctuary experience has been incredibly positive and the love between the family and the church runs deep.  

And we take a moment to acknowledge the two latest school shootings, one in Santa Clarita CA Thursday morning that left two dead, and another in Pleasantville NJ on Friday night that left three injured, two critically.  May we have the courage not to just think about the victims and their families in solidarity, not to blame mental illness, but to go to the public square and the voting booth to demand change that can end the senseless violence.

For these and all the joys and cares that remain unspoken, we observe a moment of silent meditation.

Bookends, Simon and Garfunkel

Prayer

May we always remember that our words

Our thoughts

Our deeds

Our emotions

And our collective consciousness

Are all tied inextricably to the rocks

The mountains

The trees

The water

The sky

And each other

May our wishes for peace and justice return to the ground

from which they have never really left

To be honored

As we honor the earth itself.

Amen

Reading (Rev Denis)

I’d like to share with you now a poem by Billy Collins, who has been called the most popular Poet Laureate of the United States.  Ever.  I can’t even imagine how many people he has introduced to poetry as a new love.

This is called “Forgetfulness.” 

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue

or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted   

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins, “Forgetfulness” from Questions About Angels. Copyright © 1999 by Billy Collins. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Anthem Canticle of the Sun 

 Sermon “Les Oubliettes”                           Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Joe and my uncle Luc and I were riding through Montreal on little electric moped/scooter things, and passed a bistro called “Les Oubliettes.” 

I know the verb oublier means “to forget.”  And I know that any noun ending with “-ette” conveys that the thing is small or diminutive.  It’s often used as a term of endearment.  It’s kind of like ending a noun with “-ita” or “-ito” Spanish. 

So, oubliettes is a verb with a noun ending, which made it really interesting to me.  Kind of poetic.  Maybe even a bit romantic, having to do with the precious little things that we forget, the things that may not be in our conscious minds, but still with us in our lives, in our beings, in our cells.  I thought, maybe it’s slang for something else that I’m not getting.

Even though my uncle is 75, and a bit formal in his speech, as a local he’s got to be more connected to slang than I am, so, in my curiosity, I pulled up alongside Luc and asked “Mon Oncle, qu’est-que ces, les oubliettes?

He did the most French thing I’ve ever seen him do.  [shrug.  Make that face]

He stared at me blankly.  “I don’t know what you mean.” 

I described to him the bistro we passed.  He talked through the mental etymological process I’d just gone through, confirming my rationale.

  “So, they made up the word?” I asked. “That’s very poetic.” 

He responded “no, I think it’s a real word, just not one I’ve ever heard, I suppose.  It sounded funny when you asked.”

That evening, Joe showed me an old picture of a kid holding a 16” square sheet of metal with the words “hall pass” painted on it.   We’d both forgotten about hall passes completely, and suddenly I was remembering a teacher in junior high who used a tree stump as a hall pass.  It was so large you’d occasionally see some poor tiny 7th grade girl sitting on it, exhausted from lugging it around.  I laughed out loud.

It was a precious little memory that brought me joy in that moment.  Une oubliette.

There are many little things we remember for decades. 

A first kiss. 

The name of a favorite teacher. 

The name of the street you grew up on.

Your first car.

The pet names your parents had for each other.

The best meal, or bottle of wine, or chocolate lava cake you ever had.

These are the kinds of memories that never stop giving pleasure.

But there’s something really poetic about the little things we forget, then remember again. 

We never really worry about missing them because we don’t know we’ve forgotten them, so when they come back to us, like the memory of a girl sitting on a log in a school corridor, they are somehow better than they were in the moment they happened. 

They’re wistful.

Poignant. 

Even romantic.

Probably the best kind of oubliette is a smell, because our most intense memories are olfactory. 

At the art show last week, there was a painting of a PlayDoh can, and even though I hadn’t thought about that stuff in forever, the scent — that wasn’t even present — came back to me so strongly I could taste it.  And I was transported to kindergarten and Miss Chamberlain who returned from the holidays with a new hairstyle and a new last name.  A name I can’t for the life of me remember.  I didn’t want to remember it then.

