Sermon Preached at the Church of the Village, NYC
Visit the church of the Village: https://www.churchofthevillage.org/
Sermon: “Dreaming of Worlds to Come”
Bible Text: Lamentations 3:21-24
19 I remember my woes and wanderings—
the wormwood and the gall.
20 Those memories are so clear to me,
and they fill me with despair.
21 Yet it is because I remember all this
that I have hope.
God’s favor is not exhausted,
nor has God’s compassion failed.
23 They rise up anew each morning,
so great is God’s faithfulness.
24 “God is all I have,” I cry.
“so I will wait in patience.”
Friends, what a joy to be here with you all this morning. I want to say a big thanks to Pastor Jeff, Pastor Alexis, The most amazing church musician I know Jorge, and all of you for such grace offered to me and my family so we could be here this morning. I have this church in a very special place in my heart.
Thanks for welcoming Tiago who is recording this message for a program on immigrants who live in another country. Also, I want to invite you to come to the book signing table right after the worship. We won’t have much time but please come. Pay whatever you can. And if you can’t pay, just take the book.
Today I want to talk about memories and dreams. Let us start with memories.
Memories! Thousands of them! Memories from previous lives! Memories we made up! Memories we forgot! Memories we live by! Memories we want to erase! Memories that pull us down! Memories that keep us alive.
We remember! Yes! We are remembering beings! I know you can tell me about that one memory that marked you deeply! The many memories that still pulse in you! Or that memory that is like an open wound never seems to heal.
But we also forget so easily. We forget the love we received, the kindness we were offered, the gentleness given to us, the things we did, the words we said.
We associate memories with time, things, objects, places, people. Each one carries its own weight, its own depth, its own anger, fear, joy, healing. Memories that rip us apart and memories that put us back together again, reconstituting what we once were, reshaping us to a new future. When we say we re-member, we are putting back together what which was pulled apart, dis-membered. So, to re-member is to put back something that fell off our body– to make whole again.
That is why we need community: to remember! To remember what we must NOT forget!
We need the church to remind us that we are loved by God, the life of the universe!
We need friends, family and acquaintances to remind us that we are worth it AND ALSO that we are not all that we think we are.
We need birds, rivers, trees, animals, flowers, and bees to remember that we belong to the earth and that it is in our relationship with the earth that we can find peace, calmness, slowness and the wholesomeness of our expansive notion of self.
But how do we organize our memories?
Sometimes our memory is organized around facts and possession. Our memories only matter then if they refer to an event that is thought through as a discrete sense of self and becomes a personal possession. And then I own it myself. Memories become isolated facts and not a bundle of events and relationships.
But there are other forms of memory perception that are organized around relationship and reciprocity. This form of memory fosters a life that is mutual and encoded in collective forms of thinking, feeling and remembering In societies where memories are arranged around communities and spiritual relationship, where memories are not individualistic but rather placed in relationship to another spirit– be it a person, an animal, a plant, God–who is also a part of ourselves.
When memories are possessions, my car, my phone, even my family will be a private matter. But when memories are part of a spirited relationship, then I/we are composed by that relationship with others.
For example, in our text today. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of memories of disasters of his life but his life is always entangled in the memories of his people who in turn are guided by God. He speaks of what it means to have an entangled memory directed by God. He is claiming:
We have gone through bad times: we lost people we loved, we were crushed, our worlds ended multiple times. But these terrible memories are not facts of doom that will keep us down. These memories are placed in a spirited relationship with a group marked by collective memories and a God who directs our memories towards hope.
What do those terrible memories mean? That they have gone through it all and they are still alive! That in spite of unsurmountable disasters, they were not done. That no matter what happened, they have survived! That’s why we are here, he says! That is why we have a future! That means that I can have hope for the future, he says. That means that the Spirit of life has kept us alive! That our history is still going on! That my life is open for the future!
Lee Maracle, in her book Memory Serves, writes that Indigenous societies are composed “first and foremost by spirit to spirit relationships to all beings,” and not by forms of possession. Because of that, memory is directional to a future where all are a part of it and keeps reorienting according to the shifts life brings. “Our memories serve the foregoing,” she says
This is exactly what the prophet Jeremiah is saying:
No matter the disasters we have been through, we still have a direction to go!
Those memories are so clear to me,
and yes, they fill me with fear and even despair.
Yet, it is because I remember all this, together,
that I and my people have hope.
So if you hear that climate change will destroy you, you can say yes I know. AND YET,
I still have hope because we are directing our memories towards a future of transformation and resurrection!
These memories, says Lee Maracle, are like “creative non-fiction,” which is bound to the ancestors through ceremonies, laws and relationship to creation. So when we re-member we must ask:
What is our obligation to re-create before this moment we are living?
What direction do we wish this memory to travel in the future?
