Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072
Children's Chapel: 10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
The World That Lies Beyond
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, January 4, 2004
We seem like children wandering by the shore,
Gathering pebbles colored by the wave;
While the great sea of truth, from sky to sky,
Stretches before us,
“Where for years, we had been denied the slightest, most ordinary surprise, life is now one huge surprise—and it is well worth it.”
The great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once posed the question this way: “Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside of me is not all of me. There’s something else divine, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the universal spirit. Don’t you feel that [too]?”
In our own day, more and more people are answering Solzhenitsyn’s question—“Don’t you feel that [too]?”-- with a definite “Yes!”
Something amazing is happening here, in our own day and age. Something very profound is afoot, something important to our collective consciousness, to the development of our predominant cultural and spiritual worldview. The postmodern world is bringing to birth a deep and shifting consciousness of a new view of reality.
More and more of us are acknowledging once again that we share this cosmos with spirits other than our own—and that our own spirits reach deeper than we ever imagined possible.
“The awareness of nonhuman spirits is fundamental to the religious experience of practically every tradition, maybe from the time we became human,” the physicist Rupert Sheldrake writes. “This may be the primordial ground of religious experience.” In all of the major religious traditions of our world, Dr. Sheldrake reminds us—Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, even in the radical monotheism of Islam—“there is the continuing presence of a multiplicity of spirits.”
“Yet,” as the theologian Matthew Fox continues, “we have [only] one moment in human history where these spirits were excommunicated, and that is… the modern era.” Only in the last few hundred years (about 300 years or so), Rev. Fox points out, have people in the Western world insisted on distancing and divorcing themselves from their relationship to the world of the spirits.
Is this supposed to be “spiritual progress”? Is this supposed to be a step up on the philosophical and cultural chain of being? No, Matthew Fox tells us, it’s not. Rather, he calls it a “rupture and perversion in human consciousness”, and he continues: “I think this helps to explain the price we have paid in terms of ecological disaster, war, and greed.”
The denial of the world that lies beyond—the banishment of the world of the spirits—the denial of our innate mysticism-- has spawned modern civilization’s radical anthropocentrism—our devout human-centeredness—which has given birth to the bloodiest age in the history of humankind.
So, perhaps it is well past time, at last, to call the spirits back to our culture, our churches, and our consciousness—and to cultivate our understanding of a universe far more dynamic and mysterious—and surprising!—than we have lulled ourselves into believing.
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that it is because of modern science that we have room for the spirits in our cosmological worldviews once again. As Rupert Sheldrake writes:
“In the Middle Ages, as in previous ages, it was generally believed that the heavens were alive, the whole cosmos was alive. The heavens were populated with innumerable conscious beings associated with the stars, the planets, and maybe the spaces in between. When people thought of God in heaven, they were not thinking of some vague metaphor or some psychological state; they were thinking of the sky.”
The scientific revolution of the Seventeenth Century helped us better to understand how the universe worked. But in so doing, it stripped the universe of its enchantment. The universe was mechanized; it became a machine rather than the home of God and angels. The heavens were secularized. Its mystery and wonder was sucked out, and stars and planets were no longer the homes of spirits, but just ordinary matter floating around in the void of space. Reality was divided up, and science—astronomy—got the (great big) UNIVERSE. Religion—spirituality—got the (tiny little) soul.
The soul was then relegated to be this tiny, little, seemingly ever-shrinking component of the individual human being—with less and less significance as the Western technological and industrial and economic machines grew bigger and bigger and bigger.
But now, in our own day, we have witnessed (and are witnessing) a scientific revolution of awesome proportions. New discoveries in evolutionary theory. physics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and cosmology are changing—expanding—revolutionizing—the way we look at the universe. In so doing, they are opening the doors of consciousness to the world that lies beyond.
The mechanized, strictly linear-rational worldview bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment is cranking to a halt, and recent scientific insights are leading us to a vision of a universe that is alive and changing.
Instead of living on an inanimate planet, a misty ball of rock hurtling through space, we can now think of ourselves as living at home, on our Mother, the Earth. And this is not just romanticized, speculative, fizzy-headed, spiritual wishful thinking. The Gaia hypothesis and other components of modern biology put into contemporary scientific form the ancient spiritual intuition that this Earth which is our home is a living being. And a living planet has plenty of room for living spirits.
Instead of a view of the universe as rigidly determined and regimented, with everything proceeding inexorably from inflexible laws of cause and effect, the cutting edge of science restores a world based on freedom, openness, and spontaneity, Quantum physics and chaos theory have liberated us from the idea that we live in a totally predictable universe. As one scientist has put it, “Through modern physics, materialism has transcended itself.” In this transcendence, there is plenty of room for the spirits to work and play among us.
