First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Sermons, Memos and other writings from the newsletter and worship services of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. The First Unitarian Church is located at 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608. Our phone is 508-757-2708 and our webpage is A audio CD is produced for almost every one of our regular services. Call our office or send a note to the office at our website to request that one be shipped to you.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Choosing Resurrection" by Rev. Barbara Merritt April 8, 2007

First Reading: - Luke 23: 39-43

One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion railed at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.”

But the other one rebuked him: “Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we’ve done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you today you will be with me in paradise.”

Second Reading: — “An Athlete of God” by Martha Graham

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God.

Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.

I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. The instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived: the human body. It is the instrument which holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love.

Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries, even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration; there are daily small deaths. It takes about 10 years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. There is the study and practice of the craft in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul's weather to all who can read it. The legends of the soul's journey are retold with all their gaiety and their tragedy and the bitterness and sweetness of living. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith: faith in life, in love, in people and in the act of dancing.

In a dancer there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform there is an awareness of the smile which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity pull of the earth as the acrobat does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.

lyrics to “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon and the Stars and the Sun
I came down from Heaven and I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body and they thought I'd gone

But I am the Dance and I still go on.
They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that'll never, never die.
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me –
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He.

Sermon: “Choosing Resurrection”

As far as I can determine, an early religious liberal (someone who lived in the first century after Jesus lived) snuck into the home of whoever was copying the final version of the gospels and did a “Unitarian edit” on the story of the crucifixion in Luke. Here is my “midrash”, my commentary on that passage.

The religious conservatives and fundamentalists at that time were all declaring that what counted was faith: what mattered was that Jesus was the Messiah; what counted was the belief that he was your personal savior; what mattered was the willingness of the Christians to partake in certain prescribed rituals of baptism, communion and church membership in order to reap the benefits of eternal salvation.

The way I picture it, this unknown and stealthy Unitarian quietly pasted in the story of the thieves on the cross and then made a swift retreat. And he or she got away with it! It was written into the sacred text. You don’t believe me?

Look at it! The first thief asks Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah?” (Here is a criminal who apparently believed the stories he heard.) Then that thief added, “I believe you have the power to save yourself and to save us – so do it!” Not only does this thief believe that Jesus is the “promised one,” he also believes in his supernatural powers and that Jesus will be his personal savior. The first thief thinks that Jesus has all the power that a savior would have, and eagerly looks forward to the rabbi using it on his behalf.

The second thief is a humanist – honest, straight-forward, enormously concerned with how human beings treat one another. Even though the second thief is undergoing the same painful crucifixion as Jesus is, the first thing he does is to attempt to protect Jesus from the loud mouth on the other cross. This is an amazing relationship to take to Jesus of Nazareth. Not, “Will you save me?” But, “Allow me to help you.” This second thief seems to be saying, “Whenever I see another innocent human-being being harassed and/or mocked and/or criticized, I will ask the accuser to reconsider. “Are you not in awe, at least of God? We are all under the same sentence of death.” (A sentence that is no longer abstract or far away, but right now.) And then the second thief says something even more remarkable. He says, “This agonizing death I am now undergoing, I deserved it.” And he says to the other thief, “So did you.” This is a criminal who takes responsibility for his actions and makes no pretense of innocence or injustice or victimization. He recites the law of karma, “We all have to pay the price for what we have done.” And then what he says about Jesus is so simple, so truthful, so self-evident. “This man has done nothing wrong.” Human beings: we are usually able to recognize right and wrong– good and evil – innocence and blame. And the criminal says to another human being, “I’m not good, but I can see that you are.”

So what does a “not good” criminal ask from Jesus? He doesn’t ask for eternal life or salvation or the forgiveness of his sins. He doesn’t ask for another few good years on earth, or for a miracle, or for a painless death. He asks for something natural and human and seemingly small. He says, “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” Remember me. May some of the love that I see in your eyes take in the mystery of my existence. May some of whom I have been live on in who you are.

