Wonder”

Worship Script 2


 Worship Script (2 of 4)

 Natural Wonders

OPENING WORDS

From Between God and Man by Rabbi Abraham Heschel 

The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe. It is a way of being in rapport with the mystery of all reality. The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence. Not only man; even inanimate things stand in a relation to the Creator. The secret of every being is the divine care and concern that are invested in it. Something sacred is at stake in every event. Awe is an intuition for the creaturely dignity of all things and their preciousness to God; a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something absolute. Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reference everywhere to Him who is beyond all things.

The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing stillness of the eternal.

 

HYMN #12 O Life That Maketh All Things New

 

FIRST READING

“I Believe in Nature” by Florence Emmons 

I believe in the orderly processes of the universe, which hold the planets in their orbits and control the activities of microscopic cells;

I believe in the pervading, impartial forces of nature through which destruction is made constructive;

I believe in the ever-changing beauty of the natural world, which brings joy and inspiration to many people;

I believe in the healing and restorative power of nature without which all living things would be in great jeopardy;

I believe in the profound lessons which nature teaches: lessons of struggle and adaptability, tenacity and purpose, endurance and growth, patience, balance, and the inevitability of cause and effect;

I believe in the hope and faith which nature gives to the observant through predictable, compensatory certainties: light after dark, warmth after cold, peaceful calm after lashing storm, and always the miracle of the sun, the rain, and the seed.

 

SECOND READING

“And In Wonder and Amazement I Sing” by Rabindranath Tagore 

The sky is full of the sun and the stars

The universe is full of life

Among all these I have found a place

And in wonder and amazement I sing.

The world is swayed

By eternity’s rushing tide

Rising and falling

I have felt its tug in my blood

Racing through my veins

And in wonder and amazement I sing.

While walking in the woodlands

With my feet I have touched the blades of grass

I have been startled by the flowers’ fragrance

They have all maddened my mind

The gifts of gladness and joy

Are strewn all around

And in wonder and amazement I sing.

I have pricked my ears

I have opened my eyes

I have bared my heart to the world

In the midst of the known

I have sought the unknown

And in wonder and amazement I sing.

 

HYMN #34 Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

“Spiritual connections to the universe for teens” by Michelle Richards 

Early adolescence is often a time when a child’s appreciation of the magic that younger children see everywhere in the world becomes squelched or outright ignored. Wide-eyed wonder about life and the universe isn’t “cool” and gaining the respect of their peers often becomes tantamount. 

By the time they have become teenagers, most children have already developed that ever-present internal critic that haunts adults. This can keep youth from being fully present in any moment, let alone experiencing the sacredness of life or a connection to the divine. 

Our job as parents, then, is to offer opportunities for our youth to remember that quiet time doesn’t have to mean being bored or even engaging in deep thinking. We can orchestrate moments that help them to reconnect to the extraordinary and reawaken what may seem like a sleeping sense of wonder. 

One of the best ways we can do this is through immersion in the natural world. It doesn’t have to be an expensive trip to the Grand Canyon or Badlands National Park. In fact, those places are so often so overrun with tourists that it may be more difficult to engulf yourself in the experience than it is at home. Taking a hike through a local woods, camping overnight in a natural space, or planting vegetables together in a community garden are wonderful ways to open up the possibilities of connection to one another and the greater universe. 

As you sit around the campfire or simply light a candle in your home after a hike in the woods, retell them our creation story—how millions of years of evolution have passed to create them and their generation, and now it is up to them to be the caretakers of the amazing world with which we have an everlasting connection. Remind them that they are a part of the universe and that they contain the same elements as the stars that were born during the Big Bang. Blow their minds with the science of physics; share theories of how time is relative, not fixed, and then watch them tune into the moment right before your eyes.

 

MEDITATION

From Love Letters to the Earth by Thich Nhat Hanh 

When we look into our own bodily formation, we see Mother Earth inside us, and so the whole universe is inside us, too. Once we have this insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication, real communion, with the Earth. This is the highest possible form of prayer.

To express our reverence for the Earth is not to deify her or believe she is any more sacred than ourselves. It is to love her, to take care of her and to take refuge in her. When we suffer, the Earth embraces us, accepts us, and restores our energy, making us strong and stable again. The relief that we seek is right under our feet and all around us. Much of our suffering can be healed if we realize this. If we understand our deep connection and relationship with the Earth, we will have enough love, strength, and awakening to look after ourselves and the Earth so that we both can thrive. 

(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 #187 It Sounds Along the Ages

 

BENEDICTION

The world is too beautiful to be praised by only one voice.

May you have the courage to sing your part.

The world is too broken to be healed by only one set of hands.

May you have the courage to use your gifts.

May you go in peace.

--Eric Williams