March 18, 2018
Over the past several months I’ve finally gotten around to doing what I’d been telling myself I was going to do for the past several years, which is to write my “God Book.” It is a combination of spiritual autobiography, interwoven with some of the religious, theological, and philosophical conclusions I’ve come to over the course of the seasons of my life. Some of those conclusions you’ve heard me speak about in some of the sermons I’ve offered here. I hope to have the book out this summer.
My title is a straight steal from my departed friend and colleague, Rev. Forrest Church. You’ve heard me use it: “God is Not God’s Name.” And I do credit Forrest with the phrase. The subtitle is “A Journey Beyond Words.” The recurring motif, which, still once again, you’ve heard me address from this pulpit, is that the spiritual journey is really about seeking—and occasionally finding—a sacred or holy or divine dimension to life that resides within this natural world we inhabit. I offer that as alternative to seeking a relationship with a Supreme Being called “God.” The spiritual challenge of living, I suggest, is keeping ourselves open to visitations of the sacred or holy as they may come to us from sources that are ultimately unknown and that are beyond words.
Meeting that challenge of maintaining a stance of openness to the sacred, as I’ve discovered on countless occasions, isn’t always easy. Take last Tuesday night for example. Around 8:00 p.m. my wife and I ventured out into our driveway where there were these two huge mounds of snow, with—presumably—our cars somewhere underneath them. Just getting to those snow mounds called for a good deal of snow clearing before we could even start digging out the cars. And, of course, about half-way through our labors the snow-blower broke down, and we had to go up the street to borrow one from a neighbor who was an hour or so ahead of us in getting his driveway cleared.
There may have been a sacred beauty in the snow hanging on the branches of the trees in a picturesque wooded area that we can see from our home, but my openness to the sacred just wasn’t there at that moment. And instead of my being beyond words, I had plenty of words to say about that snow. They will not be repeated here. And that would be the case even if this were not a Multigenerational Service.
By the next day or so I’d gotten enough distance on that exhausting evening to be a little more reflective about it, to the point that I could even set out to compose this homily. What came to me was how, at times, challenging and difficult and frustrating it can be to arrive at the boundary of one of the seasons of our life as we begin to transition into the next one.
It is much like a New England winter-to-spring. Think about it: The other three changes of seasons in our part of the world here generally flow pretty well. Spring warms and blossoms into summer, summer cools into the delightful colors of fall, then the autumn colors fade and fall away as they give way to a time of gradually increasing cold, and then there is that pretty-looking snow. All well and good.
It’s that winter-to-spring transition that can try our spirits and our souls—to say nothing, at times, of our bodies. We get to the boundary of the winter-to-spring time of year with our minds and spirits ready to move ahead. We even get teased—make that we get set up—by warming temperatures like we had a few weeks ago. And then we get yanked back to winter coats and snow shovels and spinning tires on slippery streets. What had been beautiful, and even comforting in a cozy kind of way, a few months earlier becomes the dad-gummed white stuff that will not—doggone it—go away so that we can—doggone it!–move on. (How’s that for cleaning up the words?!)
As I re-read parts of this manuscript to my “God Book” I became aware of a similar kind of winter-to-spring-back-to-winter dynamic at work at some of the boundary markers I came to as one season of my life gave way to another. As my college days went forward I realized that the near-fundamentalist Protestant Christianity which had sustained and nurtured me for the first 18 years or so of my life would no longer do. I was at a boundary—looking for the next season with some excitement. And then I felt pulled back to security and comfort I known in the Baptist church in which I was raised. I also knew my relationship with my parents—my father especially—would be strained if I really pushed past the season I was in to the one that beckoned. In time I did move on, but during my time at that particular boundary it was push and pull, back and forth, for a while.
Some 10-15 years later my season in an even highly liberalized brand of Christianity began to play out. I arrived at another boundary marker. I had to face the possibility that my whole season in the ministry could be at an end. But wait—I spent four years of college and another four years of theological school to prepare for this profession and calling, followed by several years out in the field here. Can I really just walk away from it? So, the push and pull, the back and forth, in this situation found me exploring other career possibilities while still feeling a surprising attachment to this ministry thing I’d been doing for all of my adult life. As you can see, I ended up pushing past that boundary by becoming a UU minister—and it’s worked out pretty well.
There have been other seasons, and other boundaries between the seasons since then. I’ll leave it at these two for today. Some my seasonal moves flowed easily for me like the flowing of the three New England seasons to which I referred. Others had more of a winter-to-spring way about them.
I’m guessing that each of you have your own version, and can tell your own stories, of how some of the seasons of your lives have flowed well and easily from one into the other and your boundary crossings were smooth ones. And then there were probably other seasonal changes—other boundary crossings—that were difficult, maybe even painful, for you to navigate. You know your stories. I suggest you give them this kind of reflection when you can. It can be very instructive and quite enlightening.
I’ve one more place to go for now: Can you identify what has been your North Star, your Pole Star, the fixed place in your sky, in your universe, that you could look to for some sense of balance as your seasons went round and round? “Balance” is the Soul Matters theme for this month. I’m sure I’m far from alone in having the need for a pole star I can look upon as my seasons have come and gone.
There are several ways I could describe my personal pole star. One of them is found in a Bible verse I first heard way back in my first season. It’s where Jesus says to whoever he was delivering one of his homilies to: “Life is more than bread, and the body more than clothing.”
Once I’ve taken care of the basic necessities of life for myself, and later for my family, there is still this elusive, but still quite real, “more than.” It is this idea, this promise as I take it to be, that life is more than physical survival and care that has guided me through my life seasons. How I have come to understand and live out this “more than” dimension to life has changed markedly over the course of my life. But that pole star hope and promise that there is always more to be discovered and lived out has remained constant.
At this time when a reluctant, but—trust me—still dying winter pushes and pulls us back and forth over that winter/spring boundary, take a little time to think of what have been some of the seasonal boundaries in your life: Which ones did you glide through easily, and which ones were a struggle? And what was your fixed marker, your North Star, as you made those moves?
Think on these things—knowing that there will be a springtime.
March 18, 2018