Jesus’ reply is that of a Universalist. “I assure you (you don’t have to worry) today you will be with me in paradise.” Not in three days, not after some time in hell or purgatory . . . . “today you will be with me in paradise.”

I can’t help but think that at that very moment the thief was in paradise. Despite the cross, the pain and his criminal past, he had just found out that there was a kind of holy love that would not forget him, and that would take him as far as he wanted to go.

This story in Luke is not about the supernatural or about miracles or about accepting Jesus as your personal savior. It is about what it means to be a human being and the awesome power of love and remembrance. It is about paradise being possible today.

If you need a visual, look at the lilies assembled at the front of the church. Most of them have been given in memory of people who once lived and who are no longer with us. Some have been given in memory of those who are still very much alive and are not forgotten, like young, 16-year-old Andrew who is fighting leukemia. What I love about lilies in general (and Easter lilies in particular) is that they look like trumpets. And what I hear them trumpeting is, “You have been loved and you are remembered.” “I have lived and I remember.” “Love is stronger than Death.” “The promise of spring and new life are real.” And, “Yes, the darkness has come close and the suffering and the cruelty have been terrible, but Easter is also real.” And the dance goes on . . .

If the lilies don’t speak to you, then look in your own heart. Think of whom you remember. Consider those friends and family who no matter how far they wander, into whatever kingdoms they go to, you will not forget them. Because you have broken bread together. Because you have blessed one another. Because you have encouraged and cared for and loved one another. That love is so persistent that it may “go on forever.” That love is stronger than death.

On Easter morning we choose to remember that kind of love. Together we turn in the direction of a rising sun. We sing the Hallelujah Chorus and we wear a new hat and we might carry home a fragrant lily. And hope that it doesn’t freeze on the way to the car. You see, the problem is that the Easter celebration (as well as the Passover celebration, a story of liberation and hope and freedom) ??? all these narratives occur in the same old complicated world.

Today, a time of great promise and great disappointment, a time when we remember miraculous goodness, but are also haunted by memories of terrible cruelty and harsh circumstances. We remember not only great blessings, but also great loss. Today, like everyday, we must choose, “In what direction shall I face?” Where will I put my attention? What is my ultimate goal while I am on earth?

Martha Graham offers a wonderful metaphor concerning that choice. She claims that the athletic, aerobic, trained professional dancer lives fully even at the moment of danger and “chooses not to fall.” Now all of us know (and Martha Graham admits) that dancers fall all the time. What does she mean by that phrase? She acknowledges that dancers suffer from exhaustion, injury and frustration. She puts it in even stronger terms. “Mature dancers after 10 relentless years of training . . . suffer small deaths on a daily basis.”

The way she describes the life of the body, I would hope someday to describe the life of the spirit, not in the brevity of a 10-year training period, but over a lifetime. The spirit is “shaped, disciplined, honed and in time, trusted.” In your interactions with all other children of God you will become clean, precise, eloquent and truthful. You will walk on the high wire because there is no other place to walk. You will acknowledge the pull of gravity and continue to practice living in full awareness of constant danger. As we walk on that tightrope we will do two things: 1) we will smile, and 2) we will not fall. And all would be well except for the fact that I, like many of you, am not an athlete for God. I wish I were. I pray that someday I might be. But despite years of work and meditation and sobriety, panic and distraction move in quickly.

I have been reading Anne Lamott’s new book, Grace, Eventually. She claims that according to her sponsor in AA, for every year you’ve been sober you get one second before the panic crushes you. She’s been sober 20 years – thus when faced with a problem, a crisis, an irrational situation she doesn’t panic for 20 seconds. I would like to extend this particular warranty to one second for every year you’ve been attending First Unitarian, for every year you’ve followed a meditation practice, for every year you’ve been in therapy: one second per year.

