“Ways of Knowing”
Worship Script 3 for August
Worship Script (3 of 4)
Science and the Sacred: Our Constant Fire
The Womb of Stars by Joy Atkinson
The womb of stars embraces us, remnants of their fiery furnaces pulse through our veins.
We are of the stars, the dust of their explosions cast across space.
We are of the earth; we breathe and live in the breath of ancient plants and beasts.
Their cells nourish the soil; we build our communities on their harvest of gifts.
Our finger trace the curves care in clay and stone by forebears unknown to us.
We are part of the great circle of humanity gathered around the fire, the hearth, the altar.
We gather anew this day to celebrate our common heritage.
May we recall in gratitude all that has given us birth.
HYMN #304 A Fierce Unrest
Excerpts from Adam Frank’s “The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate”
We have been watching, acting, and dreaming for a very long time. If experience forms the impulse of what we now call religion it was present for our forebears too. They watched closely and felt deeply. In this was we are no different from them. The impulse that became science was also with them. Through need and curiosity, they saw the patterns in the world. They saw the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon, the returning of season and storm. The constant fire, the response to the world’s beauty and power, was with them as it is with us. It was this original response, this first aspiration, that grew into science and religion. It has never left us. This constant fire remains the essence of our response to the sacred in experience. It has always been with us, captured in the universe of myth.
By Don W Vaughn-Foerster
Like pendulums we swing from hunger to hunger -- from hunger for the one great Truth (absolute, eternal, mystical) to hunger for simple, near-in, familiar truths that change as we change, grow as we grow. Like pendulums we swing from hunger for cosmic imperatives commanding us to expand ourselves, to hunger for immediate and authentic inner promptings urging us to be ourselves.
We would be right with heaven, so we swing outward; we would fulfill our own heart, so we swing inward. We would grasp the holy and we would create ourselves. We have this dual hunger: to serve the cosmos that commands us to become more than we would and to be our genuine selves, content with what we are. So we ride this pendulum in hunger for life. We ride from Truth that calls us out to truths that call us in.
And all because the gravity of life pulls across our hunger, never allowing us to stay on one side or the other, always moving us into new urgency for the wholeness that would bind both the cosmic and the personal.
And so life pulls us and we swing from Truth to truths, from cosmos to self, from mystery to clarity, from out to in. It is our state to swing and to be drawn ever into another swing. This is the motion that makes ours a human life.
May the great gravity of life which pulls us along an unknown, holy axis never let the pendulums we are cease swinging until the Truth we seek and the truths we are are one.
HYMN #343 A Firemist and A Planet
STORY FOR ALL AGES
It's Not What You Believe, But How Time for All Ages By Gary Kowalski
This Time for All Ages is greatly enhanced by visual elements. If you're able to create a slide show, it may be helpful to show the accompanying images, as well as diagrams of the geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system.
We humans have always looked up at the stars, wondered about them, and even told stories about them. During the many thousand years that human beings have been looking up at the stars, we've changed our understanding of what the Universe looks likes, and how it works.
More than five hundred years ago, a man named Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Poland. He watched the stars and planets, and used his observations to come up with a pretty unique—and upsetting—idea.
In his day, most people thought that the Earth was at the center of the Universe. They also thought that the stars were little holes in a glass ball around the Earth.
Copernicus thought, “What if the universe doesn't move around the Earth? What if the Earth is actually a planet circling the Sun?” He wrote a book about this idea, which wasn't popular. (If he hadn't died soon after, it's possible he would have been put in jail.)
Today, we know that Copernicus was right: our planet Earth circles the Sun, which is a star. It took a long, long time—hundreds of years—for people to finally believe this, and to stop saying that the Earth was at the center of the universe.
But for hundreds of years, the belief that the universe revolved around Earth was so stuck in people’s minds that it became part of religion, too. It was kind of a religious belief, so when Copernicus said, “I don’t think the heavens revolve around the Earth,” he was speaking as a scientist, but the Church heard it as challenging their religion. There’s a word for that: heresy. That meant that not just scientists, but anyone could get in BIG trouble for promoting the idea that the sun was at the center of our Solar System.
Believe it or not, this upsetting theory of Copernicus intersects with the story of our Unitarian ancestors.
