The Big Reveal

Presenter: 
Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 09/29/2013

This is the second of my monthly theme-based sermons for September, and this month, along with the theme, I’m also introducing you to what I hope are helpful ways to think about the year’s topics as they arise. Two weeks ago, I showed you the first of the two signs that I made to help you interpret the things I may be saying. Last time’s sign was “Apply Broadest Definition Here,” and I talked about how when I use religious terms like “spiritual” or “religious” or even “God”, you should know that I intend to use those terms with the broadest possible definition. My hope is that these broad definitions make room for everyone within them, enabling us to tackle these subjects in a useful but inclusive way.

This week I’m introducing my other sign, which will be handy for today’s sermon, wherein I’m planning to reveal all the truths of the universe.
It looks like this and says ["this is MY opinion" other side: "what’s yours?"]

I’m hoping to use this sign when I’m declaring a truth or two of my own, to help you and me remember that just because I have an opinion and I get the opportunity to share it with you here, that doesn’t make my opinion one that you must adopt. Our goal for these thematic months are to stretch all of our notions of Truth, yours and mine. The goal is to get new ideas, and to apply the things we’ve learned to our living so as to make our lives richer, more satisfying, and more useful for the world in which we live. As you already know, I’m NOT coming to this pulpit in order to tell you something that I expect you to swallow blindly or adopt automatically as truth, not unless it fits for you. As you already know, forcing opinions on others as Truth is not what UUs do.

That said…my sermon today is called The Big Reveal, and in it, I am going to tell you all the secrets of the universe. Or something like that. But before we get to that, I’m going to kvetch for just a few moments about Unitarian Universalism. You know, complain: I’m going to complain about our religion a little bit. In particular, I’m kvetching this week about Unitarian Universalism’s attachment to the notion of SEEKING as a spiritual practice.

You know, seeking. The Seeker’s Church, sometimes we think of ourselves. There’s a line of UU thinking that tells ourselves that we’ve freed ourselves from religions that have all the answers to life’s mysteries prepared for us, and we have now created a church where we mostly ask questions, where we wonder, where we collect ideas.

The Doubter’s Church, sometimes we think of ourselves, where we are free to wonder if anything we hear or believe is true, where we can uncover falsehoods and in the process, perhaps, arrive at a truth, such as there is one. We aren’t the Church of the Awesome Answer, as some are: We’re the Church of the Quantum Question. Our favorite punctuation mark is the question mark, far and away better than the explanation mark, or so we tell our kids in RE classes, anyway.

The Seeker’s Church says that we want to teach our people that asking questions is the best way to figure out what is true for each of us. Like Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “The secret of life is not in having all the answers, but in asking unanswerable questions in good company.”
Each of us who is asking deep questions like this, we tell ourselves, will arrive at a different answer, or maybe we won’t arrive at any answer, but we’ll make some friends along the way. All of those answers that each of us finds are valid, and having no answer is valid too, and we certainly aren’t going to fight over it, either way, because we’ve come to know and love each other, here in the Seeker’s Church.

The Seeker’s Church mentality has some very good aspects to it, especially if you come from a tradition where there is no room for variation or questions, and there are certainly congregations like that out there. And I certainly don’t want to complain about camaraderie, or our commitment to not fighting over theological questions.

But when we become the church of the question mark only, just the Seekers’ church, and we leave it there, I would argue we do a disservice to our members and followers. When we act as just the Seeker’s Church, and tell our members that they’re living spiritual lives when they endlessly look for a new truth, moving from one to the next, then I think we’re being simplistic and disingenuous. And when we tell them that never having an answer, never arriving anywhere, is perfectly fine, then we’re denying them a source of peace and inspiration that every person needs in what is often a difficult world.

I would argue [show sign] that the spiritual world is not made up of endless mysteries, an infinite assortment of truths, a unique one for every person. Nor is it impossible to discern a Truth at all. In contrast, I believe the spiritual world is made up of just a few Truths, applicable to all of us. Just a few of them, but certainly there. The spiritual world is made up of just a few Truths, with, in fact, endless numbers of ways to explore them.

