This summer we asked our congregation to go out in search of the holy. Find where the holy speaks to you, we suggested, and when the summer ends, come back to church with some symbol of where and how you found (or were found by) the sacred. At our homecoming service on Sunday the sanctuary was filled with sunflowers. Hundreds of them – tall and strong green stems and bright yellow and brown faces peering out over and above one another. You couldn’t help but smile as we remembered that as Unitarian Universalists we, too, are like sunflowers, turning our face to the light of the sacred wherever we find it.
Partway through the service we all brought our symbols of the holy forward. Water bottles and baby pictures, rainbows over lakes, lists of music, plant clippings, a tiny piece of brick found in a tidal pool in Maine – the symbols spanned possibility and together they formed an altar that reflects who we are – people who search for and find the sacred in every day life – people for whom revelation is never sealed, but ever being revealed.
This summer I encountered the holy in an unexpected time and place. Driving along a busy street in the city, traffic paused at a stop light. In front of me a homeless man was crossing the street. Weaving and bobbing as he went, I assumed he had been drinking. But as he walked in front of my car, I saw that he carried a dead pigeon in his hands. I wondered if he had killed it. Spooked, I turned away for a moment, but curiosity got the better of me and I soon turned back.
The man held the pigeon tenderly, walked slowly, and stroked the bird’s head with incredible kindness. As the man crossed the threshold of the opposing curb his gait slowed and he began to cry. And not small silent tears, but big, gut racking sobs. He collapsed there on the curb, stroking the head of this dead city pigeon, waves of grief overtaking him.
It was hard to watch such sadness. But I’d seen it before. Beside graves with young parents saying a final goodbye to their children, in chapels with couples married 62 years and one of them now gone, at the bedsides of loved ones slipping away too soon or right on time. I know that gut racking grief and I saw it again that Saturday morning, surprised by a man I almost dismissed. Surprised by the depth of feeling someone could hold for the smallest creature on this earth – surprised at the way that love transcends boundaries – reminded again that we are all connected and that the holy so often sneaks up and surprises us when we least expect it.