Wonder Opens Us to… The Divine Within and Around Us

Worship Script (3 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

From The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 2 by Eknath Easwaran

 Sri Ramakrishna, who worshipped God as the Divine Mother, would sometimes break off in the middle of a sentence and tell his disciples, "Shh! Mother is coming, I can hear her anklets jingling." This is not hearing in the way we hear the jingling of coins or the tinkling of glasses; the Divine Mother is so real to him that he hears her in the very depths of his consciousness.

           

HYMN #20 "Be Thou My Vision"

 

FIRST READING

“Welcome Morning” by Anne Sexton

 There is joy 
in all: 
in the hair I brush each morning, 
in the Cannon towel, newly washed, 
that I rub my body with each morning, 
in the chapel of eggs I cook 
each morning, 
in the outcry from the kettle 
that heats my coffee 
each morning, 
in the spoon and the chair 
that cry "hello there, Anne" 
each morning, 
in the godhead of the table 
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon 
each morning. 
All this is God, 
right here in my pea-green house 
each morning 
and I mean, 
though often forget, 
to give thanks, 
to faint down by the kitchen table 
in a prayer of rejoicing 
as the holy birds at the kitchen window 
peck into their marriage of seeds. 
So while I think of it, 
let me paint a thank-you on my palm 
for this God, this laughter of the morning, 
lest it go unspoken. 
The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard, 
dies young.

 

SECOND READING

From Long Life by Mary Oliver

And we might, in our lives, have many thresholds, many houses to walk out from and view the stars, or to turn and go back for warmth and company. But the real one — the actual house not of beams and nails but of existence itself — is all of earth, with no door, no address separate from oceans or stars, or from pleasure or wretchedness either, or hope, or weakness, or greed.

How wonderful that the universe is beautiful in so many places and in so many ways. But also the universe is brisk and businesslike, and no doubt does not give its delicate landscapes or its thunderous displays of power, and perhaps perception, too, for our sakes or our improvement. Nevertheless, its intonations are the best tonics, if we would take them. For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over again in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.

HYMN #34 "Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire"

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

From Sparks of the Divine by Drew Leder

 The sheer ordinariness of things is our cataract. We view our day through a glaze of familiar tasks and objects. Ah yes, another Wednesday. Ah yes, another tree by the side of road, the ten thousandth we have seen and therefore no longer see at all . . . But there have been moments — we cannot deny them — when our world lit up as from a fire within. Perhaps it was the day we first fell in love; or went walking in a majestic forest; or found the solution that had so long eluded us to a problem that plagued our life. Maybe it was the time we took off on a vacation and the very expectation of novelty served as windshield wipers for the soul. Suddenly we are able to see afresh. We realize that beauty surrounds us. Hidden at the heart of things we find lessons and reconciliations. A holy spirit, we sense, pervades the world — this world, even with its Wednesdays.

 

MEDITATION

From The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life by Thomas Moore

 Life is full of cracks, windows, and doorways that allow us to glimpse the eternal that lies hidden behind the surfaces of the temporal. These glimpses may be momentary epiphanies, rare sensations of awe that come along unexpectedly. Often they're associated with nature, which can inspire awe in a thousand ways and at almost every turn in the road.

 (Pause) Blessed be.

 

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 that they 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.

 

SERMON

“Searching Among Stones”

by Robert Hardies, senior minister, All Souls Church, Unitarian, Washington, DC

The other day I found myself in the home of the president of my congregation. The board of trustees was having its annual retreat, welcoming new board members, setting priorities, etc. As a way to get to know one another better, each of us was asked to bring an object to share. Not just any old thing, but an object that was important to us, that revealed something about our spiritual lives, about our religious journey.

One member of the board, Steve, brought a stone and began by telling us that he is a scientist—specifically, a geologist, someone who studies stones. And as a scientist, he had always maintained a healthy skepticism when it came to matters religious. But one day, many years ago, Steve was out in Montana, studying the rocks out there, looking for clues to the geologic history of the area.

He was down in a valley, surrounded by mountains, digging through a bunch of rocks, when he rolled away some stones and found something remarkable. “Immediately,” he said, “I knew I’d found something special.” He knew it was special because the stone was smooth and polished; there aren’t a lot ways that stones get polished in nature. It was a stone that wasn’t native to the geology of the particular area. It had come from someplace else.

Now, Steve has a quiet way about him, but you could tell he was getting excited remembering the moment. So we asked him, “Steve, what’s so special about the stone?”

He drew himself up in his chair, his eyes got bright and he said, “It’s a gastrolith.” What ensued was an awkward moment in which Steve had that expectant look of a high school science teacher who has just revealed something of great excitement, but his students have all received that news with a blank stare.

After a pause, someone carefully asked, “What’s a gastrolith?”

Undeterred, Steve pushed forward. “A gastrolith,” he explained, “is a stone found in the stomach of reptiles and some birds that aids in the digestion of their food. It’s a little bit like the sand in a chicken’s gizzard. It helps them break down the food.”

Well, I remember looking at the stone and thinking to myself, “That would’ve had to come from a pretty big chicken!”

