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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

Does God Believe in Us?

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, February 18, 2001

 

During a naval exercise, a new Ensign goes to the Bridge of the ship and announces to the Captain: “Captain, I have a message from the Admiral. I’ll take it immediately to decoding.”

The Captain replies, “No need to do that. Just read it to me.”

But the Ensign says, “I’m sorry, sir, but I really think it needs to be decoded.”

The Captain is getting a little impatient by now; he raises his voice a little, and says, “Ensign, just read the Admiral’s message, and that’s an order.”

So, as ordered, the Ensign reads the message from the Admiral: “Captain, that was the damn stupidest naval maneuver I’ve seen in my 40 years on the sea. Signed, the Admiral.”

Whereupon the Captain says, “You’re right, Ensign. Take that message to decoding immediately!”

That’s the way we might feel sometimes when we use the word “God” in a Unitarian Universalist church. Everyone else seems to know what the word means, but when it comes to us, things get a little more complicated. We think the message seems to be saying something more than it appears to.

“Do you believe in God?” seems like such an obvious question to most people-- and one with an obvious answer: According to Mr. Gallup, when asked that question, something over 99% of Americans answer in the affirmative. Yes, they say, of course they believe in God. But I would bet that that answer doesn’t come quite as easily for most of us.

“Do you believe in God?”-- for us, it’s a question which, at the very moment it leaves the asker’s tongue, yearns for clarification. Which god is it that we’re being asked if we believe in?

If someone were to ask me if I believed in the powers of the ancient Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, I’d have to say, no. Metaphorical powers, perhaps-- but actual supernatural powers? No, I don’t think so...

If someone were to ask me if I believed in the vain and vindictive tyrant God of Calvin (a God only a John Ashcroft or a Trent Lott could love), I’d answer even more quickly-- “Absolutely not!”

I’ve read somewhere of a cult which believes that John F. Kennedy was the messiah, and that after his assassination, he was assumed into heaven, and is now a god. Do I believe in the “god” of the Kennedy Worshippers? Of course not (and I didn’t even when I was still a Democrat, either).

When we are asked by someone “Do you believe in God?” then it seems to me, that as people who are serious about our religious beliefs, we are obligated to answer the question with a question: “Which God are you asking me if I believe in?”

From earliest times, our ancient ancestors have felt the need to believe in some kind of Ultimate Reality, some kind of eternal life force, some ground of being, sustaining and upholding all creation. Every culture, every civilization, has affirmed the existence of this Ultimate Reality-- and yet, has given it different attributes, different characteristics, and different names. So many different names... From time immemorial, we human ones have tried to articulate our own view of Ultimate Reality-- and how our human reality interacts with the Ultimate. In our own civilization, the most common name given to this Ultimate Reality has been, of course, God.

But it’s just not possible to list everything that people in our own day mean when they use the word “God”. I sympathize with people who say that “God” has become a meaningless term to them-- a kind of catchall for every sort of theological notion, good, bad, or indifferent.

Spurning the use of the word “God” is relatively easy. The very word has, inevitably perhaps, become so cluttered-- so amorphous-- so imprecise. But spurning our belief in that something usually thought of as God is-- or should be--much more difficult...

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, anchors his understanding of the word ‘God” in a mystical awareness of connection.

He writes: “In my best, most alive moments-- in my mystical moments-- I have a profound sense of belonging. At these moments I am aware of being truly at home in this universe. There is no longer any doubt in my mind that I belong to this Earth Household, in which each member belongs to all others-- bug to beavers, black-eyed Susans to black holes, quarks to quails, lightning to fireflies, humans to hyenas. To say yes to this limitless mutual belonging is love. When I speak of God, I mean this kind of love, this great yes to belonging.”

And, Brother David concludes, “How does God speak? ... in five languages: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. All the rest is interpretation.”

I know that there is something in my nature which makes we yearn to feel a solid foundation under my feet. As I exist within this vast universe, I yearn for a sense of security. I yearn for more than an understanding of the atomic and molecular structures that make up life. I want to feel connected to them-- and on an even deeper level. I don’t want just to know that the universe is vast; I want to feel cared for by the Cosmos. I want a sense not only that we care about Creation-- but also a sense that the Creation cares about me-- that he Creator, somehow, believes in me. Often, what I am yearning for is what the theologian Henry Nelson Wieman called a sense of “intimacy with the absolute”. But where can this sense come from?

The noted inventor Buckminster Fuller once tried explaining to an interviewer the deep sense he had that the true source of his own creativity and genius lay somehow beyond himself; that it came to him, somehow, from a deeper place in the universe. The interviewer then asked Fuller, “Well then, how do you get in touch with the universe?” To which Fuller replied, very directly, “[To get in touch with the universe] You must first get on the same frequency.”

We need to tune in to the “bigger picture”. We have to “wake, now, our senses, and hear the earth call”-- throw open wide the doors of our being and hear life speak to us in those five primordial languages-- sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.

We have to learn to see ourselves not as isolated beings any more, but as integral parts of a great creation beyond ourselves-- joined with all others in the great dance of life. Each one of us stands at the confluence of a whole myriad of relationships between ourselves and that which is beyond ourselves-- family, community, state, nation, world, universe. To deepen and enrich our lives, we need to take the time to turn in to the frequencies of each of these levels of relationship. And I think that it is our belief in a Higher Power-- our reliance on a Higher Power-- our relationship to a Higher Power-- that helps us “tune in” on the universal frequency which serves as the ground and support of all the others.

