Moving Horizons by Emily Bengels, Music Director

“You cannot move the horizon without moving yourself.” I found this quote in my friend’s clock repair studio while helping him pack up a career’s worth of machinery. The business card on which it was written is yellowed with age, but his meticulous writing (in all capitals) showed its importance. Here we were, saying goodbye not only to his workshop but also to a profession that has been overtaken by the digital world and GPS-controlled smartphone timekeepers. This moment seemed to be at the epicenter of change, but the message is timeless. The horizons of our world are constantly changing, but that is because we are in constant flux, too.

As UUs, we definitely are aware of our horizons, both literally and metaphorically. I will forever cherish the memory of a mild September night when a bunch of us turned our gaze on the Space Station traversing the sky. Likewise, I am grateful that the choir constantly aspires to take on greater challenges, to blend more, emote more, and even enunciate more. As a community, our horizons are shifting as we look into making room for expanding our fellowship by adding a second full service, and as we ponder how we can better walk the walk to help the planet.

As a Jewish Unitarian, I think a lot about the phrase tikkun olam–repair the world.  A folktale explains that when God created the universe, the deity needed to contract to make room for us. Divine light was placed in special vessels, but the vessels were too fragile and shattered. According to this tale, divinity is spread throughout the universe attached to troubled shards.  Our job is to repair the world, gathering up the goodness and spreading it to help those in need. My take on this is that I need to do whatever I can, whenever I can, to make things better. In other words, faith action, and social justice are key horizons in my life, goals I aspire to.

There is a lot of room for repair in this world. In fact, there is a lot of need for repair. There are times that I have been bogged down by the sheer immensity of global strife. My life as a musician has helped me come to terms with this angst. You see, I am not the best singer. I’m not even a good singer!  But my fingers dance on the piano and flute and viola. We have great singers. We have great guitar players and a ukulele virtuoso and an audience that claps or remains silent with smiles of appreciation (depending on the venue). I don’t need to be every voice in the choir or every instrument in the band. I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems. But I need to do my part. There are over seven billion of us in this world who can choose to do our part, and if we do, we can reach happier horizons. It gives me great hope to see the international throngs marching for the climate strike; if everyone who marched or posted about it on social media made personal changes and urged governments to do likewise, the progress could be immense!

This is also the time in the year when Jewish people focus on how we have missed our mark during the year and how we aspire to shift our thoughts and actions toward our goals. The new year is a time for rethinking our course, revisiting the horizon. I’ve noticed that we Unitarians don’t just rethink our course once a year; we are constantly analyzing and re-analyzing our actions and impacts. Artists and musicians are the same; we are always aspiring to the next level of beauty, the next nuance of expression. Key to my philosophy is the need to balance challenge and celebration. I want my musicians to sail toward their current horizon, but I also want them to notice the dolphins dancing outside our choral ship and feel the gentle rocking of the waves as we advance. One horizon I strive for as an individual and as a community member is the propagation of joy.

So, I bring us back to the antique clock workshop where I found the quote. There are changes I seek, both within myself and for the world around me. There are also ways I need to celebrate each current moment, each tick of an old clock, each breeze at sea, each loving interaction. Sheepishly, I asked my friend if I could keep the card as a memento. I keep it in my cellphone case and regularly ponder how I am moving, how we are moving, and how our horizons are moving. “You cannot move the horizon without moving yourself.” How are you moving? How are we moving? What are our new horizons? And…how do we celebrate where we are?