Monday, December 7, 2015

Sermon: “Giving Cosmic Intent: Unpacking the Lord’s Prayer and Other Rituals”

Language. It's all about the word. And yet words are there only to describe the emotional state resulting from a thought package.  An idea.  A concept.  In our minds there are no words really.  Our thoughts come and go much too fast to be worded.  In our minds there are only experiences and concepts.  But how often do words fall short of describing the totality of our experience? What you think of when we think of the word ineffable?  Ineffable is a word we use to describe a concept that is indescribable.  It’s a very forgiving word.  It is a word we use to be accepting of our ignorance.  It’s a word of self-forgiveness in a world where we crave control and comprehension.  And categorization.

I propose that we consider something a bit forward-thinking today regarding the ineffable.  But I'd like to ask you a few questions first.  Do you believe in love?  Do you believe that IT exists?  Do you believe it is something you have experienced?   And do you have the ability to describe it?  What do you say to a child when they ask you what Love is?  We usually leave them with more questions than answers.  And sometimes even a few new questions for ourselves as well.  Because you can't describe love, you can only experience it. You can use adjectives to describe the emotional state of being in love, and of loving.  That you cannot describe the thing that makes you feel so strongly is itself a deep frustration sometimes.  Unless you forgive yourself a little bit for not having all the right words and allow for love to be mysterious, and mystical and, yes, indescribable, you spend all your time trying to conquer the description of love and no time experiencing it.  

A lot of us have a hard time also with loaded phrases like the “Holy Spirit.”  Even those who embrace it as term of their faith and have come to an understanding of what they themselves mean when they refer to it have differing opinions about what it means or the impact it makes on both the world and on them.  To me the term Holy Spirit it is one of several terms that ultimately describes "something that deeply binds us all" and is ineffable, something grand beyond description.  What Christianity names "Holy Spirit" is its term for the unnamable force that connects us all; if that’s not too much of an over-simplification of the theology.  The “interdependent web of all existence” referred to in the UU 7th Principle is, I believe, our attempt to describe the same matter-less substance actually that matters quite a lot.  

But in what other ways have we named this Force?  I believe it is Love.  Love itself is, in my opinion, the most common term for Holy Spirit.  Some might argue that love may infuse the Holy Spirit, but that the Holy Spirit is its own force.  Whatever you choose to name it, I believe that Love has substance.  Love has physics we have yet to learn how to describe or measure.  Love is truly ineffable, but also truly real.  And it is arguably the mayonnaise that binds humanity together.  Why not imagine the term Holy Spirit as an ancient metaphor used to describe this same sacred and powerful bond which occurs between people?  When thought of this way it allows for the term Love to have additional meaning and layers regarding its purpose, its identity, and its role within humanity. Many cultures refer to Love in different ways.  But none come close to accurately describing it.  And in this way, Love is very much just like God.  In fact, there is no distinction between the ineffable qualities of the concepts of God or Love.  They might even be words used to attempt describe the very same thing without our realizing it.  How many other concepts do we believe in together while arguing the ways we each choose to describe them?

We can experience Love, but we cannot wholly describe It.  We can only describe Its physical and emotional effects on us; we can’t actually describe It.  We can’t even perceive Love with any of our five senses and yet we nearly unanimously accept Its existence as self-evident.  We know It’s there. We know It impacts our lives every moment of the day and energetically cradles us as we sleep. Even our perceived lack of Love influences each moment of our lives according to how much Love we are capable for feeling for ourselves.  And biblically, that’s the prime directive: Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself.  

Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself.  But what is really being said here?  Is this a prophetic voice making an assumption that since you love yourself so much, just use that as your guide to how much you should love others, and God?  Sometimes we don’t really love ourselves very much.  Is that how much we are supposed to love others?  Does God think we are fully self-adoring? I don’t think so.

I think the phrase Love God and your neighbor as you love yourself is an admonition.  A caution that says: You can love something else only so far as you are willing or able to love yourself.  You will love God and your neighbor as you love yourself.  And no more.  But no less either.

Regarding the holiness of Love, holy refers to wholeness.  Love is fulfilling.  Love completes us. Love allows us to collaborate, cooperate, associate, and relate to one another.  When we feel It, we are able to accomplish things because of It and in Its name we do them.  When two or more gather in the name of Love, the world changes.  

I don’t say these things to convert anyone to anything, but to acknowledge our mutuality.  To show where we are the same.  We are not so different from one another.  We argue over semantics and details to the degree that they become loaded and ineffective to their purpose.  The responsibility of an examined faith is not only to see other ideas, but to also be brave enough to have a second look at the ones we were first given as well.

Our father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom
And the power,
And the glory forever.

In this age of non-compulsory church participation, we have a hard time with being told what to do regarding Spirit.  We don’t like to be ordered to believe something or to recite something.  And often we are taught the rote repetition of an idea or vow or pledge so early in our childhoods that we become indoctrinated into a practice before we have any say in the matter.  And when we become old enough to question it, we first often resent the fact that we were ever made to believe, made to recite, made to make promises we were not yet developed enough to understand.  And so the very first order of business is to ditch it all.  I know, I did it myself.

But there are little secrets hidden in some of these rituals.  There are clues to who we are as humans as well as who were were when they were first composed.  Not only that, but also of what we hoped to achieve by reciting them.

Our father which art in heaven.