When re-member with spirit, and not with possession, we retain the memories of those things that assist us in conjuring and traveling in the direction charted by the culture that has shaped us, and we let go of those things that will impair our journey or thwart the courage required to secure our path.
We determine the direction we wish to travel before we speak or make a truckload of decisions, for the direction we travel shapes our memories.
Memory is a creative nonfiction event we shape for the future and the past. It starts with the knowledge of our ancestors, the people of the land, who laid the groundwork for how to live. We celebrate and re-member their toils and snares, their sufferings, but we do not let bitterness or resentment take hold of ourselves. Whatever thwarts our courage we let go. We remember what sustains life. We direct ourselves as a people toward the challenges that are unfolding right before us.
Climate change is that unfolding movement before us all. There is no way to escape, and the more we hide from it, the worse it becomes. We must direct our memories towards that which is scaring and assaulting us in order to face it. We choose the direction of our struggles against it, which will orient our memory. “The direction we are traveling shapes our memories whether we are conscious of this or not.”
We see the ocean dying, but we will say, “Yet it is because we remember all this
that we have hope.”
The fires will consume our forests and homes, but we will say, “Yet it is because we remember all this that we have hope.”
The soil will dry out and a food crisis will arrive, but we will say, “Yet it is because we remember all this that we have hope.”
Hope is to say: “Yet it is because I remember that we have survived many ends of many worlds, that I have courage to keep on going.” Directive memory does not shy away from the past but flows from destruction to liveliness, building a future that is possible for all of us.
Memories belong to the past, present and future. That is why memories are related to dreams! Memories are the stuff of dreams as dreams are the stuff of memory. But they are also different.
So let us briefly talk a bit about dreams.
Our nightly dreaming is filled with necessary presences that help us rest, and alert us to what we need to pay attention to. Some dreams are divinatory and tell us about the future, while some just tell us where our hearts have been and what our bodies and souls are wrestling with.
We are afraid to dream these days–perhaps because we can’t control or understand them. Fearful, we barely rest, trying to erase every possible memory of our dreams.
Dreams need silence and darkness, but we prefer lights on and some noise to help us sleep. I am reminded of an Aztec poem that says: “That we come to this earth to live is untrue: We come but to sleep, to dream.”
Indigenous communities are oriented by dreams and the signs and wonders from their dreaming life, which is marked both inside and outside of them. Surrounded by more than human beings, Indigenous people dream with animals, planets, spirits, universes, the moon, the soon, stars, water, forests. Davi Kopenawa, an Indigenous Yanomami Xaman, tells us we are so egocentric we can only dream about ourselves.
Dreaming is about people, stories, symbols, practices, ceremonies, celebrations and the whole worlds– cities and forests, rivers and freshwater. Dreaming is about how to plant and harvest, how to survive in big cities, how to deal with friends, how to wrestle with our time right now. Dreaming is a wild thing like the cover of our bulletin.
Dreaming carries healing. When I dream, I might be able to understand why I am so frustrated and angry. I might hear from my own self what is hurting me and how to search for help. For Indigenous people dreaming is about entire cosmologies, about collective forms of being in the world.
Thus, my dreaming is also about our life together. My dream is always gathered dreams of me and many others. So my dreams are with and for my children, my wife, my dog, my larger community, the people and animals and trees and seeds and soil and water around me.
So I must ask: what do I need to learn from my dreams to be a better father, a better partner, a better teacher, a better pastor, a better teacher, a better companion, a better custodian of the land?
Dreams are about my desires, both known and hidden, and the strangest ones. Dreaming is about emotions and what goes on within myself. Dreams are about fears, strangeness, lostness, and horrors. In my dream, I visit the dead and the dead visit me.
To dream is to create new worlds, like the pollination of fields, our hearts, our communities. Dreams are maps for the future, a way to find new keys and new journeys for a possible future. We need to pay attention to our dreams my friends and foster new worlds together!
So let me now end with two stories:
There is an ancient story of the Bedouins who lived in the Ancient Mediterranean lands shepherding lambs in the desert formed by climate change of their own times. They searched for small pockets of land where there was some moisture and a few plants could grow. They would place a sheep in that area and leave the sheep there for a year. The sheep ate the little grass, pooped, and fertilized the soil. Next year, if they were lucky, the pastors would find a bigger piece of land restored. Perhaps, they wouldn’t be lucky and the lamb would be dead, but even the dead lamb would decompose and fertilize the land. Then they left another lamb and waited another year. Perhaps the next year the almost deserted area would become a very small green pasture, and then another sheep… until they could have green meadows and could plant and harvest.
The difficult part however, was that the pastors had to break the legs of the sheep so the sheep would get used to the land and wouldn’t run away; this was the only way to survive.