And our job, your job and my job and the job of any fully alive human being, is to find the way to explore the Truth that makes the Truth the easiest for us to see and experience.

Deepak Chopra writes, “I just …find myself reluctant to use the word seeker….Seekers seem like hunters on a safari to capture the soul. The spiritual path,” Chopra says, “the spiritual path isn’t like that. The goal is within and ever present. Better to say that one is trying to uncover the true essence of the self.”

“…we know the difference between being awake and asleep, at least vaguely,” he goes on to say. “We know the difference between being awake and being asleep, and being awake feels better. It produces a better life.” [ Chopra, Deepak. The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. New York: Harmony Books, 2008. P. 182. ]

Rather than seeking, I think Chopra is saying, rather than seeking, we are simply trying to find ways to wake up to the reality that exists. The ways to wake up are many. The reality, or the Truths, I say, are simple and few.

This is good news. The Truths are simple, and once you’ve found them, you can move on from seeking, move on from waking to being awake. You can advance to the more complicated task of practicing those Truths, really living those Truths, rather than looking for them as if looking were a permanent condition. It is the practicing, the refining of your experience of those Truths, that is the true essence of a spiritual life. This experiencing of the Truths, the practicing of the Truths, is really what “living a spiritual life” means.

TS Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” We arrive at the same place because there isn’t really that far to go. In fact, you already know what the Truths are.

You do! You already know what the fundamental Truths to the universe are, and are completely poised and ready to begin to practice living them, if you haven’t started already. But in case you aren’t sure which of your truths are the important Universal ones, I’m going to remind you. There’s two of them, so I’ll reveal them one at a time so we have time to talk about each one.

Drumroll please, for the unveiling of the first Universal Truth. [roll….]

Universal Truth Number One: There is something fueling the universe that is infinitely vast, complex, old and deep. This something is bigger, more complicated, older and deeper than human beings are able to comprehend.

I’ll say it again. There is something fueling the universe that is infinitely vast, complex, old and deep. This something is bigger, more complicated, older and deeper than human beings are able to comprehend.

This statement is simply true. It is not my opinion; I don’t need the sign to make this statement. It’s just true.

Now, the many names you might call this thing that is fueling the universe, the name for the thing that is vast and complex and old and deep, those different names for the thing can vary immensely. You could quite easily say something like, “There are Natural Processes that caused the universe to come into being, creating all the things that we are and that we know and that we need, and is still at work even today.” And then you could go on to list those natural processes.

Or, you could quite easily say something like, “God caused the universe to come into being, creating all the things that we are and that we know and that we need, and is still at work even today.” And then you could go on to list those things that God did and does.

Or you could say something sort of mixing those two up.

In my opinion, as I’ve said many times before, this difference of description, this difference of naming, is a matter of semantics and nothing more. There are a trillion different names for what you call the thing that causes the universe to be the way it is. As a good UU, I’m not interested in fighting over names for the Truth.

As a spiritual leader, though, I am charged with telling you that the name of the thing doesn’t matter all that much, unless you find the particular name or description that makes the whole thing seem closer, more real, to you.

It is proximity to that thing that fuels the vast, complex, old and deep universe that will make the difference in your life. The thing that will cause your spiritual development to progress is your ability to draw closer to the Fueler, if you will, of the universe.

Let me be clear. When I say that something fuels the universe, I am not talking about a deity or even an intentional force, although you could use those names to describe it if that’s what works for you.

And when I say that proximity to that thing that fuels will lead to spiritual growth, will bring comfort, wisdom and peace to you – and it will – you can gain all that without any sort of belief in any personified creator – although a belief in a personified Creator fits too. But you can gain proximity to the Fueler of the universe without for a second believing that that Fueler is sentient, or self-aware, or benevolent, or intentional.