Let’s talk about this whole notion of the Father in this context.  We have seen the effects of misogyny, the contempt for women in the world, the glass ceiling.  The brutally hard-won battles for womens’ right to vote, to have a voice.  We have assumed that much of it stems from having a patriarchal system forced upon us by men and their male deities as a way of maintaining their control.  But that’s not likely how it started, even though that is how it was used.  As unlikely an idea as it may seem, let’s separate the politics of the world from this concept for a moment.  Because we aren’t talking about a man or a male when we speak of the Father.  We are talking about the masculine divine. That’s very different from a man.  

What is the masculine divine?  What are the attributes of the masculine divine?  They are Builder, God, King, Priest, Warrior, Lover, Sage.

The feminine divine contains the complementary attributes to these.  Likewise the feminine divine hold attributes that are in balance with the masculine.  Where the masculine is the builder, the feminine is actually the creator.  To construct something is not the same as to create something. Where the masculine implies warrior in the face of conflict, the feminine encourages dialogue.

We each of us possess both.  Our psyches hold elements of each and inner peace is achieved when they are in balance with one another.  But when we wish to make change for ourselves or our world we tend to lean more heavily on one set of attributes than the other in order to create the balance we feel we need.

These descriptions of male and female are metaphorical, not literal.  God is not a man.  Whatever it is that sparked creation into existence as our legends proclaim was far more often than not viewed as a feminine attribute.  However it’s the masculine divine that whipped creation into shape.  It’s the masculine that took the raw materials of creation and built something with them.  And also that dispensed the discipline.  At a certain point in our human evolution we asked God to be our Father, to guide us in constructive and transformative ways that best reflect the feminine divine’s intention for Its creation.  In the Lord’s Prayer we see the evidence of us asking God to be firm, but loving with us.  

We make a few assumptions about the world of God in this prayer.  To say God which art in heaven, we are not saying that Heaven is God’s address.  We are saying that God exists in a heavenly state of being.   As opposed to a synonym or an antonym, the word heaven is a metonym.  Meaning when we take an attribute of something and call that something by its attribute rather than the thing itself.  
Like when we call a businessman a “suit.”  That’s a metonym.  Or when we call horse racing “the track.”  Heaven is not a thing.  It’s an attribute.  It’s an adjective describing a state of being.  And it’s the state of being that we have ascribed to God.  

In this prayer we are acknowledging that God exists in a state of perpetual love. Heaven.  Our father which art in heaven.  

We are choosing which divine aspects we feel we need to invoke in ourselves, according to our own cultural definitions of both masculinity and femininity, and also invoking the state of being in which they reside in order to accomplish a task.  We are asking to get from Point A to Point B.

We are asking the builder who exists in a state of love to become present in our actions.  Now that the feminine has done her job in creating existence, we are asking the “one who builds” to make something remarkable with the raw materials.  This in no way negates the feminine contribution.  This is asking to build on it.

And we see the Christian dharma, the Christian philosophy, throughout the poetry of the prayer.  In particular is forgiveness.  We know that the Judeo-Christian ethic, one of the five sources of Unitarian Universalism, is one of forgiveness as a life practice, not just a suggestion.  Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Give us the strength we need to break cycles of violence in our worlds.  Help us to stand tall and have courage so that we can tear down the walls we have built to separate us and transform them into storehouses and homes and schools and temples and hospitals.  It’s a prayer that uses the metaphor of physical strength and arduous construction to get our heads around the task we have set for ourselves in this world: Peace on Earth.

It says to the divine masculine within us: Help us to remember what is powerful and transformative in ourselves so that we may take the building blocks of the sacred feminine creation and transform the world with them.  The blessing of family and community are of the feminine divine.  If these are used along with integrity and love and forgiveness as the building materials, what might we build with them?

We are asking, through the voice of the masculine divine, for our world to become transformed by love. That all our needs be met. That we be kind to those who would do us harm.  As well as forgive the harm we have caused also.  It is through these intentions that we can break cycles of violence and create pockets of love in the world.  Islands of peace that expand in fits and starts.  Whose borders touch one another gently at first, but over time envelope the globe. Peace on Earth.

We are asking for courage as we engage with the struggle to tear down walls & make something new. The feminine divine created the bricks.  Human masculinity made the Berlin Wall.  And so we ask the masculine divine to help tear it down.  The feminine divine within us reminds us that the materials were hers first and created with better things in mind.  So we ask the masculine divine to build something better.  These are not necessarily truisms in the ultimate reality.  In my view God is not a separated entity.  Those allegories are ours alone.  But we use them to make sense of the ineffable. To break it down and unpack It so that we can get a sense of how the divine works inside us.  

So how do we do this in other rituals?  How might we extract the formula?  How might we reverse-engineer this ritual so as to better understand other ones?  Or craft our own dialogue with the ineffable?  We're trying to get our heads around asking for something that is beyond ourselves.  We use words that are meant to get us out of our heads for a moment and into the space of true creativity. Where the masculine and the feminine are completely informing and balancing and empowering one another toward the creation of a new world.

Oh great paternal essence,
which exists in an eternal state of love beyond our comprehension
Thank you for your existence and presence within us
May we know the same love on this Earth that we imagine to be your everyday world
May we be strong and sustained throughout or struggle
to transform this world from one of division to one of unity.
Because of all things in which we may believe, we believe in Love most.
And in the name of Love we pray.  Amen.

Given at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Fitchburg, Sunday December 6, 2015

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