What happens when you lose your focus? Lose your balance? Lose your faith? I read from Ms. Lamott:
“The lunatic employees of the Swing Shift take over. This is the committee inside me that is sometimes dumb and dangerous with bad judgment, and often obsessed with thoughts of personal greatness or impending doom. Like, for instance, the unbearable truth that all the people you love most will die, maybe in painful circumstances, and soon, probably sometime next week.”

Anne Lamott confesses that she is not a good dancer, let alone a great dancer. She is not an athlete for God. But she does volunteer to dance with some developmentally disabled adults in her neighborhood. They have Down Syndrome. They are mentally disabled. They are autistic people living together in a group home. And in the awkward movements of the damaged residents as they attempt to dance, to twirl, to respond to the rhythm of the music she recognizes her own life:
I noticed all sorts of parallels: the off-rhythm gait, the language you can’t quite catch, the lack of coordination, the odd effects—too friendly or too far away—the bad teeth, the screwed-up relationships or no relationships at all, the not-fitting-in-ness. It’s incredibly touching when someone who seems so hopeless finds a few inches of light to stand in and makes everything work as well as possible. All of us lurch and fall, sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance, gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going.”

Allow me to repeat: “
All of us lurch and fall, sit in the dirt, and are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance, gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going.”

We keep going. I am fond of quoting Lao Tzo, who when asked to say in one sentence what the Tao was, replied, “Walk on.”

That I believe is the dance of Easter, where you occasionally move with grace and eloquence as a professional mature dancer in one of Martha Graham’s Dance Company productions. But more likely you (like the rest of us) find only a few inches of light to stand on.

To choose resurrection is to choose not to fall. And when we fall, as all dancers do, to choose to get up again and to help others to get back on their feet. As people who have loved and have been loved, we keep moving in the direction of joy and possibility and truth. Personally, I think it is a good idea to remember that life is always performed on a tight wire with gravity always pulling at us. On this unlikely platform we are called to smile with the persistence of a focused acrobat who practices living in the face of danger. Together with the openness of the heart of a Down Syndrome young man all of us are invited out onto the dance floor. We agree to sing, to rejoice, to move forward.

Knowing that paradise is possible today – for thieves, for acrobats, for thee and for me. Again we choose to join the happy chorus that the morning stars began. Choosing to remember, the triumphant song of life.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Contagious Living" Sermon by Abigail Hannaford-Ricardi April 15, 2007

Psalm 139 (13-16)

For thou didst form my inward parts,
Thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise thee for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well,
My frame was not hidden from thee,
When I was being made in secret,
Intricately wrought in the depth of the earth,
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance:
In thy book were written, every one of them,
The days that were formed for me
When as yet there was none of them.

“He is a Miracle” by Abigail Hannaford-Ricardi

I’m going to tell you about my son Terry today, and hopefully you don’t feel like you’ve just sat down for a 24 hour bus ride next to the granny with the wallet photos. Rest assured I don’t carry a wallet - not enough room for photos. That’s why I’ve got 12 volumes of scrapbooks about my kids. This second reading is from a scrapbook page I made two Thanksgivings ago. Terry is my hero, and I don’t say that lightly. There is no living human being whom I admire more than Terry. I’d like to share with you my top ten list of why he is a miracle and my hero.

1. HE IS ALIVE: Terry was born to a homeless, IV drug user who received no pre-natal care. Since doctors didn’t know the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, it was a vaginal delivery. He underwent withdrawal from cocaine and opiates (which is lethal to 3-5% of newborns if untreated). Terry was born with a cytomegalovirus infection, and worst of all he was one of only 10% with the infection who has the actual congenital CMV disease (similar to Rubella syndrome). 20% of children born with the disease die and 90% of those who survive are severely disabled. Terry suffered damage to his brain, heart, liver, blood, eyes and ears. Despite being full term, Terry spent six weeks in the neonatal ICU, and was then discharged into a medical foster home and provided with 40-70 hours per week of home nursing care.

Today Terry is an alive and active teenager.