Just imagine yourself choosing to deeply experience a sunset, or a rainbow, or the birth of a child, rather than just passing these events by without notice. Imagine choosing to experience each of your breaths as the miracles that they are, always happening, always with you. Proximity to the thing that fuels our vast, complex, old and deep universe can be very, very simple, and opportunities to draw closer arise every day, every second.

All this being said, I will add in my opinion [sign], my way of naming the thing that fuels the universe. I believe that the nature of the thing that fuels the vast, complex, old and deep universe has something to do with what we humans also describe as Love. That is my belief, in part, because so many religions describe it that way, and it is also my belief because I have personally experienced the world that way.

Now, what we humans call love can be rather limited, even small sometimes. I LOVE avocados, for example, and flowers, and I love my parents, and I love my husband, and I love my children, and now I’m heading, I think, off in the basic direction of the love that I believe fuels the universe, but that Love is bigger than the sort of loving that I can do. The way the universe interacts with Love is so bright, is so intense, is so all encompassing, that it somehow leads to Life. The sort of massive Love so strong that it creates Life is something I can’t quite comprehend, and can’t quite replicate, but it feels to me like the thing that fuels the universe. So that’s my name, the one that I use to feel closer to the thing that fuels the universe…what’s yours,[other side of sign] and if you aren’t sure, what do you need to do to find out?

The second Truth is simpler. Drum roll…….

Universal Truth Number Two: Everything is connected.

Everything…Is….Connected.

Now, if you’ve spent too much time in certain circles, this Universal Truth might evince an eye roll or two. There are so many ways to elaborate on this truth, or pick it out and talk about the one part of it we want to talk about. But, eye roll or not, connection is not only the Truth of who we are and how we live, but it’s also the path to salvation, personally speaking, and spiritually speaking, and planetarily speaking.

Again, it’s so easy to name this Truth in different ways. You can take a more New Age route and talk about being connected on a spirit plane, able to see or manipulate each other’s thoughts or realities. Maybe we are all connected in a paranormal sense; I don’t really know.

You can also take the traditional UU route to talk about the ways in which we are connected. You can say that each of us affects the world by the way we interact with it and live in it, the things we buy and the mess we create and the ways in which we are able and willing to help each other. No man is an island, they say, and it’s absolutely true. None of us can get through a day without affecting or being affected by those around us. This connection matters in a practical sense, in a social justice and an environmental sense.

The connection matters in a spiritual sense as well, because it tells us how important every living thing is, and, especially, every person. None of us can be all that needs to be in order to make the world the best possible place. Each of us has different talents, and different preferences, and each of us has glaring failings. One by one, as islands, we’re not all that useful, and our differences make us fight with each other. But as a whole, we have everything we need to make everything work well for all of us. Because we are so connected, we are all needed, and the more we remember that, the easier it is to get along. Here’s the wisdom and peace rising up again from this Universal Truth. Connection is the reality, and it’s also the cure. Connection is the reality, and it’s also the cure. Because we are so connected, we are all needed, and the more we remember that, the easier it is to get along. That is True.

What to do with this Truth? Well, experiencing it is the most important part. Jump in and pay attention to how you are connected. Immerse yourself: think about ways you are connected with others that you hadn’t considered before. Spend a day listing the many ways that faraway things and people who don’t know you have helped you out. I know I love the guy who invented central heat, and I have no idea who that is.

If you want more connection, think about small and big ways to make that happen. Walk outside your door and make eye contact with someone, say hi. Appreciate every little thing you have or do that you didn’t make happen yourself. And if you did make something yourself, share it! There’s a trillion ways to experience connection, and a trillion more ways to make connection grow.
*
Our journey today has revealed the two Universal Truths. There is something fueling the universe that is infinitely vast, complex, old and deep. And everything is connected. See, it isn’t all that hard after all, right? Now all you have to do is remember to live it, live it and see it and appreciate it and foster it – and there lies the rub. But we’ll save that for another day.

To conclude, I’d like to offer a video meditation based on a comment made by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson. Please take a moment to get comfortable in your seats, place your feet on the floor and your hands in your laps. Breathe.

[Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU]