Less is More

North Fork Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Jamesport Meeting House
April 7, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Linda Anderson

Welcome and Announcements

Prelude Donna Demian

Lighting the Chalice and Opening Words (#515 We Lift Up Our Hearts in Thanks)

Hymn #38 Morning Has Broken

Sharing of Joys and Sorrows
Spirit of Life Hymn #123

Message for Children

Offering/Offertory Donna Demian

Meditation (from Luke)
Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but not notice the log in your own eye? What does it profit anyone to gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Silence

Morning Message: Less is More The Rev Dr Linda Anderson

“What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. (Life is what it is about, I want no truck with death.) If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence could interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive. . . .” That is one of my favorite quotes from Pablo Neruda and to me it means less is more.

Less is more. Less is more? Think about it. We are taught by our culture, by our economy, by our history that more is better. When asked how much is enough, Donald Trump said “Just a little more.” Supersize it. Onward and upward; bigger and better; you can’t have too much of a good thing. If our civilization isn’t progressing, we are in decline. If a company doesn’t expand, it shrinks. If a person doesn’t make more and more money, he or she has less and less money. Even some religions teach that more is better. Religiously speaking, everyone boasts of the god with the most. The most power, the most knowledge, the most judgement, the most love, the most truth. My god is the best. My god knows all, sees all, controls all. My god is the only god. You’ve seen the bumper sticker “My god can beat up your god?” One draws the conclusion, then, that if more is better, less is worse. Less is inferior; less is unworthy. Who wants to have less under those conditions? Who wants to be less?

The picture on the order of service is from the Amazon region of Peru. There are only two seasons there: high water and low water. This, obviously, is high water time and the family who lives in this house was about to be flooded. We boated up to them and they told us something of their life. They had two rooms with only a table for furniture. At least seven people lived there, sleeping on the floor and using the river for all their water needs. There was no electricity and no running water or indoor plumbing. They fished and grew some crops like potatoes, which they sold. Our guide assured us of their happiness with the simplicity of their lives. I really can’t speak to that. I suspect he was not telling us the whole story, though I don’t know what the whole story is. To me life seemed poor and hard, but then of course it would, given where I come from. Is their less really more? Or is it truly less? I thought of me and Margie. We had come to Peru with two huge suitcases, which we were lugging around everywhere. You just never knew when you were going to need that extra pair of shoes or the fleece jacket in the Amazon, where it is always between 80-90 degrees. So why not take almost 90 pounds of luggage to Peru? In our case maybe the river people could teach us something about less is more.

Why do we cling to the notion that more is better? To strive for always more, always better defies our experience of the nature of life. To paraphrase poet Wendell Berry, we dance the circles of life, the cycles of the years. We can see the cyclical nature of life as day becomes night becomes day; as fall becomes winter becomes spring; as the young are born and the old die. We can experience the changes of our own maturity, of our own aging. In some ways we become less, in some ways we become more. Life seems to hold more and less in some kind of ever-shifting balance. We are both more and less at the very same time.

Why do we cling to the notion that more is better? On the large level, I think, we cling to more is better because our life is finite. Our time has an end. And we know it. Oh yes, we live as if it didn’t; as if we weren’t going to die. We deny the face of death, banish it to the corners of hospitals and nursing homes where most of us never have to see it at all. We wage war against time, defying its limited nature and longing for an unlimited supply. We stay young as long as possible so we don’t have to be old; we learn to do three things at once, racing from here to there, so that we can have more time. But deep down we know: we know that we can’t have more time. There are 24 hours in each day, no more, no less. But believing that more is better, and living that way, and accumulating more and more: more knowledge, more things, more people, more space, more wealth, more health, is one way to cope with, and at the same time deny, the finite nature of our lives. Having more provides some measure of illusory security. After all, life is risky. Nothing is guaranteed, we know that too. We could lose it all in a second. But if we have more, maybe it will protect us against the vagaries of existence.

All of which feeds a sense of scarcity, of not having enough. That’s why I had a suitcase almost as tall as I am. We brought three containers of bug spray for five days in the jungle. How many legions of mosquitos did I think I was going to encounter? It embarrasses me to tell you this, but fear of the unknown, fear of the uncertainty of the trip took hold. I didn’t know what I would find so I tried to anticipate every possibility so I could feel secure. And believe me, we were not the only ones with giant suitcases. More is better because we fear we won’t have enough. Less is worse because we fear we won’t have enough. Scarcity makes us hold onto that which we have all the more tightly, even as we want more, for scarcity breeds scarcity and if we come from a scarcity mind, then we will never have enough, no matter how much more we have. Scarcity breeds scarcity.

On the other hand, if we come from abundant mind, a way is found for there to be enough. Once upon a time a farmer died and left her land to her son and daughter. The son married and had seven children. The daughter remained unmarried. During a particularly hard and long winter, the daughter got to thinking of her brother next door and all of his kids and she decided to give him six sheaves of wheat from her storehouse, anonymously. So in the dark of night she filled her wheelbarrow and deposited the wheat beside his barn. Unbeknownst to her, her brother was thinking of her at the same time and wondering how she was doing alone. He decided to give her six sheaves of wheat from his storehouse, anonymously, and while the woman was carrying wheat to her brother, he was carrying wheat to her. Imagine each one’s surprise to find six sheaves of wheat beside their barns the next morning. Well, the winter went on. It got even colder. The brother carried twelve sheaves of wheat over to his sister’s and the sister carried twelve sheaves of wheat over to her brother’s. Then fifteen. Then twenty. Then, at last, on a moonlit night, while carrying twenty four sheaves of wheat, the paths of the brother and sister crossed. They realized the identities of those anonymous givers of wheat. They laughed and embraced and the next day made a feast together. Abundant mind brings enough.