Not very far away from where Copernicus watched the planets and stars, there was a land called Transylvania, a land of rolling green hills and mountains. Transylvania is where some of the first Unitarians built their churches, and formed their faith, right about the same time that Copernicus wrote his book about the Earth revolving around the sun.
Our Unitarian ancestors already knew what it was like to say and believe things that could get them in trouble. One of those things was “Egy az Isten,” or “God is one.” When they—and we—say “God is one,” we’re saying that we don’t agree with the Christian doctrine that Jesus was God incarnate; we’re saying he was fully human. A lot of Unitarians in Transylvania—and elsewhere—died because they wouldn’t stop believing or saying that.
One of the villages in Transylvania—today, a part of Romania that’s ethnically Hungarian—is Oklánd.* Its Unitarian church is over 400 years old.
Like a lot of Transylvanian Unitarian churches, the church has a wooden ceiling that's divided into deep, square panels. Most of them have flowers or plants painted on them. But there's one very special ceiling panel: a sun surrounded by circling planets. It is a diagram of the Copernican solar system.
In Blessing the World,* Rebecca Parker writes, “Holy regard for knowledge is at the heart of our religious faith… At a time when religion was opposing science, our ancestors in the remote mountains and valleys of Transylvania built sanctuaries that affirmed the discoveries of science. They did so even when the dominant religious culture advocated ideologies that allowed no new revelation.”
Let us celebrate these gifts, which have been woven into our religious DNA: we belong to a tradition in which religion and science have never been forced apart, or asked each other to be silent.
We, as a people, encourage one another to explore and discover; to ask questions and declare that revelation is not sealed and will never be sealed; and to freely follow the call—whatever its source—that connects us most deeply to the world inside of us, and to the universe around us.
*The emphasis in "Oklánd" is on the first syllable; in Hungarian, as with many languages, the accent mark indicates the pronunciation of the vowel and not emphasis.
**In her essay "Love First," p. 147.
Excerpts from Eternal Mystery by Carol Meyer
May we open ourselves ever more fully to that Eternal Mystery which lures us onward toward life and creativity.
May we find the courage to live our faith, to speak our truth, and to strive together for a world where freedom abounds and justice truly does roll down like water.
May we know the fullness of love without fear, and the serenity of peace without turmoil.
May we hold one another in the deep and tender places with compassion, and may we grace one another by sharing our own vulnerabilities.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
"Hindu and Buddhist Ways of Knowing Truth: Why Believe?"
by Jack Donovan
My experience with Hinduism is thin: in high school, Emerson’s poem, “Brahma”, Thoreau’s references in Walden to the great wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita; in Peace Corps, Huston Smith’s scholarly book, The World Religions; in Vietnam working with refugees learning from the back-alley antique dealer who sold me this statue of Ganesh that Vietnam had once been Hindu; in graduate school for ministry, a course on Hindu sacred texts – especially the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita – and a course on Gandhi’s development of his satyagraha philosophy; in Gainesville a friendship with a Hindu-Jewish mixed family for whose son’s wedding I officiated about five years ago, getting educated in some of the ritual aspects of a Hindu wedding; and lastly, over the span of a few decades, a few other books– pretty thin.
But that surface suggests a depth and richness that I can only imagine with a little help by comparison to my own spiritual up-bringing as an Irish Roman Catholic with its quadrinity of gods if you count Mary. The seminary course on Hinduism, for example, exposed me to an understanding of religious faith that at first seemed different than the one I’d been raised with, but then corresponded. For example, with the word for faith – srdha. In Sanskrit, it means to rest your heart on – to trust a particular belief with your whole self, your very core. It need not be a matter of blind acceptance, but can be those beliefs you have discovered trustworthy for your life. Who knew that could be faith, the results of your own searching and testing of trustworthiness – and who knew that the English word creed and the Latin word credo have the same Indo-European language base as the Sanskrit srdha- heart core and rest.
When we talk about the Authority behind the religious beliefs of the world, I think it is helpful to remember that there is often an unseen depth of wisdom, experience, and tested tradition about which our knowledge may be quite thin. Echoing the Bhagavad Gita, Emerson says of the core god Brahman, “I am the doubter and the doubt; they reckon ill who leave me out.” A little doubt of our own views can be divine.
