This is a sermon I gave at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church on June 26, 2016.
Chapter I: AN UNEXPECTED PARTY
[I began by reading an extended section of the first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit up to the line until he had in fact apparently settled down immovably.]
During the month of June, we have been talking about REVELRY. We define revelry as boisterous festivity or wild, noisy merrymaking. Other words we use include celebration, carousing, rejoicing, and debauchery. Often associated with imbibing large amounts of alcohol, there is a strong element of disorder and abandon. Some might even call all this, chaos. June has traditionally been a month of revelry, being the most popular month for weddings, with all of their celebratory aspects. School lets out for the summer in many parts of the country (at least teachers and school staff are celebrating; parents, maybe not so much). The Summer Solstice happens in June, and many communities celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. If you’ve never been to a Pride celebration, they can get pretty wild.
Opposite chaos, we have, for lack of a better word, order. Order provides structure, stability, comfort, and security. It involves rules, lists, planning, and predictability. Take a look at the piece of paper you were given as you walked in today. Its main function is to let everyone know how we’re going to structure this hour we have together this morning. It lists the different activities we do, songs, prayers, movement, in a specific pattern. We call it an Order of Service. Order is what allows us to get things done, to see a project through to completion, to manage our lives.
Popular entertainment is full of characters that embody extremes of chaos and order. Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper is an example of someone so obsessed with structure that he literally cannot function if even a small element of chance is introduced into his routine. On the other hand, his friend Howard Wolowitz seems incapable of being serious about anything and is always getting himself into trouble because he doesn’t follow procedure in the lab. Other TV and movie franchises deal with this subject, but perhaps in a more meaningful way, their stories driven by characters seeking to strike a balance between the two extremes. To reference another of my favorite shows, the original Star Trek series features Mr. Spock, an alien character who approaches situations in a very logical, emotionless manner. Opposite Spock, we have … Dr. Leonard McCoy. (You thought I was going to say Captain Kirk, didn’t you?) McCoy is entirely driven by his emotions and he is very vocal about his opinion of Spock’s cold, calculating manner. Here’s where Jim Kirk comes in. Kirk is the one who often mediates between the two, and bring them together to solve whatever problem they’re having and save the ship. Kirk, with all of his foibles, represents balance.
And now, back to our friend, Bilbo Baggins. When we left left off, he had settled down … immovably. One morning, the wizard, Gandalf comes riding by, and promises to send Bilbo off on an adventure. The following afternoon, there is a knock on his door and the next thing our poor Bilbo knows is that his orderly existence is turned completely on its head. Much of the drama in the story comes from poor Bilbo trying to maintain a semblance of his structured lifestyle in the face of challenge after challenge. He finally comes into his own when he learns to embrace the chaos without sacrificing himself in the process. After a journey filled with wonder and terror, Bilbo returns home a much-changed person. He does experience some loss, but he gains so much more in the end.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a worship service at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville. That service, while following a definite structure contained a large amount of … revelry. The community, formed by musicians, artists, and “other creative types” developed as an alternative worship service for a United Methodist church, and later became a church on their own. It was very moving to see the joy in the folks gathered that morning as they sang and danced, laughed, and responded “Oh, Yeah!” (Jubilee!’s version of “Amen”). They’ve just published a book about their style of celebration, The Main Thing: Celebrating Creation & Spirituality at Jubilee!, a collection of essays written by community leaders interspersed with transcripts of a conversation between their minister, Howard Hanger and theologian Matthew Fox. In one of these conversations, the two discuss a newspaper review of Jubilee! that characterizes them as a “religious romper room.” Fox references Thomas Aquinas’ idea that contemplation is play: playing with wisdom, playing with Sophia, playing with God. They go on to discuss the dangers of embracing the extremes of play and order: all order leads to rigidity, inflexibility, a kind of fascism, while all play leads to … chaos. The challenge each of us faces is how to allow ourselves to embrace the chaos, how to give chaos a space within the order, to dance between order and chaos.