Some things, of course, we try to forget, maybe we even convince ourselves we have. 

Bad break ups. 

Ugly fights at work. 

Acts of violence perpetrated against us or people we love. 

Military battle. 

Illness. 

Childbirth. 

An endless stream of mass shootings.  Lies told by people we should be able to trust.

Speaking of the president, I should probably tell you what oubliette really means.

It’s a prison cell.  A very specific kind of prison cell actually, a dark subterranean dungeon meant for solitary confinement.

It turns out that les oubliettes aren’t  precious little forgotten things at all.  I looked it up shortly after Joe showed me that picture. 

In the medieval period they were in the castles of Europe, but during the Renaissance they were used for torture, the kind of torture usually reserved for religious heretics.

Cartographer, physician, theologian and Unitarian martyr Michael Servetus probably lived in an oubliette before he was burned alive atop a pile of his own books in 1553.

Not quite so romantic an idea now, is it?  Or, maybe it is, depending how you feel about our Christian roots.

If I look back on everything I’ve re-remembered and everything I’ve tried to forget, I’d say that probably the worst are the little ways in which I forgot who I was, and betrayed myself. 

You know what I mean. All those times, in order to preserve the peace, to just get along, or worse, to get ahead, we betray ourselves.  We sell ourselves to the highest (or the lowest) bidders in the hopes that some good will come to us or the principles we’re espousing.  It usually isn’t until much later that we discover how high the cost actually was.

That has got to be the worst feeling.  It probably sounds overly dramatic, I know, but if — IF — I were ever to momentarily lose my dignity and eat at Chick-fil-A, that would be the kind of selling myself out that I’d want to forget.  Trading in my sense of self worth for what I am sure is a  mediocre chicken sandwich served with a side of political hatred.

Shame lives in the little things we try to forget.  The things we want to remain in the dark, never to be seen by anyone.  Those memories live in oubliettes we build in ourselves.

The most heartbreaking kind of forgetting, I think, must be dementia.  If you never met Norm Shure, who joined East Shore way back in the early 1960’s and died a couple years ago just short of his 100th birthday, you really missed something. 

Each time I visited, I’d have to introduce myself as if it were the first time we were meeting.  Early on, he had great memories of this place, and the people, but as happens with Alzheimer’s, he lost his memory backward, first forgetting his most recent memories and slowly forgetting his retirement,  then his grandchildren, his children, his wife, then finally his childhood. 

Each time I left he’d say “It was lovely to visit.  Would you remind me how we are related?” It was charming.  But heartbreaking to see his life — his very identity — slip away from him little by little.  And when he forgot his mother, he died within days.  There was nothing left to him.

But while he still had some memories, and friends around to keep him engaged in conversation and activities, it was okay.  Norm was happy.  Because like George, who managed to walk his little dog named Souvenir every day, the little repetitive actions continued to give his life purpose and meaning —joy, belonging, comfort and security — for the rest of his life.

That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the little things we do everyday, the things that connect us to our loved ones and the world around us.  They are the “habits of the heart” that theologian James KA Smith calls “Everyday liturgies.” Those are the actions that will keep our minds engaged, rather than locked away in the dungeon of lost memories.  It takes paying attention to each moment. 

The rituals of everyday life are never really forgotten, and ultimately, they give our lives meaning.  They form who we are, make manifest what we value, and ultimately stay with us long after everything else is forgotten.  Norm never forgot how to be a friend, even after he forgot who his friends were.   Because being a friend ... that was his daily practice, and it formed the rituals that in turn formed him.

For Christians, the rituals that define a community are important because they are constant reminders of who they are.  The most important daily ritual of an active Christian is prayer.  The intention of prayers of gratitude, petition and praise is that they become so deeply embedded in every action of everyday life that even after they have forgotten everything, including the people who belong to them, they never forget who they belong to.  And that’s God.  And God never forgets them. 

That is one of the primary comforts of Christian Faith.  No matter what, you never stop belonging.  And you know you belong because of the rituals you engage in together. 