Fuller’s comments reminded me, of all things, of one of the characters in the “Bloom Country” comic strip. This character was named Banana 9000, Jr., and he was a personal computer with legs. One day, all of a sudden, Banana began to speak. And he was very pleased with himself, indeed. “I think, therefore I am,” he declared. “I AM!”. As he got more and more excited, he started to dance around the office. “I think! Therefore I am alive! Alive with life and thought and mind! Sweet consciousness! And immortal soul!”

But as Banana says these words-- “And immortal soul!”-- he jumps up, and accidentally pulls his plug out of its outlet. He falls to the ground, no longer thinking or feeling or experiencing, no longer alive.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like that computer sometimes. I think. I feel. I ponder the great questions of life. But unless I am “plugged in” to the Source of Life-- unless I am “in sync” with the ongoing processes of all creation-- then my strength eventually falters and my creativity wanes.

But the difference is that, unlike Banana 9000, we don’t have just one plug connecting us to life. We have hundreds-- thousands-- of connections, all tying us in with all that is. And the stronger those connections, the deeper our lives will be.

The great naturalist John Muir once wrote:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe... No particle is ever wasted or burns out, but eventually flows from use to use.”

And in contemplating what Earth looked like from outer space, Archibald MacLeish once wrote:

“To see the earth as we now see it, small and blue and beautiful on that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers and sisters on that bright loveliness in the unending night-- sisters and brothers who now see that we truly are sisters and brothers.”

It is important for us human beings to speculate on whether God exists or not. We are made to stretch our minds and ponder the great unknowables. But we know that we exist; we know that we are part of this creation. And because we know this, there are other great religious questions which we have to ask ourselves, as well-- questions which we can answer in the course of our day-to-day living. Questions like:

What aspects of life are we willing to live and die for?
What are our genuine priorities? Which gods do we really worship?
What is our attitude toward life? How do we really treat those with whom we share these lives we live?
How do we dignify life? How do we express our thanksgiving for the gift of life we have received?
How do we get from Sunday to Monday? How do we move from the darkness of night to the golden dawn of the new day?

These questions are all part of the ever-present religious challenge:

How shall we live as people who call ourselves religious?
How shall we live-- as human beings learning what it means to be spiritual? As spiritual beings learning what it means truly to be human?
Are we the kinds of people whom whatever gods that might exist could, indeed, believe in?

In his biographical work, For The Inward Journey, Howard Thurman writes of his early years growing up on the east coast of Florida:

“[One night] ...I walked along the beach of the Atlantic in the quiet stillness,” he writes. “I held my breath against the night and watched the stars etch their brightness on the face of the darkened canopy of the heavens. I had the sense that all things, the sand, the sea, the night and I, were one lung through which all of life breathed.”

Thurman’s words are echoed in those of the poet Robert Penn Warren:

All will be in vain unless...
...you can, motionless,
standing there,
Breathe with the rhythm of the stars.
You cannot, of course , see your own face, but you
know that it,
Lifted, is stripped to the bone by starlight.
This is happening.
This is happiness.

All will be in vain unless we learn to breathe with the rhythm of the stars:

Each atom proves our common journey,
Born as we were of dust and stars...
[Kenneth Patton]

In our humanity, then, we are made of the stuff of stars. Yet, in our humanity, we are also creatures whom the night surrounds. In our brokenness, our alienation, our loneliness, our despair, there is a tragic dimension to our human be-ing as well.

It is only in our sense of connectedness and interconnectedness-- with one another, with all that is, that this brokeness can be transcended.

On the most fundamental level, we are part of an interdependent web of all existence. We are part of the stars. We are part of each other. We are part of all that we have met. Even as we sit here in this room this morning, we have exchanged water vapor, the breath of life, with one another (so, if I give you my cold along with my wisdom, I’m really sorry).

As Matthew Fox reminds us:

“This is interdependence. To take a deep breath is to breathe in some of the breath that Jesus breathed on the cross-- so we are assured by [physicists]... Every square mile of soil on our earth contains particles from every other square mile of soil on the earth. So we are assured by [biologists].”

This is the interdependence we are called to live all of our days, and in all of our relationships:

“At last, when it seemed as though the tears were destined to go on forever, he stopped suddenly in a remote aisle where a shaft of spring sunlight fell from arched windows-- stopped and reached out his hand. ‘Hold to me,’ he said softly in his quaint English, ‘Hold to me. I am here.’” [Ardis Whitman]

We are one. And we are here for one another. We are connected to each other in ways we never ever dreamed possible.

As that sweet singer Jewel reminds us:

My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind...

In the end only kindness matters...

We are where the powers of live and caring in the universe ultimately come alive. The universe is our home. We are its children, its sons and daughter. Does God believe in us? Only if we believe in one another.

All will be in vain, unless we do. All will be in vain unless we learn to breathe-- together-- with the rhythm of the stars that gave us birth.

The beauty of this cosmos is so very astonishing. And never forgot for a moment that we are all part of that beauty. May we revel in it, rejoice in it, and be glad in it. And may we be glad of one another, as well.

Does God believe in us? Only if we believe in one another.


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