Jubilee’s! answer lies within a concept that Fox, a former Dominican priest, articulated in the 1970’s, creation spirituality. An ancient tradition, creation spirituality draws on the experiences, writings and rituals of all wisdom traditions, including indigenous cultures, eastern and western spiritualities and contemporary science, Creation Spirituality runs too deeply and broadly to be considered as ‘founded’ or invented’ by one person, or indeed, one tradition. Fox writes, “Honoring all of creation as Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality integrates the wisdom of Eastern and Western spirituality and global indigenous cultures, with the emerging scientific understanding of the universe, and the passion of creativity. It is both a tradition and a movement, celebrated by mystics and agents of social change from every age and culture. … Creation Spirituality is not a newly invented path, but for twentieth century Westerners it is a newly discovered path.”
Fox gives us these principles of Creation Spirituality. Though he writes from a Christian perspective, these principles are universal and, indeed, they sound very much like the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.
1)The universe is fundamentally a blessing. Our relationship with the Universe fills us with awe.
2) In Creation, God is both immanent and transcendent. This is panentheism which is not theism (God out there) and not atheism (no God anywhere). We experience that the Divine is in all things & all things are in the Divine.
3) God is as much Mother as Father, as much Child as Parent, as much God in mystery as the God in history, as much beyond all words and images as in all forms and beings. We are liberated from the need to cling to God in one form or one literal name.
4) In our lives, it is through the work of spiritual practice that we find our deep and true selves. Through the arts of meditation and silence we cultivate a clarity of mind and move beyond fear into compassion and community.
5) Our inner work can be understood as a four-fold journey involving:
– awe, delight, amazement (known as the Via Positiva)
– uncertainty, darkness, suffering, letting go (Via Negativa)
– birthing, creativity, passion (Via Creativa)
– justice, healing, celebration (Via Transformativa)
We weave through these paths like a spiral danced, not a ladder climbed.
6) Every one of us is a mystic. We can enter the mystical as much through beauty (Via Positiva) as through contemplation and suffering (Via Negativa). We are born full of wonder and can recover it at any age.
7) Every one of us is an artist. Whatever the expression of our creativity, it is our prayer and praise (Via Creativa).
8) Every one of us is a prophet. Our prophetic work is to interfere with all forms of injustice and that which interrupts authentic life (Via Transformativa).
9) Diversity is the nature of the Universe. We rejoice in and courageously honor the rich diversity within the Cosmos and expressed among individuals and across multiple cultures, religions and ancestral traditions.
10) The basic work of God is compassion and we, who are all original blessings and sons and daughters of the Divine, are called to compassion. We acknowledge our shared interdependence; we rejoice at one another’s joys and grieve at one another’s sorrows and labor to heal the causes of those sorrows.
11) There are many wells of faith and knowledge drawing from one underground river of Divine wisdom. The practice of honoring, learning and celebrating the wisdom collected from these wells is Deep Ecumenism. We respect and embrace the wisdom and oneness that arises from the diverse wells of all the sacred traditions of the world.
12) Ecological justice is essential for the sustainability of life on Earth. Ecology is the local expression of cosmology and so we commit to live in light of this value: to pass on the beauty and health of Creation to future generations.
There’s a song that’s popular among Unitarian Universalists that expresses these ideas perfectly, Holy Now by Peter Mayer. The sacred is all around, the divine spark is present everywhere, even in those dark places where there seems to be no hope. This belief that everything and everyone is somehow sacred is what enables us to keep coming here Sunday after Sunday. It is that fuel that powers our creative urges, be they creating works of art, advancing scientific discovery, or equipping our children to navigate a complex, and yes, chaotic, world. This is what drives our passion for social justice and keeps us at the front lines fighting to preserve this beautiful planet that is our home.
Life is uncertain, often messy, and definitely not always beautiful, but in the midst of the clutter and disarray, we can find beauty and hope. We can find a place for the chaos within the order. We can do this dance between order and chaos.
And now, let it be a dance we do, through the good times and the bad times, too. May we find the balance between order and chaos. May the divine spark within each of us become a blazing beacon of light and hope. Go now in joy, love, and peace. LET’S DANCE!!! [We danced out of the sanctuary while the band played Twist and Shout.]