Instead of the boastfulness and arrogance of the old science—of how it would soon know everything, and explain away all the mysteries of the past, present, and future, and unmask the very face of God, modern science teaches us the humility from which all true spirituality grows. Remember the words of Chet Raymo: “If we are sensible, we will be cautioned by [any] premature closure on nature’s ability to surprise us. Science has been impressively successful, but every accumulation of knowledge… is full of rabbit holes… Every star is a rabbit hole into another world.”
Astrophysics now points out to us that in spite of all of our centuries of searching and striving and scientific exploration, 90 to 99 percent of the cosmos is “dark matter”, utterly unknown to us at this point in time. Indeed, as St. Paul said, “for now we [still] see but in a mirror dimly.” We don’t know what this dark matter is. or what it does, or how it influences the ways things happen. “It is as if physics had uncovered the cosmic unconscious,” Rupert Sheldrake writes. That 90 to 99 percent of the cosmos we don’t know is, truly, the world that lies beyond this one we (think we) know so well.
Of course, finding meaning in this “dark matter” is also a matter of faith, of speculation. We don’t know—we can’t prove—whether this dark matter is a place where spirits roam, or merely dead air space. But I say blessed be science for giving our imaginations room to wander and wonder once again! Perhaps our spirituality can be a bridge between this material world and that which lies beyond. Of course, the particular ways in which we discern this world of the spirit will be largely determined by the cultural worldview we’ve inherited and internalized, whether consciously or not. We always apprehend the workings of the Spirit through the lens of our own experience and culture. But a deep spirituality—a deep faith—whatever form it takes—can form a cosmic connection with the world that lies beyond.
Modern sciences reminds us that there are other levels of consciousness in the universe besides our relatively limited everyday human consciousness. There are all kinds of channels of consciousness out there in the universe, and our little receivers here—the little cosmic radio or t.v. set or short wave that each of us is—is equipped to receive, under normal, day in, day out, circumstances, only one station at a time.
But the spirits have these ways of reminding us that there are other stations broadcasting out there. There are all kinds of spiritual flags that point towards other, deeper kinds of consciousness. Spirits have this way—at places like Lourdes and Fatima and Medjugore-- at mystical sites around the world-- when we are visited in our dreaming or in our waking hours by the presence of one we’ve loved and lost—in so many amazing ways—spirits have this way of raising their heads, and popping up like gophers out of their holes—and saying, “Look over here! Here I am! Look over here!”
If we’re open to those other states of consciousness, we may well be led toward amazing discoveries about ourselves and this greater reality of which we are part. As William Blake once wrote: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, humanity would see everything as it is, infinite.” And that includes seeing ourselves, and one another, as sons and daughters of God.
As Hamlet says: “There is more to life, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” The spirits can be our guides, pointing, perhaps, to deeper truth and deeper reality somewhere in the universe. They remind us that we know so much more than we think we do, that we need to trust our intuition, and listen to our inner voices. “Intuition is the highways upon which angels roam,” one person has said, and it is our angels which remind us that there is an artist, a co-creator, within each and every one of us, ready to bring to birth the new creations which are within us.
To discern the workings of the spirit in the midst of this magnificent creation is to be filled with profound awe and gratitude—deep spiritual thanksgiving-- for the wondrous gifts of grace we have received.
In this world, as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “We do the works that are of God, along with the holy angels.”
And, as Albert Einstein once said, “The most important goal in life is to awaken our sense of mystery and wonder, and keep it alive, through all the living of our days.”
To be alive—and to be open to life in all of its dimensions—is to know in our own hearts this transcending mystery and wonder.
Living as we do, in these early days of this postmodern age, we are truly blessed in some ways. No longer do we have to choose science or religion; body or spirit; Einstein or Aquinas; this world or the ones that lie beyond.
We can choose both. Indeed, perhaps we must choose both if we, and our planet, are to survive. We are living at a critical moment in the history of our race when we must choose to stop dividing ourselves among ourselves and discern those deeper connections which unite us all as one.
These connections go deeper than human-made laws and institutions; deeper than incidentals of race or nationality or orientation or religion. They go to the very Ground and Source of our Being. They transcend this world, and point toward the deeper world—and our deeper connections-- that lie beyond.
Perhaps it is in this deeper world of the Spirit—the deep darkness
of profound mystery; the brilliant light of love and compassion; the holy
moments of deep and radical silence and contemplation—that our new
consciousness of human being (of truly being human)
on this Earth will finally arise.