Those who have gone before

Rev. Meg Barnhouse
October 29, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756

Using an Appalachian practice brought from Cornwall, we will have a cloutie tree. People will be able to breathe the names of their beloved departed into pieces of cloth and put them on a symbolic tree.

You will lose someone you can’t live without
Anne Lamott

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

“The Thing Is”
by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air,
heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

“Daily Prayer”

Grandmother, Grandfather,
Guardians of the four directions,
Great Spirit at the center of all things:
Thank you for this day and for our lives.
Thank you for the bounty and blessings and abundance that you provide for us to enjoy.
Thank you for the lessons that you place before us each day
Thank you for the vision to recognize these lessons for what they are.
Thank you for the wisdom to understand the meaning of these lessons for our lives,
and Thank you for the courage to live in this new understanding.

“All Souls” 
by May Sarton

Did someone say that there would be an end,
And end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb and in dark November —
Remember and forget, forget, remember.
After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak.
Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling:
“Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven.”
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited —
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel new-cherished, new forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end.

“In Blackwater Woods” 
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving of the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: The fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

“Hold On” 
by Nancy Wood

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.

What do we become when we die?

What do we become
when we die?


Souls wandering
to help those
we wronged —

The great breath
of space
and light
and nothing?

not just beyond this but here + there,
now + now-

What do we become
when we die?


“Those who are dead are never gone”
by Birago Diop, African Traditional Religions

Those who are dead are never gone:
they are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
they are there in the tree that rustles,
they are in the wood that groans,
they are in the water that runs,
they are in the water that sleeps,
they are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
the dead are not dead.
Those who are dead are never gone:
they are in the breast of the woman,
they are in the child who is wailing,
and in the firebrand that flames.
The dead are not under the earth:
they are in the fire that is dying,
they are in the grasses that weep,
they are in the whimpering rocks,
they are in the forest,
they are in the house,
the dead are not dead.

“We Remember Them”
by Roland Gittlesohn

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them;

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them;

In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them;

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them;

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them;

When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them;

When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them;

When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them;

So as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us,
as we remember them.

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Most sermons delivered at the First UU Church of Austin during the past 17 years are available online through this website. You will find links to them in the right sidebar menu labeled Sermons. The Indexes link leads to tables of all sermons for each year listed by date (newest to oldest) with topic and speaker. Click on the topic to go to a sermon.