“Rested and Restored”

First Parish Dorchester

October 21, 2018

Rev. Tricia Brennan


This past week I was invited to be part of a group

at the UU Urban Ministry-

just a couple miles down the road in Roxbury-

that would help envision a new healing garden

on the grounds of the Urban Ministry.

For any of you who have been there,

you know that the Urban Ministry is situated in a space

not unlike that of First Parish.

For one thing there is a very old, very large, historic church there,

on a hilltop, with generous lawns and large trees

smack in the middle of a dense exciting vibrant neighborhood-

that has had its share of violence.

There is a fairly large corner of the Urban Ministry grounds

that is somewhat secluded-

at the back of the program building complex,

bordered by trees, and sloping down to the street.

This is the spot that has been chosen to for the future healing garden.


My group was a collection of healers,

survivors of violence, and ministers.

Our task was to imagine what ingredients and qualities

would make for a healing garden at that spot,

a garden to be used by the participants of the center’s many programs,

and by the people of the neighborhood too.

What would make this place a balm to the spirit,

that would restore the sin-sick soul,

to borrow a line from an old hymn.

And oh what fun we had in dreaming, imagining,

creating the gardens in our minds

and in our collective conversation and vision.

First we thought of water- there must be a fountain,

or a pool of water somewhere in the space,

because water itself can be so healing.

We thought of plants that heal, that had medicinal purposes-

like lavender for relaxation, rosemary for remembrance,

St. John’s Wort for depression,

comfrey and chamomile for what ails your tummy.

We dreamed of flowers whose sheer magnificent beauty heals,

and also to include flowers associated with particular things-

gladiolas for strength, peace lilies and cosmos for peace,

hyacinth for truth, bay’s breath for joy,

and to mark them as such,

so those properties and meanings could be known

by those who came for comfort or strength,

who needed to feel the gifts that the good earth.

can give to her creatures.


A labyrinth would be good we thought,

a place to slow down and walk in a meditative way,

so contrary to our haste-filled life.

Picnic tables were ruled out,

and comfortable Adirondack chairs were ruled in,

sprinkled here and there through out the area.

All senses were to be touched,

so quiet chimes in the trees,

and crystals embedded in stones to catch the light.

And light- what about light we wondered?

As summer turned to autumn and the day’s light lessened,

how could the garden be accessible into the evenings?

Soft lighting at ground level, we thought, to light the path.

And when the chill of set in,

we thought about of the large outdoor heaters

you’ll find at restaurants with outdoor seating, or even a fire pit.


It was a lot of fun to imagine such a wonderful place,

and to know too, that though not everything we dreamed of

would find it’s way into the final garden, some things would,

and perhaps within the year, this garden would exist.


It was a sanctuary we were dreaming, planning, creating-

and the very act of doing so creating a sense of comfort,

safety and healing among us gathered that evening.


It is a beautiful world, and it is a harsh world, that we inhabit.

We have to have places that we can go to to be restored,

to be healed, to be strengthened,

to be comforted, to be made whole.


Sometimes these sanctuaries are places-

like a garden, like this place we are in right now

that we call, literally, the sanctuary,

sometimes it is a nook in our home

that we have staked out as our place of refuge-

a comfortable chair where you can sit and look out the window,

a man cave, a study, a room of one’s own-

in all these places we can be still, catch our breath,

ponder, pray, listen to what is stirring in our hearts and minds.


Sometimes the sanctuaries are people, right?

Sometimes we are even lucky enough to live with people

in whose presence we feel a complete sense of ease,

at least most of the time.

To the toddler learning to walk and starting to explore the world,

the parent figure or trusted caregiver is the sanctuary.

You’ve seen it haven’t you-

the child takes toddles off into the playground,

and three minutes later is back at the parent’s side,

gets refilled with confidence and goes back into the fray again.

Back and forth, back and forth,

stretching into newness,

restored by what is safe and known.

It is a dance we all do, actually-

just usually not as obviously as a toddler.

Where or whom is your sanctuary?


And our sanctuaries can be our spiritual practices.

And our spiritual practices can be as wide-ranging

as our souls and imaginations can conceive of.

In a recent blogpost, activist and writer Kavita Das

tells of her search to find a meaningful spiritual practice

that she could integrate into her

very plugged-in connected life in New York City.

It was a search that included meditation classes and yoga classes

and other things too, none of which seemed to be just right,

even as she conceded that perhaps

she hadn’t given them much of a chance.

Yet in the midst of this seeking

she did manage to create a daily spiritual practice

that I think is so lovely.