2. HE CAN EAT: When Terry moved into that foster home, a suction machine and feeding pump went with him. Failure to thrive and malnutrition are some of the leading causes of death in congenital CMV disease. Despite advancing the caloric density of his formula and feeding him through a tube Terry had poor weight gain. When he came to us at age three and a half he was still on an all liquid diet. He was diagnosed with severe failure to thrive and at his four year old physical he weighed just 25 pounds (in the 0% and below the 50% for an 18 month old).
Today Terry’s weight and height are in the normal range. He has a voracious appetite. If any of you don’t know who Terry is, just look around during coffee hour for the person eating the most cookies and I guarantee you that will be my son.

3. HE CAN SEE: When Terry was in the neonatal unit he was noted to have eye shaking. Later he would be diagnosed with scarring and incomplete closure of the eyes, outward eye turn, missing nerve tissue connecting the eyes to the brain, and suspected damage to the vision processing areas of the brain. Those of you who knew us when we first started coming here will remember that Terry used to have to touch vocal cords in order to identify people.

Today Terry can identify people in photos and read alphabet letters just ¼ inch high. He is a miracle.

4. HE CAN COMMUNICATE: Congenital CMV is the leading cause of non-hereditary deafness in children. Over 65% of kids with the disease develop hearing loss. Terry is deaf. Some of the only vibrations Terry can respond to are below those tested on standard audiogram charts, beyond the pain threshold and at a level that would cause deafness in a hearing person. Terry also has autism which greatly impacts his ability to use language.

Today Terry has a sign language vocabulary of about 500 words and also uses a pictorial communication system to communicate with family, friends and staff.

5. HE CAN BREATHE FREELY: CMV can invade the lungs and cause a fatal pneumonia in both infants with the congenital disease and in adults who are immune compromised. Terry was in respiratory distress when he was born. He was diagnosed with a floppiness and collapse of the main airway and many other problems including asthma. Sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia -Terry averaged 13 respiratory infections per year.

Today the frequency and severity of Terry’s respiratory infections and asthma attacks have greatly decreased and he is usually full of energy. He was just seven years old the first time he climbed Mt. Wachusett with this church.

6. HE CAN WALK: That may seem obvious, but then again, breathing, seeing and eating probably did too. 25-39% of children born with CMV disease have abnormal motor function. Terry’s central nervous system was not spared. His tone was so abnormal that the hospital called in an occupational therapist the day he was born. When he was just two months old specialists wrote that he most likely had a mixed, quadriplegic form of cerebral palsy. At age three and a half he could not walk, could not sit without supporting himself, and tired of holding his head up.

Today Terry continues to receive occupational and physical therapy several times a week, but he can walk, swing, dance and climb. He is a miracle.

7. HE CAN THINK: Congenital CMV is the most common infectious cause of mental retardation and a leading cause overall. Terry had an abnormally small head circumference and seizures. Just before turning eight he tested at the 16-18 month old level and was diagnosed as severely mentally retarded.
Today Terry’s head size is normal, he hasn’t had a seizure in over ten years, and his cognitive skills test in the six year old range. He can read several words, write his name, count, match and sort items. His sense of direction and memory for routes far surpasses mine, and he likes to take apart and rebuild mechanical devices.

8. HE CAN WORK: For several years Terry required total care for dressing feeding and toileting. He was difficult to reach, withdrawing from the world to self-stim, rock, spin, and laugh to himself.

Today Terry loves work tasks. At school he has had mail delivery, stocking and recycling jobs, as well as assisting with shopping, simple cooking and laundry chores. He has been working in the school greenhouse potting plants and making horticulture crafts, works in the seat weaving shop and restocks the snack wall and soda machine in the school snack shop. He has become very competitive with his classmates, is proud of his accomplishments, loves to receive praise, and can’t wait to spend the money he earns.