This is one interpretation for Psalm 23. When God makes us lay down in green pastures that might mean that something in us must be broken so we can learn how to develop a whole eco-system of life around us.
That story reminded me of my life and my family. I remember walking many times on different shorelines asking God, the universe, to give me some sense of wholeness. I was scattered, lost, living a deserted life running from one pond of water to another. I remember my friend Paul asking me time and again: when are you going to stop? I couldn’t stop. But I had this prayer within me: God give me a sense of wholeness of connection, of deep belonging. I said it so many times in my head, uttered it so many times in my heart and my lips that God answered. Without knowing it, I was orienting my memory towards a future unknown but that had a direction.
One day I saw Katie and the kids walking down the aisle at Lutheran Seminary to receive the diploma in memory of Peter Perella, Katie’s husband and the daddy of the children, who had died of cancer. At that moment, I felt this energy in my body and my life changed completely.
Before them, I couldn’t stay anywhere with anybody. I was so afraid! God had to break my legs so I could stay. The kids made me stay, and Katie had an incredibly wise way and she connected us together with the magic glue of the Holy Spirit. I kept staying until I got used to the land.
Am I not running anymore? No not yet. But I can see myself changing. After 45 years of running I feel I can slow down a bit more. Just the other day I had a dream where I said clearly to myself: I need to slow down.
What was a deserted area, now my life is a vast green meadow with gardens and diversities and beauty and wonder as I had never seen before in my life.
And because memory is about the relationship between spirits, I believe that God listened to my cry to turn my deserted life into a green meadow, and to Peter’s cry to care for his precious family. Peter and I met two years before he died at the seminary, where he finished his master’s degree. He and I are both the daddy and the dad of the family. And my wife is a wife of two husbands.
Memories and dreams! Those directed memories turned out to be a dream I am living fully now. Now I have to create memories that will help me dream new dreams for my kids!
We need to continue to draw the circle wide and pay attention to others who are also part of the meadows we are. When we draw the circle wide, we can start to understand ourselves not as isolated beings but a part of the entire ecosystem. Then, we have to ask: who else is part of our meadow?
If it is a meadow, there must be wildflowers! And to have wild flowers we need pollinators. If we are to be meadows we must have an entire ecosystems around us.
We have many different people as pollinators of our lives. For instance, my partner, my children and my dog are the bees that pollinate my garden every day.
And I am the pollinator of their lives. That’s why I brought you a bee to preach today! I want to be a bee to their lives, a bee to the world!
Bees are incredible pollinators. They have been around for 130 million years. They go into hibernation every year and then they wake up to begin the pollination of the earth. They face many hardships, but they are mighty and strong and relentless in their forceful desire to live.
There is a memory inside of their bodies that teaches them how to build their nest, to reproduce, and to organize the landscape they are a part of. Their bodies have changed across time to adjust to new places. In the coldest regions, some of them have fur!
“According to the United Nations Environment Program, of the 100 crop varieties that provide 90% of the world’s food, 71 are pollinated by bees.”
We need bees my friends! We need to have this ancestral memory of the bees!
We must be bees to one another. If I can pollinate the lives of my children with love and kindness and presence, they will be able to go through life with hope. If I can be a pollinator of powerful memories, of dreams, of possibilities for life perhaps their garden will also be filled with flowers, food, water and other insects and birds. If I can be a bee in their garden, perhaps there will be some healing to their painful story of having lost a beloved father.
But you see, a bee alone can’t do much. We need to all be bees pollinating each other’s fields! We need bees in various beehives. Like this church can be a beehive full of bees producing honey to the world!
There is a lot of agri-toxicos poisoning the fields of our hearts and our worlds today and many many many bees are dying. But the bees are also finding ways to survive. That is why I have hope! We humans must be custodians of all of the bees. Because most of our food comes from pollinators such as fruit bats, butterflies, other flies and bees.
So my friends, I finish with three invitations:
First, I want to invite you to create powerful collective memories of the spirit as to direct our lives to a future that is possible!
I want to invite you to dream dreams and to pay attention to your dreams!
And I also want to invite you to be bees to each other producing honey in our beehives and to a world filled with bitterness!
As we go along together we will say
“God is all I have,” I cry. “so I will wait patiently.”
Each other is a bee and we are all we have,
“We will wait patiently… we will pollinate the fields where we live patiently
Until new worlds come.
Let us start that by singing this song:
Lyrics – I Want to Bee
I want to bee like
A bee, a bee in a beehive
Flying around the flowers
Pollinating the fields
I want to bee like
A honey honeybee like
Being sweetness to the world
Offering kindness and love
I want to bee strong
I want to bee true
I want to bee loving
I want to bee kind
I want to bee like
A thunder in the sky
Like the flying of a butterfly
Like a bee in a beehive