If we can begin to believe that we already have enough, then we can share our resources more readily and most of us really will have enough. If we can courageously face our limited time and all the unknowns and uncertainties of our lives, and let go of some of our desires for absolute security, then more will no longer be automatically better; less will no longer be automatically worse. We will be satisfied with less, having put away the unconsidered, anxious craving for more. Less will be enough. Enough will be abundance. Less will be more. This is what I mean.

Years ago, as I began to pack for a wonderful 2 month sabbatical in Europe, my carefully crafted plan had been to bring all bags onto the plane with me. First because I didn’t want the airline to lose my luggage and second because I had to be able to move around easily from place to place. However, I am a packer, as you have learned. I always carry all I need, times two. It’s a kind of a security thing, stemming from scarcity mind and all that, but this time I wanted to travel light: for the reasons I just named and as a spiritual exercise in less is more. My plan was, alas, foiled before I left home when, after skillfully packing my cheerful blue carry-on with wheels and after stuffing my red backpack almost to bursting, I looked at my bed and saw a pile of stuff that still had to go somewhere. I looked at the suitcases, I looked at the stuff. I looked at the suitcases, I looked at the stuff. Very, very reluctantly I concluded that it was too much to disregard. Everything I had already packed was essential. Everything on the bed was essential. I would need another bag. A little disappointed I filled my small black duffel and began to prepare myself psychologically to check the blue case. All “essentials” were removed and put in the black bag. All non-essential essentials were put in the blue bag.

So, we arrived at the airport, where I learned to my dismay that both the blue bag and the red backpack were too heavy to carry on the plane. Oh no. That required some hasty re-packing at the airport. More essential essentials and non-essential essentials were moved around. I took a deep breath. I was ready to check in. The Dudley Moore look-alike at the British Airways counter, upon entering me in the computer, asked a colleague what to do when a person was going to miss her connection. Would that be me? He disappeared behind a screen, emerging some moments later to assure me that, although my flight was delayed, headwinds were auspicious and I should arrive in London at the same time I would have if the flight was on time. But, he said ominously, my luggage probably would not make the connection to Paris. What else was there to do but check it anyway? My friend Linda, who had driven me to the airport, tried to bargain with him. Alas, no, I could not take it all on board. But yes, I could choose to take one–blue or red. I chose red: it had more essential essentials in it. I waved goodbye to blue as it slowly bumped away on the conveyer belt. How prophetic that goodbye would turn out to be.

I did miss the Paris connection in London, but was booked on the very next two hours later flight. I thought the event would give my luggage enough time to catch up with me. When we arrived in Paris and I found my way to the baggage area, I learned that the baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle airport were on strike and that there was only one person per plane to unload luggage. They were so sorry for the delay. Okay, no real problem, I had already missed my train to Bordeaux in the south of France. I heard my name called. In London they had said that someone would meet me in Paris and I thought it was my greeter. How nice. But noooo. It was an apologetic British Airways employee who said that my darling blue bag didn’t make it out of London. What? Not to worry; it would be on the next flight. They would deliver it to me, even in Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery hundreds of miles from Paris in which I would spend my sabbatical.

So much for promises. It did not arrive the next day, Saturday. It did not arrive Sunday. It did not arrive Monday, as promised when we called on Saturday. I missed my blue bag. I missed the sweaters and shirts inside of it. I missed my favorite clock and flashlight. I missed my new ll bean vest, my hand woven pink shirt, my other pair of black pants. I had with me only 3 shirts to wear for 48 days. I had only one warm jacket. I wished for my other clothes, yet . . .yet, I was learning to travel lighter. I was learning to let go of the clothes I loved and the notions of cleanliness I carried around. You realize that I had to wear all clothing for at least two days before washing because it took three days for anything to dry in the cold dampness of a southern French winter. I grew very tired of my blue jacket and I was chilled mightily. The nuns took pity on me and loaned me an old brown sweater, which I wore every day. My roommates and much of the community knew of my lost luggage and all offered their sympathy. A few offered their clothes. I was holding up. I felt sad at the loss of all my favorite and warm clothes, but as my roommate Lana said, despite the loss, I still looked like I had everything I needed. And I guess I did. Slowly it dawned on me. I really did have everything I needed.

Then one day my blue bag appeared. Just like that. Triumphantly I wheeled it back to my little room. Members of the community gathered around in celebration. I carefully steered it around the other three beds and tenderly parked it beside my corner. Then I left it there, unopened for the rest of my time in Plum Village. Cherished but unopened. You see, I really did have all I needed: one borrowed sweater, three shirts, socks, etc. In my abundance of clothing, I had enough. I learned that less is truly more. And then I forgot it again.

Less can be more, materially and spiritually, when we find what is enough, what is important and pay attention to it and take satisfaction in it. Less can be more when we move our spirits from scarcity to abundance, from fear to trust, from grasping to giving. Less can be more and less can be more justice, more generosity, more caring, more peace, more freedom from the scarcity in our souls. May we find the simplicity we need. May we find the abundance that is enough and then may we share it with all who come into contact with us. May it be so.

Hymn #90 From All the Fret and Fever of the Day

Closing words (#681, adapted from Gaelic Runes) and Extinguishing the Chalice

Postlude Donna Demian

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