Earlier this week I was sitting in the balcony of the Mahaffey Center, looking down over the great span of varied musicians performing on the stage under the conductor’s eye and baton. I could see that without the conductor, this wonderful, together orchestra would be chaos.
And I thought to myself, This is a metaphor for Hindu culture. The notes of symphony music are written like inspired scripture and the musicians translate the inspiration into the music of the spheres. But they must attend to the conductor as their authority to stay in touch with how their individual performances sounds as a whole to the world – on key or off, on beat or off, on mood or off. Otherwise their goal is lost and they are without fulfillment.
The score and the conductor are the authority by which the musicians do their duty, or else.
In a Hindu culture, the society could be said to function like an orchestra. Each person has a part to play in the order of things so the world can function in harmony and fulfill its goals. The rules for caste, gender, and stage of life must be played out.
By what Authority are you and I to believe that or doubt it? Though the majority of people in India still live in the thousands of disparate villages across the nation, my understanding is that the beliefs about religious Authority are held pretty much in common: - Above the individual person is the communal people; - above the communal people are the priests and rulers; - above the priests and rulers are the scriptures, taught from memory and ritual over generations; - above the remembered teachings are the divine vibrations of the universe which the ancient seers who heard as teachings; - above the vibrations – or generating them – is ultimately the most high god, Brahman, the knower and the known, the revealer and the revelation.
The people are under a divinely ordained social and spiritual order in which each caste, gender, and age stratum has its duties to perform in support of the order of the universe. The mass of people have long accepted this order, at least given the distribution of power that has gone with it. Is that the way it is for American society? For a Unitarian Universalist church? For you and your personal beliefs?
Regarding some of the Hindu beliefs about Authority, you might ask whether there has been no liberation theology movement to challenge the distribution of wealth and power and authority, as there was in Latin America for a while in the 1960s and ‘70s. Could it be that the energy for such a challenge has been siphoned off for millennia into fulfilling the duty of removed ascetic self-liberation ordained for the latter half of a Hindu person’s life. Does that happen in American life?
Could you be at peace with such a hierarchy of religious and social authority? Could you accept this hierarchy’s Authority regarding your life-activating beliefs on the nature of the Creator and its creatures – or its teachings on how we creatures should live? Are there other Authorities in which you might rather trust for your beliefs? Who is your life symphony’s conductor?
You might say, “Me! I am my own boss!” But it seems to me we have many influences which become authorities over our beliefs, often without us being conscious of it – family, friends, teachers, employers, media, corporate advertising, culture, history - all added to our innate propensities and our developed preferences and our personal experiences of mind and heart.
Also we are imbued genetically with many influential needs and potentials - like survival, safety, security, belonging, love, productivity, esteem, and creativity. Each has a claim to some innate Authority. Each has influence as to what one finds acceptable or unacceptable for oneself or for others.
It seems to me that Hinduism, or at least the overall Vedic tradition, has had liberation theology movements from its earliest days that continue right up to Gandhi declaring untouchables to be “children of God”. Even in the Hindu depiction of the gods themselves there is a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” to use a key phrase from Latin American liberation theology. Witness Ganesh or Shiva – their unrealistic depictions (eg, an elephant head on a human body) tell the believer, Don’t take this literally; go deeper on your own into the life of life to find the truth of the symbol.
Another Vedic liberation theology movement was started some 2600 years ago. The Vedic liberator taught against the duties of caste, gender, life-stage, and theology. His name was Siddharta Gautama – also known as the Buddha, the Awakened One.
In Hinduism, all suffering comes from ignorance that all life is a unified whole. The Hindu solution is that through prayer and ritual and study and meditation we should give up the illusion of being separate selves and come to realize the divinity of our Inner Self as not separate from God. That is when the Authority of Lord Krishna takes effect, making practical the idea of devoting all we are and do to the divine, because it composes and rightly conducts us and all things in magnificent concert.
That is not a bad step up from some societal power holders asserting our obligation to perform in duty and servitude. But Buddha authored still another Vedic alternative, teaching that suffering fundamentally comes, not from misidentification with the ungodly, but from ignorance of impermanence and from obsession for permanent possession of our things, status, and relations. The solution according to Buddha is to give up the illusion of permanence and instead embrace and appreciate the awesome blissful nature of the flowing creative energy of life. Of this flow you are the conductor.