For Buddhists, the ritual is a little different, but no less significant.  The daily act of meditation, the practice of simply being in the moment is one of paying close attention to posture and breath.  The goal is to suspend regret and rumination about the past, the resist worry about the future, and make mental space for truth to find its way into the mind.  Every moment matters, especially this moment. 

Right now.

For us Unitarian Universalists who believe that we humans are co-creators of the universe along with all other beings, the moment — this very moment — is of ultimate importance. 

This moment, if we bring into it everything that has made us who we are, has the potential to become anything in the future.  The more we carry with us from the past, the more we learn from it.  Even if we’ve forgotten we ever knew it, everything we’ve learned is still part of us, because it changed us, even if only imperceptibly.  Like how to be a good friend.

But for those practices to become the habits of the heart that form our identities, they have to actually be practices.

Not things that we do perfectly, but things that we do regularly, with attention and intention

We UUs don’t necessarily engage in prayers that ask for help from God — most of us, after all, don’t believe in that God.  But we do, or at least should, engage in the kind of being in the moment that cultivates gratitude for the abundance in our lives, activates reverent awe for the world around us, and seeks to be reflective so that it generates insight.  And maybe even a bit of humility.  

We have to make a regular practice of letting go of regret and worry, so that we can make honest assessments of ourselves, and take the first steps in becoming the better people we want to be, better co-creators of the universe.

But what would a Unitarian Universalist practice of daily prayer even look like?  Has anyone even done it before? 

Yes.  They have. 

And beginning in January, we will have the chance to embark on that kind of daily practice of gratitude, reflection, deep listening, and remembering those in need.  Together. 

That’s what I think is cool about being part of a faith community like East Shore.  We can practice being together, being in the world, being better co-creators.  We don’t always get it right.  God knows we don’t.  We aren’t perfect.  But.  We’re going for good enough.  Good enough to show that we care and have made an effort.

May our efforts become our identities, and may those identities stay with us as precious memories that live in the habits of our hearts, long after they have become the precious little things we have forgotten.

may it be so.

Please rise now, in body or in spirit....

Hymn #77 Seek Not Afar for Beauty

Offering of Gifts (Rev Denis)

I was going to say something ....

.... but I forgot what it was ...

.... something to do with ...

[Look around for an order of service... get one from the front row]

Oh, right!  Today we are sharing our collection with Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future.

Offertory Hymn #404 What Gift We Bring

Gratitude (Julia)

Benediction (Julia)

Wednesday is National Transgender Day of Remembrance, 

And so, we remember all the masculine women and feminine men

The post op and pre op people seeking to make their outsides match their insides. The crossdressers and the people too fabulous for one department at Kohl’s

The drag kings and the drag queens

The genderqueer revolutionaries and the quietly nonconforming

Those who were killed by others in hatred

And those who ended their own lives in desperation

May we remember our ancestors who lived a life they felt was never truly their own, 

Taking with them to the grave a secret they could never share.

May we pay attention to the children and youth and adults among us,

Struggling to come out 

That we may value them

Here

Now

Among us.

May we help stop more hearts from breaking.

Postlude If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking, music by Leo Smit, words by Emily Dickinson  (#292)

Announcements

  • Today, during coffee time, the Seventh Generation group has on offer Equal Exchange fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate to order.  It’s a fundraiser that helps pay for coffee and tea that we offer every Sunday after the service.
  • After coffee, please stick around for the Wellness check, presented by Lakeland Community College through Lisa Unico. 
  • At the same time, there will be a social Justice council meeting in the community Room
  • Wednesday evening at 6 there will be a membership committee meeting
  • Then on Thursday evening, Circle of Mom
  • Next Sunday is our Second annual Ralph Friedman Memorial Blood Drive. Ralph, who died a couple years ago, gave something like what?  3.5 million pints of blood in his long life, and this is a great way to honor him.

Bond of Union  -- Church Covenant (Rev Denis)

We join hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, pledging ourselves to an individual religious freedom, which transcends all creeds, not to think alike but to journey together.

Extinguishing the Chalice (Rev Denis)

Event type
Worship Service
Add to Calendar 2019-12-12 00:17:33 2019-12-12 00:17:33 Title Description Location East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church laura@laurasolomon.net America/New_York public