9. HE IS STRONG: Terry has a genetic immune deficiency disease called hypogammaglobulinemia (an abnormally low concentration of the major component (85%) of all serum antibodies, leaving him susceptible to recurrent infections, scarring of the lungs, a painful form of arthritis, digestive problems and production of autoantibodies that attack his own tissues and blood cells. This condition is life threatening to people who are otherwise “normal,” it is bad news when a child with multiple disabilities has it. He used to miss more than 80 days of school a year due to illness.

Today Terry takes antibiotics every day, as he has for the past seven years. Since starting treatment, the changes in his health, stamina, physical growth and learning have been remarkable. He is stronger than he has ever been. He is a miracle.

10. HE HAS FRIENDS: For a long time Terry was more interested in wheels, shoes and door hinges than he was in any human being. Terry has autism with sensory motor integration disorder, obsessive/compulsive behavior and an attention deficit disorder.

Today Terry can still get distracted by wheels and shoes, but he has very genuine attachments to his friends. Whether it is sledding with Nathan, cooking with John, working with Ben, eating lunch with Joel, going to the YMCA with Katie or sleeping over at Sara’s house, Terry is involved. He asks for his friends when they are sick, and states that he wants to see them during school vacations. One of his very best friends is James – Terry has become an attentive and doting big brother!


I want to begin by telling you my qualifications for being here today: I sent Jeffery Merritt a card. In other words, I am not qualified. This just proves the old saying that “no good deed goes unpunished.” That’s right. After today the Merritt household will wonder why they don’t receive any more personal mail.

As much as I like to brag about my kids, I’m thinking that sermons should pertain to every day life, and most of you probably don’t live with someone whose physical brain has been ravaged by a virus. However, we all know and live with the metaphorical viruses that ravage our brains. I’m talking about the viruses that infect us with feelings of worthlessness, shame, anger, fear and despair. Learning how CMV was passed to Terry and how it affected him, has helped me to learn how we pass emotional viruses onto each other and how they affect us. Here is my second top ten list:

1. ONLY DON’T KNOW: This is actually a Buddhist saying. I’m not going to ask a show of hands on how many of you have cytomegalovirus. I’ll tell you. 50% of us in the U.S. have it by the time we are 30, 90% of us have it by the time we die. So, if you don’t have it the people sitting on either side of you do. In talking about Terry, I risk him being discriminated against – so let me tell you upfront, you can’t get CMV from him. You get the virus from someone who has a new infection – and most people with one have no symptoms at all (although 10% have flu or cold like symptoms). You can’t tell by looking at someone. Avoiding children with multiple handicaps will not protect you.

This holds true for emotional viruses as well. You can’t avoid getting hurt by avoiding people with green skin. Yet our brains are wired to protect us. If we touch fire, we learn very quickly that we shouldn’t stick our hands into glowing red and yellow. Our brains want to use the same system to protect us from emotional hurt. I think this is where some prejudices originate. You can’t tell by looks.

2. YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONES YOU LOVE: There are three times in life when a person is most likely to get a CMV infection. The first is as an infant or toddler from other drooling infants and toddlers. The second is as a teenager from that new special other you are kissing. The third time is when you are the parent of an infant or toddler. The population at greatest risk for having a child with congenital CMV is mothers of children below the age of 3. Junior comes home from daycare, where other toddlers are wearing diapers, mouthing toys, drooling, and sneezing. Mom, who wouldn’t wipe the nose, change the diaper, clean the drool, kiss away the tears, or finish the food of a strangers child, will do all those things for her own child. Or, if she’s pregnant and being hyper careful, maybe her partner is doing all those things.- and then her partner gets the virus, kisses mom and she gets it and mom passes it to her unborn baby. Did you notice, it all comes from friends or family?

Emotional viruses work the same way. I can be nice to most people most of the time. I can have endless patience for other people’s children, but the people closest to me get to see me when I’m being mean and impatient. The most hurtful things I’ve ever said, the ones I’ve regretted the most, I’ve said to my husband. Now if a mere acquaintance says something hurtful to you, it’s easy to shrug it off. That person doesn’t know you! However, if the person you love most, the one you’ve trusted with your most personal feelings says something hurtful, it cuts you to the bone. The people we love most can hurt us the most. Therefore to protect ourselves from future pain we should all avoid letting anyone get close to us…NO! Don’t do that.

