Emily Gage engages kids and adults during the "story for all ages" portion of Sunday services at Unity Temple. | PROVIDED

We enjoyed Rev. Emily Gage’s sermon at Unity Temple this past Sunday so much that we asked if we could share it. Happy June and don’t forget to count your blessings. 

Last week, Hatch Elementary School had their first-ever career day, and I was invited to come and talk about my career with some of our first- and second-graders. I had a little slide show to share with them, and I included lots of pictures of Unity Temple, since I figured that many of them had seen Unity Temple but didn’t know anything about it. 

Just as it is with preaching, you never know what people are going to take away. Apparently one little girl went home and told her parent: “Paul’s mom talks to lots of people and she works in a castle.”

I’m totally cool with that description.

In the slide show, there was also a picture of me holding a baby, and I said, “One of the parts of my job is blessing babies.” All three times I made this presentation, one of the kids raised their hand and asked, “What does it mean to bless a baby?” And twice — two times out of three — another kid answered, “It’s like in Sleeping Beauty when the fairy godmothers give the gifts to Sleeping Beauty.” I didn’t totally remember the details on this, but I told them they were exactly right.

Our theme for the month of June is blessing, so this is a great time for us to notice the blessings all around us — the gifts that are part of our lives. When we notice the blessings around us — it can help to make us feel better if we are feeling sad, or if we are feeling good, it can help make us feel even more grateful and happy. It’s kind of like in The Sound of Music, when Maria teaches the kids to think about their favorite things in order to help themselves feel better. In the middle of a scary thunderstorm, they join together and shout out all the things that they love, like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.

Yesterday, I had blessings on my mind. And I was grateful for a day in which we did not have to go anywhere. For giant mushrooms at the Farmers Market. For the cool breeze blowing. For the perfect strawberries ready for the eating in the Hatch Patch. For listening to my son reading Elephant and Piggie books to me. And so on. 

I invite you to take a moment and shout out a few of your favorite things.

It sounds like it might be for you like it is for me — once I start thinking about what some of my favorite things are, the easier it is to think about other ones. That’s one of the great things about noticing your blessings. Once you start practicing, you get to be better and better at it. Kind of like most things. There are always, always blessings all around us. We only need to look and pay attention with our hearts.

Blessings are also something that we offer each other.

It had been a very long time since I watched Sleeping Beauty, so I went back to find out what the gifts were that the fairy godmothers offer Aurora. The first one offers her beauty and the second one offers her song. 

When we bless babies and children here at Unity Temple, like we did a few weeks ago, we do things a little differently. We don’t have magic wands like the fairies do. But we use the four elements — water, earth, fire, and air — to help express our wishes for our babies and young children. As I thought about it, it’s not really about the gifts we give them. It’s more like we celebrate the gifts that they already have, and we express our wishes for those gifts. We tell them things like we hope your light will always shine brightly. We tell them we wish they will understand themselves as part of the web of life. We tell them that we wish they will blossom and bloom just like a flower does, unique in all their own beauty. In some ways, it’s almost like those babies and children are blessing us. Which seems right to me. Each one of you is a gift to everyone around you. Whoever you are. Wherever you are on your life journey. You are a blessing.

There are three fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty, and before the third one was able to give Aurora the gift, the wicked witch Maleficent appears. She is angry that she didn’t receive an invitation to the baby blessing and so she gives Aurora a horrible curse. (It’s actually quite scary — she says that Aurora will prick her finger on a needle on a spinning wheel before she turns 16 and she will die.) The third fairy godmother then uses the gift she has left to weaken that curse — she says that, instead of dying, when Aurora pricks her finger on the needle, she will fall into a deep sleep and be awakened by true love’s kiss. 

This kind of reminds me of how when we bless our babies and kids, we give them roses, roses that have their thorns removed. We do this because, especially when you are little, the grown-ups around you want to protect you from bad things happening. The bad news is that we can’t always stop those things from happening. The good news — the great news — is that there is one very important gift we give to babies and children when we bless them: Love. 

One amazing thing that love does is remind us that we are not alone. And that is an incredible blessing. It helps to have someone listen to our story. It helps when we know someone feels the same way we do. It helps make our joys bigger and our sorrows smaller. That’s not just what we do for our babies and children, of course. It’s the blessing for all of us when we are part of a community. 

In that baby-blessing ceremony, we promise that we are going to help raise these kids, to help these parents, to remind ourselves that it’s part of our job and our joy to help each other learn and grow.

June is Pride Month, which means this is the month when we especially celebrate the idea that you are wonderful and amazing, whomever you love, and you are wonderful and amazing whatever gender you are, or however you express your gender. There are some of you who have always been alive at a time when men marry men, and women marry women, and men marry women. But some of us haven’t, and still it needs to be celebrated because it’s about people being who they are. That’s why, this month, you’ll see lots more rainbow flags and parades and celebrations.

Some of us are continuing to learn about gender — how there are an infinite number of ways of being a girl or a boy or a man or a woman or not feeling like they are one or the other. There are those whose gender matches their biological sex — cisgender — and those whose gender does not — transgender. All those different ideas and ways of being are also wonderful and amazing. Just a couple of weeks ago, Oak Park and River Forest High School made some new rules and ways of helping all the kids who are transgender, gender expansive, or questioning their gender identity — because they know that treating people as the wonderful and amazing people they are is important and necessary and the right thing to do. What an amazing blessing.

Last week, when I was in one of the first grade classrooms at Hatch talking about my career, the teacher asked me what my favorite part of my job was. Well, I said, and thought a moment because there are so many things I love about being a minister.  I think my favorite part is that I get to be part of people’s lives, and watch them learn and grow, and listen to their stories, and sometimes help them when they’re sad and celebrate with them when they’re happy. And as I answered, I was smiling, thinking about that, and looking out at the class. And looking back at me was one of our Unity Temple first-graders, smiling right back at me. I will never forget that moment. What a blessing it was to me. A reminder that I am the luckiest. 

After all, I get to talk to lots of people. And I work in a castle.

There are so many blessings all around us. We only need look with our hearts. And each one of us is a blessing to the world. We need only offer our open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands to one another. 

May we know this day, and all our days, that we are surrounded by love. 

And so may it always be.

Emily Gage is minister of faith development at Unity Temple.

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