On what Authority does Buddhism hold and teach these beliefs? I think it is important to note that Buddha explicitly warned that these teachings are not grounded on divine authority or on the Authority of seers representing the divine or on the Authority of priests and rulers claiming to be heirs of shamanic power.
You heard the Buddha’s guidance on Authority in the Kalamas Sutra that Michael read a few minutes ago: in essence it is, Believe and live by what you learn from personal and shared experience and from due consideration of what leads to well-being and happiness and causes no harm. To his original five companions he advocated for honoring the authority of their own deep meditation on the life that runs deep deep within them, and which they must find for themselves. And for those questions beyond human observation and testing and concern, don’t bother because in them there’s neither benefit nor need.
My experience with Buddhist practice and life is a good bit more substantial than with Hindu practice and life. Again, similar reading experiences, but also living a year in Vietnam, a Buddhist country where I witnessed reverence and courage and persistence of extraordinary degree, training as a lay person at the Berkeley Zen Center during my years at the UU seminary, continuing my practice and reading and participation in longer retreats – they have all led to what Buddhism calls a gradual awakening that is still much in process. Life becomes the enactment of the Buddhist guidance, wherever you go, whatever you do, whether chopping wood or carrying water, do just that thing with total focus on the pure stream of your consciousness and with devotion to the service of the world - then you will be blessed.
In short, as a Buddhist teacher put it: “Pay attention; pay attention: pay attention.” To what? To the life within all life, starting here, in you.
I could stop with those words. But I’d really like to add just a bit more because perhaps you’d like a little more input before you would want accept or reject the sources of Authority that Buddhism suggests. The Buddhists say, Seek liberation and fulfillment bolstered by three helpers: the support of a Sangha, the model of the Buddha, and the teachings of the Dharma.
For help from the support of a Sangha or community, participate in a group of fellow seekers whose conduct and practice support and advance your own; For help from the model of the Buddha, hold in your mind and heart the images of the great buddhas as models until you have the mind and heart of a buddha; And for help from the teachings of the Dharma, pay careful attention to the dynamic of consciousness and life inside and outside of you so that you may turn to deep appreciation and caring for all that is.
The state of mind thus coming is, as the hymn says, the place just right that becomes your Authority for judging good or bad, right or wrong, true or false.
Remember the Zen master who slapped the monk who bowed after the master answered the question, “What is extraordinary?” Why the slap? There are many true answers because the question was a koan – a mind puzzle. There is no definitive answer to a koan – only answers that themselves demonstrate a liberated mind. So, quite likely, the slap was because the monk needed a sharp reminder to find his or her own answer, not try to get by on another person’s answer, not even a Zen master’s answer.
Yes, you must empty your cup of untested beliefs. But you do so in order to fill it up with tea you have grown and harvested and brewed yourself – then you taste your light and truth, your bliss and peace.
Well, now to close: So the Vedic tradition offers three beliefs about Religious Authority – that is, about who or what will be the conductor for your life. One, believe in the Authority of the ancient divine revelations which prescribe the ordained duties that hold the world together.
Or, two, believe in the Authority of the philosophers, perhaps divinely inspired, who advocated devoting your living, without selfish thoughts, to the divine oneness in everything, so all will be one in bliss.
Or, three, believe in the Authority in yourself gained by following the Buddhist eight-fold path to spiritual liberation, which path comes down, I would say, to paying deep attention to the Realities and Moralities of life, thereby discerning what works for well-being and happiness for you and all living beings and growing in courage and energy to help them all.
Are any of these ways for you? You have the gifts of mind and heart for adding what you learn from other sources to what you learn from your own experience, discovering new dimensions of fulfillment. Perhaps something important can be learned from all three Vedic approaches to Authority. Duty, Devotion, Discernment -- our potentials await our efforts.
HYMN #1003 Where Do We Come From
By Sara Moores Campbell
We receive fragments of holiness, glimpses of eternity, brief moment of insight. LEt us gather them up for the precious gifts that they are and, renewed by their grace, move boldly into the unknown.