3. MOST VULNERABLE =MOST HURT: I told you that the vast majority of people don’t have any symptoms from their CMV infection. However, in people who are immune compromised, such as those who are undergoing cancer treatments, have had organ transplants or are HIV positive, CMV can quickly lead to blindness, liver failure or a fatal pneumonia. CMV is an opportunistic virus. In a developing fetus, all the major systems can be damaged.

Likewise, emotional viruses are most damaging to the most vulnerable. Yet, it is this group that is most often the recipient of such viruses. The nerdly kid. The geeky guy. The over-weight housewife. The forgetful senior citizen. Emotional viruses are opportunistic. And here is the rub, while most of us would not blame someone for a physical ill, we do blame people for their emotional ills. “Get over it.” “She’s overly emotional, anyway!” “He needs to grow a thicker skin.” When we cause emotional hurts, sometimes instead of being sympathetic, we get defensive. We don’t always know who is most vulnerable. One out of every 100 babies born in the US has a CMV infection, but 90% of them will have no symptoms at birth and 75% never develop any symptoms. Yet 10% of those newborns will have severe, life threatening disease. Why are some more vulnerable and some unaffected? We don’t know.

4. DON’T JUDGE: According to the March of Dimes, congenital CMV leads to 8,000 permanent disabilities in the US every year. (By the way, that’s 2,000 more than Down syndrome). Epidemiologists know this from studies that test every baby born in select hospitals across the U.S. However, normally, newborns are not routinely tested for CMV, and unless the test is done within the first three weeks of life, a positive result is meaningless because the child could have been exposed after birth. The vast majority of congenital CMV cases are never diagnosed. Every year thousands of parents have children who have deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, and/or epilepsy, and never know that CMV was the cause. Often the disabilities are blamed on something that was also caused by the CMV, such as the premature birth. As an adoptive mom, it’s hard for me to understand, but I can tell you that mothers of children with disabilities blame themselves. The guilt is huge. Sadly, often, their spouses, family and friends will also think, “She must have done something wrong during that pregnancy.”

Obsessive/compulsive disorder used to be considered a result of “maladaptive coping of past conflicts, abuse and anxiety” requiring long-term psychotherapy. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder used to be attributed to “bad parenting,” “willful defiance,” and “moral defectiveness.” (These definitions are all out of old textbooks, by the way). Autism for many years was thought to be caused by “maternal ambivalence” towards the child. We now know that these each have a biological basis. Why do I mention these conditions today? Because congenital CMV is associated with all three conditions, and my son has been diagnosed with all three. Thirty years ago, you would all have KNOWN that I was a terrible mother. The textbooks said so.

Being judged, especially misjudged, hurts. I always like to think I know stuff and I’m forever realizing that I don’t have a clue. I’m not going to tell you, “Don’t judge,” because, to be honest, I find myself judging people and their behaviors regularly. But we should all TRY not to judge others.

5. HURT GROWS AND SPREADS: Someone sneezes and a tiny particle is passed to another person, where it multiplies, spreads to the bloodstream, passes through the placenta and grows in a fetus, potentially damaging every developing part: liver, lungs, heart, GI tract, eyes, ears, brain… Not just the brain as the thinking organ, but everything it controls – muscles, breathing, sleep cycle, temperature regulation, puberty. Congenital CMV can cause tooth enamel defects, orthopedic problems and hernias. All this from one tiny little microbe.

Emotional viruses are the same – one small insult can ripple and magnify and spread. This is especially true with gossip. Once something leaves your mouth, whether in a germ filled sneeze or hurt filled words, you can’t take it back or control where it goes.