Every morning at the end of her shower,

she lifts her face toward the shower head, closes her eyes,

places her hand over her heart and while the water rushes over her, she recited the Sanskrit verse

from an ancient Hindu text of the Upanishads

that she recalls her parents chanting.

In English it is,


          Lead us from the unreal to the real,

          lead us from darkness to light,

          lead us from the fear of death to knowledge of immortality,

          let there be peace, peace, peace.


She writes, “I love the meaning of the words.

The verse seems like the perfect way to prepare myself

for going out into the world each day,

an everyday task that can seem Herculean, especially in this city.

But I find I also love saying the words,

the way the syllables and consonants feel

as they leave my tongue and mouth

and echo off the walls of my watery chapel.

While this may not be the profound spiritual experience

I had envisioned- and I certainly don’t lead an unplugged life

and don’t expect to for some time- it suffices for now.

For one moment each day, in my narrow New York City bathtub,

I acknowledge my place in the universe

while surrendering to whatever force governs our lives.


Inherent in the solace of the sanctuary is a calling to return,

restored, to a world in need of healing.

That imperative is part of a story from the gospel of Matthew

that has been on my mind all this week

while I’ve been thinking about sanctuaries.


Jesus and his three close friends and disciples- Peter James and John- head off into the hills for some R and R.

Once they reach the summit, something pretty remarkable happens – Jesus is said to have transfigured-

his face shown like the sun, the story goes,

and his ordinary worn-out clothes gleam white as the light.

Two ancient ones appeared- Elijah and Moses-

and Peter, James and John witness

the three spiritual giants talking to each other.

And Peter, known for being headstrong and blunt,

interrupts the conversation to say to Jesus-

It is really good to be here.

Shall I build 3 shelters- one for you, one for Elijah, one for Moses?”


To me it is a very poignant question from Peter-

because when I think, why did he want to do that,

what was the impulse behind the question,

what I imagine is that it was in part to honor the three holy men.

Note that he’s not planned to build a shelter for himself

and his two buddies, presumably they’ll still be sleep on the ground, per usual. No, this was something special for them.


And I also think it reflects his desire to hold on to the moment.

Maybe they’ll stay, these three, if they have a shelter of their own. Maybe all the goodness and glory and marvel can be contained

if we build something to hold and honor it.

Maybe this moment won’t end.


Isn’t that what we often want to do when we are in some very special place or some very special time – can’t it just go on forever?

Can’t we just capture it, and hold it, keep it,

if not forever then for a little bit longer.


Well, Peter never got the answer to his question.

There was another interruption in the story-

this time a booming voice from out of nowhere

spoke of parental love for Jesus,

and the three disciples hit the ground in terror.

When they finally lifted their heads and get up,

it was just Jesus there,

in his ordinary traveler, carpenter clothes, nothing glowing at all.

Gone were Elijah and Moses, gone was the vision of a world so fair.


And what did they do?

They went down from the hilltop,

down to the everyday world of harshness and ordinary beauty,

full of people who needed them, people who loved them,

and people who hated them.

They went down, they went back,

they picked life as it had been

before they went off to the hills with Jesus-

but they were not the same.

Something in them was changed, strengthened, elevated-

for they, and we, cannot witness and feel abundant goodness

without it leaving its mark on us.


Now you might think it a bit of a stretch

to include a story of transfiguration in as sermon

that is about sanctuary.

I mean the safety and comfort of swinging

on the swing with grandma is not quite the same

as a story of holy ones appearing

and light emanating from them, right?

Well, yeah, maybe.

Not every time spend in the sanctuaries of our lives

is utterly transforming.


But who can say what effects us the most,

who can say what is really going on in us

in those moments that some call grace and some call healing. Sometimes the small interior shifts of perspective

enable us to forgive- and the burden of resentment is lifted.

Sometimes we are restored to strength to face another day,

and that day leads to the next and the next

and from those days a life is made,

a life with more integrity and joy.

Those are not small things,

and those happen in places of refuge,

safety, comfort and sanctuary.


We can be walking the labyrinth with other people,

and the person next to us, quietly slowly walking along

could be having an experience so profound

that it mirrors that of the three disciples

we don’t know.


We need the sanctuaries of places, people, and spiritual practices.

We need them because there is violence and pain in our world,

and in us too. The sanctuaries of our lives help us to soften our hard edges, heal our wounds, restore our vision of the world as it can be, and re-engage the world in life-giving ways.


May this place be a sanctuary for you,

may you find peace and comfort here when you need it,

and may you see glimpses of grandeur

to remind you of the beauty of life and power of goodness.

May this congregation be a sanctuary for all those

who need safety, kindness, and hope.