Everyday Sacred Sermon

Everyday Sacred Sermon
UUCR
February 7th, 2016

MAURICE SENDAK HAD A VERY VIVID INSPIRATION FOR HIS “WILD THINGS.” THEY WERE THE ANGRY, FRIGHTENING RELATIVES HE EXPERIENCED AS A YOUNG CHILD. THEIR YELLOW TEETH, THE HAIR CURLING OUT OF THEIR NOSES, AND THEIR EXPLOSIVE RAGE FRIGHTENED AND REPULSED HIM. IT WASN’T UNTIL LATER IN HIS LIFE THAT HE WAS ABLE TO MAKE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEIR BRISTLING PERSONAS AND THEIR EXPERIENCE OF BEING HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. HIS MAGNIFICENT DRAWINGS ARE BASED ON SKETCHES THE YOUNG SENDAK MADE OF HIS RELATIVES WHEN HE WAS A BOY.

WHERE AND WHAT ARE THE WILD THINGS IN YOUR LIFE? THOSE UNSETTLING, SOMETIMES MAGNIFICENT, SOMETIMES FRIGHTENING PIECES OF LIFE THAT YOU STRUGGLE TO MAKE MEANING OF? BILL SCHULTZ, ONE OF THE GREAT LEADERS AND HUMANIST THINKERS IN OUR RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT SAYS: “IF NOTHING HUMAN WAS TRULY ALIEN TO THE RELIGIOUS, FOR EXAMPLE, THEN WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF ALL THE HUMAN EXPERIENCES WHOSE MEANINGS COULD NOT BE COMPLETELY CAPTURED IN SCIENTIFIC TERMS—DREAMS, FOR EXAMPLE, EMOTIONS, RELIGIOUS ASPIRATION, WANTON CRUELTY?”

I READ “WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE” OVER AND OVER AGAIN TO MY CHILDREN. WE ALSO READ SENDAK’S OFTEN BANNED BOOK “IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN” WHERE THE BAKERS WHO MERRILY BAKE THROUGH THE NIGHT WEAR TINY OLIVER HARDY MUSTACHES AND KEEP THE YOUNG HERO MICKEY (WHO IS COMPLETELY NAKED AND ANATOMICALLY CORRECT THROUGHOUT) PAINFULLY AWAKE WITH THEIR LOUD NOISES.

WILD THINGS CAN COME IN THE NIGHT, DON’T THEY? THEY COME TO US IN THAT LIMINAL, BORDERLAND SPACE BETWEEN REASSURING “NORMAL” REALITY” AND MYSTERY. AND THEY HIT US LIKE A TON OF BRICKS. HOW DO WE MAKE MEANING OF ALL THIS?

MY GIRLS AND I ALWAYS LOVED IT WHEN MAX MAKES IT SAFELY BACK TO HIS BED AND LO AND BEHOLD, A HOT SUPPER IS WAITING FOR HIM.

WHERE THERE IS A HOT SUPPER, OR A SECOND SUNDAY POTLUCK, WE KNOW IT IS ALL GOING TO BE OK.

HOME IS WHERE WE RETURN WHEN WE GET LONELY, AFTER WE HAVE STARED THE WILD THINGS DOWN. HOME IS WHERE SOMEONE HAS MADE US A HOT MEAL AND PUT CLEAN SHEETS ON OUR BED. WE CAN KEEP THE MONSTERS AT BAY WHEN WE HAVE COMMUNITY TO COME BACK TO.

HERE’S WHERE I AM HEADED WITH YOU TODAY. I’M GOING TO SUGGEST TO YOU THAT BEFORE WE COME HOME, WE HAVE TO EXPERIENCE THE WILD RUMPUS. AND I’M GOING TO SUGGEST THAT THE “WILD THINGS” ARE SACRED. THE “WILD RUMPUS” IS SACRED. IT IS EVERYDAY SACRED, BECAUSE IT CAN HAPPEN AT ANY MOMENT. THAT MOMENT WHEN WE LOOK THOSE CREATURES IN THEIR CUNNING YELLOW EYES AND DANCE WITH THEM – WELL, THAT MOMENT IS THE ESSENCE OF OUR FULLEST HUMANITY. IT IS PROFOUNDLY SACRED. AND OUR COMING HOME INTO COMMUNITY IS SACRED TOO.