6. TREAT OR REAP: There is no cure for congenital CMV, but the sooner it’s identified, the sooner it can be treated, and the sooner you treat, the less damage it causes.
As an example, CMV is a leading cause of deafness. 65% of those born with the disease develop hearing loss, and once the loss starts it almost always progresses to the severe to profound level in the affected ear or ears. The majority of these kids are born hearing and pass the newborn hearing screen. However, by the second birthday, deafness has often set in. Because most cases of congenital CMV go undiagnosed, the hearing loss is unexpected and often not discovered until the child enters school. Now consider that the success of every intervention –hearing aides, sign language, speech therapy, cochlear implants, etc. - depends greatly on how early it can begin – when the developing language center of the brain is most accessible. Today there is an antiviral treatment that has been shown to stop or significantly lessen hearing loss in newborns with the disease. (It can also stop or reverse the major CMV killers too –liver failure, gastritis, anemia and pneumonia). But there is no opportunity to give it if the virus isn’t diagnosed.

Not surprisingly, the sooner emotional viruses are recognized and treated, the less the damage. I think a lot of law suits could be avoided if people learned to listen and say “I’m sorry.” Too often we let anger, guilt and fear get in the way, or we hope problems will just go away if we don’t say anything – much like parents of a disabled child first hope, “He’ll grow out of it.” Situations that could have been addressed. resolved and forgotten, linger and fester and mushroom until the losses are severe and irreversible.

7. POP GOES THE WEASLE: CMV stays in your body for life, but after the initial infection the immune system keeps it in check. This is why, without treatment it can be life-threatening to those who are immune compromised. In times of stress the virus can reactivate. This is what happened to Terry’s birth mother. She was ill from the drug use, a Hepatitis B infection and probable HIV infection, had a severe CMV reactivation and passed the virus onto Terry. I have to tell you that kids born with CMV disease are not the hardiest bunch. Just when we think things are going smoothly we get a shock. Four years ago at age 13, Ronda was a lot like Terry, until the day she walked into a wall and it was discovered that the virus had reactivated in her eyes leaving her totally blind. Last year the virus reactivated in Ronda’s brain and she died at age 16. Sam is 11 and still with us, but two years ago the virus reactivated in his heart and lungs. This past winter he coded four times.

I want to read you the words of a parent written nine years after his premature daughter lived for 20 minutes and then died:
…the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever. I haven’t been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like every time we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn’t here to share it with us and I go right back to anger.

The family, friends and neighbors of this parent didn’t recognize his grief. They saw him as a steady worker, church goer, and devoted husband and father, yet this man shot ten girls in an Amish school house. We’ve all heard about the person who goes on a rampage in a post office, restaurant or school, but hidden anguish surfaces all the time on a much smaller scale in everyday life. I’m someone who hates confrontations, so I tend to swallow grief and praise myself for “not making issues out of ant hills” – except the ants are still there and to my embarrassment, I find that I tend to dredge them all up when I hit my breaking point.

8. KNOWLEDGE = POWER: Prior to today, how many of you can remember ever hearing about CMV? Well, in September of 2005 the Worcester Telegram and Gazette carried an article about an Italian study of congenital CMV. They offered hyperimmune globulin to pregnant women who tested positive for having a new CMV infection. In the study the drug cut the rate of mother-to-child transmission of CMV to just 3 %. In contrast, 50 % of the infected mothers who opted not to receive the treatment passed on the CMV to their unborn. The treatment is considered very safe and no adverse effects have been noted. Prevention of potentially severe birth defects.- this was great news! Guess how many American women have benefited from this treatment in the past 1½ years? I’ll give you a clue. 40,000 babies are born CMV positive in the U.S. every year. The answer? I don’t know of a single case (although I do know of a few U.S. women who received this treatment after ultrasounds and blood tests already showed fetal damage due to CMV).

