I’m Still Here – Rev Eva Cameron

The Rev Eva Cameron reflects on the Gospel song, I’m Still Here.

To listen to this service click here.

I love listening to the smooth sound of the gospel song I’m Still Here. The lyrics remind that even if we still are in the middle of something we’d rather not be in, there is a reason to be thankful. We are still here; as the singer coaches his listeners part way through the song, “I’ll bet you’ll know what I’m talking about with this one.” The long list of troubles and problems is at once scary in its depth of human suffering, and at another level completely understandable. As he says, these troubles are “his share.” This way of putting it makes it clear that he doesn’t see himself as a victim to be pitied, rather just one of the gang of humanity, each of us, who get our share of trials and heartbreak.

In general, Unitarian Universalists haven’t spoken much about the pain of what it means to be a human. I have often wondered about this. I don’t know about all of you, but you know, I have had some hard times. And the getting through them has been a religious, eye-opening experience for me. The Buddha tells us that this is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be alive. We can’t fix it; we can only adapt how we react to it. When we gather together, we always need to be mindful that someone may be here in the room because they are having the worst day of their life. They may have just lost their job. They may have learned they’ve got cancer. They may have learned their mother died. And they’ve turned to us.

Our job, our mission as a religious community, is to be always-open to that sacred trust. People turn to one another, to religion, to religious practices, and religious communities because they seek transformation. They don’t just want to sit there in that pain. And their day will continue to be the worst day of their life if we cannot find a way to reach out, and it may become one of the best days of their life, or at least a day they look at with great gratitude, if we can figure out a way to let a little love seep in, then help them find transformation. Let me tell you a Hindu Story:

Shiva and Shakti, the Divine Couple in Hinduism, are in their heavenly abode watching over the earth. They are touched by the challenges of human life, the complexity of human relations, and the ever-present place of suffering in the human experience. As they watch, Shakti (the wife) spies a miserable poor man walking down a road. His clothes are shabby and his sandals are tied together with twine and bits of string. Her heart is wrung with compassion. Touched by his goodness and his struggle, Shakti turns to her divine husband and begs him to give this man some gold. Shiva looks at the man for a long moment. “My Dearest Wife,” he says, “I cannot do that.” Shakti is astounded. “Why, what do you mean, Husband? You are Lord of the Universe. Why can’t you do this simple thing?” Shiva replies, “I cannot give this to him because he is not yet ready to receive it.” Shakti becomes angry. “Do you mean to say that you cannot drop a bag of gold in his path?”
“Surely I can,” replies Shiva, “But that is quite another thing.”
“Please Husband,” says Shakti. And so Shiva drops a bag of gold in the man’s path. The man meanwhile walks along thinking to himself, “I wonder if I will find dinner tonight—or shall I go hungry again?” Turning a bend in the road, he sees something on the path in his way. “Aha,” he says. “Look there, a large rock. How fortunate that I have seen it. I might have torn these poor sandals of mine even further.” And carefully stepping over the bag of gold, he goes on his way.

You might hear this story, and think “What a stupid man!” And yet, Shiva, the Lord of the Universe, knew that he wasn’t ready yet to receive something that would transform his life. There are three lessons in this story that are powerful to me. The first one is the gratitude. We leave the poor man in a state of gratitude. He is pleased with himself that he missed stepping on the rock and breaking his sandals. Even in his destitute state, he finds a reason to be thankful. This is something we all can manage. Seek the reasons to be thankful.

The second one is that life is really like this story. All the time there are gold bags dropped in front of us, and we are blind to them. What can we do so that we can see those bags of gold? We need help to be able to see them. I think religious community, religious practice, is a great tool for transforming our minds and hearts, so that we can see those bags of gold.

And the third lesson is that we can often have a wonderful big heart like Shakti’s. We can see someone who is miserable and desire to help them so much that we are willing to plead for a bag of gold to be thrown at their feet. But unless they are ready, all the gold in the world will not heal them or help them. They won’t see it for what it is: a gift from the gods.

Transformation at times of trouble, pain, sorrow, heartbreak . . . this is the triumph of the human spirit, the ultimate reason to celebrate as a Humanist, or as someone who believes in God. It is the connection with the universal, the transcendent moment that makes us realize even when we are feeling our worst, our most selfish_that there are things bigger than us_that others have had their share too.

For me, one of those moments was at the time of 9/11, when I was quite lost in my own misery, as I struggled with maintaining my ministry and how to be a newly single mom. It was easy to feel sorry for myself. Then 9/11 happened, and it was sad to need such a wake up call, but it sure served as a wake up call. I wasn’t the only woman who had to parent kids on her own. Scores of them were being trotted across the TV screens each night, each with their own story of the difficulties of that transition to being the only one. It was hard to cling to the pity I was feeling for myself in that moment. And it was easy to open my mind; my imagination further, to realize just how many women had had to rise to the occasion of being a good mother in the face of circumstances much more trying than my own.

I didn’t use their pain to dismiss my own. But I did use their strength as a balm and an encouragement to figure out how to make my new life work. I was “still here,” and I had a job to do. It wasn’t just to survive, but to figure out how to thrive.

This is how I interpret or translate, with my lens of Radical Acceptance, the line of the song “God kept me here.” Our job, our duty to our fellow human beings, our children, our community is to figure out not just how to survive, but how to thrive. Part of thriving doesn’t really have to do with you actively doing stuff. It has more to do with your attitude, with opening yourself up to the possibilities of help, finding nourishment in new ways, of allowing someone the gift of carrying you for a while. Most likely, they will be someone who has already experienced this powerful love that some call the majesty of the human spirit, some call the majesty of God.

One of the most amazing moments of my cancer treatment was when I got a call from the horrible complainy neighbor who had dedicated the past 5 or 6 years to acting rude and miserably unhappy over the smallest things. She was the talk of the neighborhood, as everyone had had a dose, an overdose really, of her complaints screamed into the phone followed by the slamming of the receiver. So, imagine my surprise when she called after my diagnosis and spoke to me gently, and with great sympathy for all that I was going through. She announced that she wanted to help, and that she would make us dinner once a week while I was having cancer treatments. And she did. And they were wonderful dinners, complete with a lovely phone call the evening prior, to check on what the kids would like, how I was doing, and mostly warmth. Genuine warmth. It was nothing short of a miracle in my mind. But, she explained, she had learned the beauty and healing magic of a simple, home-cooked meal through her church. You see, we can, any religious organization can, teach people how to manifest miracles. I know: I experienced one!

And although that was perhaps the most dramatic moment, I also felt an amazing love from the relatives, who dropped their own plans, and came and stayed with the kids and me when I had cancer surgery. Gentle simple people, offering me love that would have been unavailable in the complex relationships I had with my own parents_offering time that was unavailable from my own parents. Yet, they came simply because I had to find the fortitude to call them up and ask them to come. Yes, it’s good to receive special love. But it is powerful and difficult to open your heart enough to dare to ask for help—it means risking the chance of hearing ‘no,’ it means risking rejection, but hardest of all, it means owning up to the fact that you might not be Mary Poppins. You know Mary Poppins, she was “Practically Perfect in Every Way.” I think we all have a bit of Mary Poppins in us. It’s hard to own up to yourself that you do need help, or at least, life would go a whole lot better with help.

Opening up to receive the love of the universal, divine love, radical human love, these are experiences that will shape you. But they also allow the other person, the giver, to have a transformative experience as well. How many of you have found yourself in the situation where you thought you were the giver, the helper, the listener, and in the end you found you weren’t sure but maybe you were getting more out of the experience?

We cherish the Interdependent Web_asking for help_giving help. These allow us to experience it first-hand. Not just as a concept, but a reality. A reality that allows us to celebrate: “I’m Still Here.”

“God kept me here” also translates, to me, as not only the mandate to thrive, but a sense that we were given the choice to run away, but we did not take that choice, We chose love, we chose to stick with the struggle, we chose to live with our lives, and all their heartaches, bumps and bruises, disappointments, loneliness, burdens, dark days, and late-night tears. Yes. Each of you has had these moments: moments that perhaps you’d rather not dwell in, moments that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but you have been there.

One of the reasons we come to church is to give praise and thanks. From the beginning of time, humans have set aside time in their lives to pause and remember the darker moments of their lives. Not to dwell in a ‘pity-me’ moment, and not out of anger, but out of gratitude. Gratitude, yes, that those moments seem less present in our lives, but even more so, for all the mysterious help, the unknown courage we found in our hearts, the amazing capacity we found within ourselves not just to survive, but to thrive. Giving praise and thanks allows us to transform our experience . . . and see that we are thriving.

I am so happy that I am still here. There have been lots of times, lots of things that have happened to me, that would have made it otherwise. I am happy to watch my kids grow up. Happy to be your minister, and work with you on creating this ministry together. Happy just to sit on my back porch yesterday, on that beautiful day, and watch the wind blow through the trees. And I am so happy that I have had religious homes that have encouraged me to celebrate that I am still here; that even with my bumps and bruised, disappointments, heartache, trials, troubles, and pain, my life is pretty good, and sometimes it’s absolutely delightful.

When I realize I am thriving, I realize that I’ve got something to offer the world, some love to give, some moment of connection—that perhaps will allow someone else to see that they’ve got a bag of gold right in front of them. It’s right there in front of you; won’t you pick it up?

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