WHAT DOES THE WORD “SACRED” MEAN? AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN OR NOT MEAN FOR US, AS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS? IT COMES FROM THE LATIN WORDS SACRUM AND SACER – THAT WHICH IS IN THE REALM OF THE GODS, AND SOMETHING THAT IS SET APART, PROTECTED – SOMETHING THAT IS WORTHY OF REVERENCE.

WE GATHER THIS MORNING IN OUR SANCTUARY – VIRTUALLY AND PHYSICALLY. A PLACE SET APART FOR REVERENCE. WE DON’T DRINK OUR COFFEE IN HERE. WE DON’T GENERALLY HAVE OUR BUSINESS MEETINGS IN HERE. WE SEEM TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS SPACE HAS DIFFERENT RULES.

IN THE SAME WAY, ONE MIGHT SAY THAT OUR NATIONAL PARKS ARE SACRED SPACES. THE NOTION OF DRILLING FOR OIL IN A NATURE PRESERVE, OR CUTTING DOWN TREES IN THE REDWOOD FOREST FEELS LIKE A VIOLATION. BECAUSE THESE ARE SPACES WHERE WE HAVE COLLECTIVELY RECOGNIZED THAT THERE EXISTS SOMETHING OF ULTIMATE VALUE. SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL, SOMETHING OUTSIDE OF HUMAN CONTROL. WE CAN HARM THOSE SPACES, BUT WE CANNOT REPLICATE THEM.

—– GOOGLE BOOKS DOES A VERY INTERESTING THING (THIS IS WHY GOOGLE SECRETLY RUNS THE WORLD) IT GRAPHS THE APPEARANCE OF CERTAIN WORDS IN BOOKS OVER TIME. I CERTAINLY CAN’T VOUCH FOR THEIR METHODOLOGY OR EVEN EXPLAIN TO YOU PRECISELY HOW THIS GOOGLE MAGIC IS DONE, BUT I CAN TELL YOU THIS. IN THE YEAR 1800, THE USE OF THE WORD “SACRED” BEGAN TO CLIMB, REACHING ITS HIGHEST POINT IN 1820. THESE WERE THE YEARS OF THE SECOND GREAT REVIVALIST MOVEMENT IN THE YOUNG UNITED STATES, AND THE YEARS OF THE MOST HEATED UNITARIAN CONTROVERSY. THEN THE USE OF THE WORD “SACRED” BEGAN TO DECLINE. IT HIT A LOW IN THE EARLY 1940S, DURING WORLD WAR TWO. IT BOUNCED BACK A LITTLE BIT AND PLUNGED AGAIN TO A NEW LOW IN THE EARLY 1980S – THE ERA OF RONALD REAGAN, THE HEYDAY OF THE MORAL MAJORITY, AND THE EMERGENCE OF WALL STREET. SINCE THEN IT HAS BEEN STEADILY RISING AGAIN. INTERESTING ISN’T IT? OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH RELIGIOUS LANGUAGE EBBS AND FLOWS.

OUR RELIGIOUS TRADITION DOES NOT DICTATE TO US THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION OF ULTIMATE MEANING. QUITE THE OPPOSITE. IT INVITES US TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR OURSELVES. I AM A LIFELONG SEEKER. AND HERE’S WHAT I HAVE LEARNED. BEFORE I TRY TO MAKE RATIONAL DECISIONS ABOUT ULTIMATE TRUTH OR MEANING, I HAVE TO ALLOW MYSELF TO SIMPLY EXPERIENCE THE SACRED. JUST EXPERIENCE IT. LIKE MAX. OR SUE BENDER IN HER CLAUSTROPHOBIC SWEAT LODGE. BENDER WENT LOOKING FOR A PARTICULAR EXPERIENCE. SHE WASN’T PLANNING TO BE SCARED OUT OF HER MIND. IF SHE’D HAD THE PHYSICAL STRENGTH TO CRAWL AWAY FROM IT, SHE WOULD HAVE. BUT CIRCUMSTANCES FORCED HER TO STAY WITH THE EXPERIENCE. AND HER KNAPSACK GOT LIGHTER. FOR SEVERAL YEARS NOW, I HAVE STOPPED COMPULSIVELY TAKING PICTURES OF BEAUTIFUL OR WONDERFUL OR SACRED THNGS. BECAUSE TAKING A PICTURE PREVENTS ME FROM STAYING WITHIN THE EXPERIENCE.

THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF AUSTRALIA PRACTICE WHAT THEY CALL “THE DREAMING.” IT IS A SACRED EXPERIENCE ACROSS THE BOUNDARIES OF HUNDREDS OF INDIGENOUS TRIBAL GROUPS AND MORE THAN 3-THOUSAND TRIBAL LANGUAGES. IN SOME WAYS THESE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE SOUND EXACTLY LIKE US UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS WHEN THEY DESCRIBE THEIR “DREAMING.” EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS HER OR HIS OWN UNIQUE DREAMING EXPERIENCE. SOUND FAMILIAR? ONE LEADER SAYS THAT IF YOU SPEAK WITH 100 INDIGENOUS PERSONS, YOU WILL HEAR 100 DIFFERENT EXPLANATIONS OF THE DREAMING. ISN’T THAT ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL?

HE ALSO EXPLAINS THAT OUR CONCEPT OF DREAMING DOESN’T ADEQUATELY DESCRIBE THIS EXPERIENCE. IT IS OUT OF TIME AND OUT OF SPACE. IT CONNECTS TO THE ANCESTORS AND TO THE FUTURE. IT CONNECTS TO CREATION STORIES AND IT CONNECTS TO THE EARTH, FROM WHICH WE COME AND TO WHICH WE WILL RETURN. THE WORD “SACRED” DOESN’T ADEQUATELY DESCRIBE THE DEPTH OF HUMAN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE EITHER, DOES IT? MOST OF OUR LANGUAGE DOES LITTLE MORE THAN POINT TO WHAT WE WANT TO DESCRIBE. IT IS WHAT A PHOTO DOES TO THE GRAND CANYON.

ULTIMATE MEANING IS NOT SIMPLY A DECISION WE MAKE AFTER CAREFUL CONSIDERATION OF ALL THE FACTS. OUR GRASP OF ULTIMATE MEANING IS FORGED IN THE MESSINESS OF ALL OF OUR HUMAN EXPERIENCE, ESPECIALLY THAT SPACE THAT HAS NO EASY NAME.

THE SACRED IS EVERYDAY BECAUSE IT CAN HAPPEN AT ANY MOMENT. WE CAN’T FORCE IT. BUT WE CAN BE OPEN TO IT AND ALLOW OURSELVS TO EXPERIENCE IT WHEN IT APPEARS.

WE CAN INVITE IT, WAIT FOR IT, PREPARE FOR IT, YEARN FOR IT AND EVEN EXPECT IT, OR IGNORE IT FOR THAT MATTER. BUT IT’S GOING TO COME IN ITS OWN TIME AND ITS OWN PLACE AND IT JUST MAY SHOCK THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF US. IT JUST MAY MAKE US TREMBLE WITH GRATITUDE AND JOY.

SCHULTZ SAYS IT SO BEAUTIFULLY: “IT IS NOT PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT TO ME ANYMORE WHETHER I OR ANYONE ELSE USES “GOD TALK.” WHAT IS OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE IS THAT I LIVE MY LIFE IN A POSTURE OF GRATITUDE—THAT I RECOGNIZE MY EXISTENCE AND, INDEED, BEING ITSELF, AS AN UNACCOUNTABLE BLESSING, A GIFT OF GRACE. SOMETIMES, IT IS HELPFUL TO CALL THE SOURCE OR FACT OF THAT GRACE GOD AND SOMETIMES NOT. BUT WHAT IS ALWAYS HELPFUL AND ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY IS TO LOOK KINDLY ON THE WORLD, TO BE BOLD IN PURSUIT OF ITS REPAIR, AND TO BE COMFORTABLE IN THE EMBRACE OF ITS SPLENDOR. I KNOW NO BETTER TERM FOR WHAT I SEEK THAN AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE HOLY.”

WHAT IS YOUR UNIQUE DREAMING EXPERIENCE? WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THE HOLY TOOK YOUR BREATH AWAY?

AMEN. ASE. AND BLESSED BE.