Why is this? In Italy, where the study was done, all pregnant women are routinely tested for the virus several times during each pregnancy. The Italian public is aware of the risks of congenital CMV. In the U.S. women are not routinely tested and most U.S. women have never heard of this virus. Most CMV infected babies are born to women who carefully followed their doctors’ advice. They got regular pre-natal care, took their vitamins with folic acid, quit smoking, avoided alcohol and over the counter medications, they didn’t handle raw meat or change the cat litter box, they left the house when the nursery was being painted and even stopped dying their hair. But, no one ever told them about precautions to avoid CMV, and now no one is telling women about a simple blood test and possible preventative treatment.

Knowledge gives us power to make changes. This is very true with preventing the spread of emotional viruses as well. I probably shouldn’t mention how ignorant I am…but I am, and I used to be much more clueless. When I was in college I picked up phrases like, “There goes the paddy wagon,” “Don’t be an Indian giver,” and “I think I’ve been gypped.” These phrases invaded my brain and I started spreading them around, completely ignorant of what ethnic slurs they were, until someone who really cared for me (my husband) pointed them out. Most of us don’t try to hurt others. Just like the parents in my CMV support group, we try to go out of our way to protect others from harm, but we have to be educated. We need to seek knowledge and to be open to change.

9. THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE: Specialists were not very hopeful when Terry was born, and they weren’t very hopeful 3 ½ years later when he came to live with us, and yet, as I shared with you, he far surpassed expectations. He is a miracle.

There are probably people in each of your lives that you just don’t expect much of. Now I’m not saying to surround yourself with people who make you miserable, but keep yourself open to the thought that people can change. Don’t avoid joining a committee you are interested in because you don’t think you can work with a particular member. Don’t assume someone can’t do something, just because they never have. People will surprise you. I’m very surprised to be here today. Barbara took a chance asking me to give a sermon. I’m a private person, and a fearful public speaker. This just goes to show that as bad as my “preaching” skills are, I’m even worse at saying “no.”

10. GOOD IS CONTAGIOUS: It’s hard not to smile when you see someone smiling, and it’s hard not to feel better when you are smiling. Scientific studies are now actually proving this. We can spread good viruses. I mentioned earlier that Terry has a condition called hypogammaglobulinemia. (That’s one word, 21 letters long, by the way). One of the treatments for that condition is a four hour monthly IV of gammaglobulin. This blood product is taken from the blood of 10,000 donors. You need that many to ensure that the recipient receives antibodies to all the bugs currently circulating. That to me is an amazing thing – so many people giving something which is then pooled together to support one individual. And, because gammaglobulin only lives for 20 to 30 days, the treatment needs to be repeated every 3 to 4 weeks.

When our younger son James had congestive heart failure and was awaiting his second open-heart surgery, people of this congregation pooled together to support us. There were days in which we felt that we were capsizing, when your actions buoyed us. And before your treatment could wear off, we would get another infusion, another call, card, visit or hot meal. Those repeated treatments sustained us until we landed back on dry ground. Thank you.

May you go out and spread the viruses of love, hope and joy. Be as contagious as possible and infect as many people as you can.


How Could Anyone by Libby Roderick

How could anyone ever tell you
you were any thing less than beautiful?
How could any one ever tell you,
you were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
that your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

Don't Laugh At Me
by Seskin and Shamblin

I'm a little boy with glasses
The one they call the geek
A little girl who never smiles
'Cause I've got braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels
To cry myself to sleep

I'm that kid on every playground
Who's always chosen last
A single teenage mother
Tryin' to overcome my past
You don't have to be my friend
But is it too much to ask

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me

I'm the beggar on the corner
You've passed me on the street
And I wouldn't be out here beggin'
If I had enough to eat
And don't think I don't notice
That our eyes never meet

I was born a little different
I do my dreaming from this chair
I pretend it doesn’t hurt me
When people point and stare
There’s a simple way to show me
Just how much you care.

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me

I'm fat, I'm thin, I'm short, I'm tall
I'm deaf, I'm blind, hey, aren't we all

Don't laugh at me
Don't call me names
Don't get your pleasure from my pain
In God's eyes we're all the same
Someday we'll all have perfect wings
Don't laugh at me