Anticipating our next question, Steve continued. He held up the stone and said, “This stone came from the stomach of a dinosaur.”

Well, now he had our attention. Now everyone wanted to learn more about this gastrolith and what kind of dinosaur it had been in.

“It’s hard to know,” Steve said. “A Brontosaurus, maybe. Probably a big dinosaur.”

“How old is it?” we wondered.

“Well, dinosaurs roamed the earth about 150 million years ago. So that’s when it was in a stomach. But the stone itself,” he said, “is probably 300 million years old.” The room was silent for a moment.

One board member said quietly, “Gee, that feels pretty close to eternity.” Eventually someone asked, “What’s the spiritual significance of the stone for you, Steve?”

“Well, when I discovered the stone,” he said, “it really set me to thinking. It made me ask over and over again, ‘What came before? What came before the dinosaur? What came before the stone?’ It was as though the stone put me in touch with an immense mystery that kept receding further and further into the past. It was an awe-filled experience. It was a turning point in my spiritual journey.”

Now, I’ll bet a lot of us have had an experience similar to Steve’s—a time when we unexpectedly bumped up against the mystery and grandeur of creation, the mystery and grandeur of life. When we were filled with the sense of being part of something so awesome, so large, so powerful, and so beautiful that we felt two things simultaneously. We felt small and insignificant up against this great mystery. Yet at the same time we felt strangely exalted and ennobled, because we experienced ourselves as a tiny part of that great mystery. And therefore we were heirs to its grandeur.

I remember when I moved to Portland, Oregon, just after I graduated from college. I had never been out West before. I’d never seen, in person, the mountains of the West. And I moved to Portland, in part, to experience those mountains because I had an intuitive sense that they had something to teach me. But I swear that it was cloudy the entire first month I lived in Portland. I never saw the mountains. I began to forget that they were the reason I’d moved there in the first place.

And then one day I woke up and finally the skies were clear. As I walked to work looking down at the sidewalk ahead of me, minding my own business, I happened to lift my eyes and see Mt. St. Helens for the first time, looming like a celestial palace over the city. I gazed at her trademark flat top, a reminder of the volcanic power within her that had torn 3000 feet of stone right off of her during her 1980 eruption. And right there on the sidewalk I felt a sense of wonder and awe, that sublime sense of being both insignificant and ennobled—part of something infinitely larger than myself, something so beautiful and so powerful that the only name I could give it that would even begin to do it justice...was God.

But I had a little problem to overcome. I grew up with a pretty clear sense of God as a sort of law-giving father-figure, an anthropomorphic being. And what I was now experiencing as God was something much less well defined, much more mysterious. Yet at the same time something much bigger than any God I’d grown up learning about.

And so I began to read. And I discovered that there were others who spoke of God less as a person and more as an immense mystery. I learned that medieval monks used to address God with the chant “O magnum mysterium.” O great mystery. Beyond our ability to comprehend. Powerful.Awe-inspiring.

I read modern theologians like Jewish mystic Martin Buber and German theologian Rudolph Otto, who called God, “Mysterium Tremendum.” (I’m not sure why they always use Latin. Maybe it adds to the aura of mystery.) Mysterium tremendum—tremendous mystery.

These folks formed a tradition that said God is most fundamentally a mystery—an immeasurable mystery that inspires awe, praise, fear, even, and always more questions. It’s a way of understanding God that always leads to more questions. After that, I grew to appreciate how God would remain a mystery. That all my questions wouldn’t be answered, and how my life might be richer for being able to live in that mystery.

 After he told us the story behind the gastrolith, Steve passed it around and I watched as each person in our small group received the stone with a certain reverence. No one could keep from rubbing its smooth surface in their hands, as if it were a magic lamp on whose polished surface the answers to our questions might be revealed. Everyone wanted personal contact with that mystery.

A problem with too much of religion today is that some people want to take the mystery out of God, to make God literal and concrete. They want to pretend that we can know, at every moment, God’s will, God’s intent, God’s laws and ways. And we’ve forgotten that God is, first and foremost, a great mystery. O Magnum Mysterium.

Many of us have walked away from God because we believed that the tidied-up and certain version of God was the only god available for us to embrace. We were led to believe that our doubts and our uncertainties about the nature of the Holy were heretical, that a questioning faith was somehow a lesser faith. We were taught that doubt was the opposite of faith. But that’s not true.

The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s certainty. Faith is a trust you feel even though you entertain doubts and questions. It’s an abiding sense of the possibility of God amid the mystery of God. Faith wouldn’t be faith without doubt and uncertainty.

Let me commend to you this God who is both known and unknown. Let us be assured that it is a valid religious calling to spend our lives amidst the mystery. Let us trust that such a religious life will indeed bear fruit and imbue our lives with richness and meaning and excitement. Let us rub the smooth stones of our earth and seek answers.

Let us live with the sense of hope and possibility that comes from never knowing what will be revealed when we go searching among the stones.

 

HYMN #95 "There is More Love Somewhere"

 

BENEDICTION

With our conviction that yet more love in this world is possible,

Let us move out into the week ahead,

Our hearts full, our minds alive,

With the desire to bring that love to all who need it.

Go in peace