Psalm 139:1-12; I Corinthians 12:1-3, 11-13
The Rev. Tom Herbek
November 13, 2016
In the beautiful words of Psalm 139, we are reminded that God is always with us. And there are reminders of God’s presence in many places and many people. There is a need for awe in all of us, a need to see the presence of God’s spirit in our world. In October, there was an article in Parade magazine in the Sunday paper about “Awe”: Dr. Dacher Keltner of Univ. of Califonia, Berkeley, says:
People often talk about awe as seeing the Grand Canyon or meeting Nelson Mandela,” Keltner says. “But our studies show it also can be much more accessible – a friend is so generous you’re astounded, or you see a cool pattern of shadows and leaves.”
These scientists have rediscovered something that the Psalmist discovered a long time ago:
Awe binds us together. It’s a likely reason human beings are wired to feel awe, Keltner says: to get us to act in more collaborative ways. Facing a great vista-or a starry sky or a cathedral – we realize we’re a small part of something much larger. Our thinking shifts from me to we.
Awe helps us see things in new ways. Unlike fear which trips our “fight-or-flight” response, awe puts on the brakes and keeps us still and attentive, says Michelle Shiota, PhD. This “stop-and-think” phenomenon makes us more receptive to details and new information. No wonder Albert Einstein described feelings of awe as “the source of all true art and science.”
Awe makes us nicer – and happier. “Awe causes a kind of Be Here Now that seems to dissolve the self,” says social psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Irvine. It makes us act more generously, ethically and fairly.
We must open our eyes and our hearts to the presence of God all around us and in the diversity and openness of this church family. Without our differences, we are less than who we might be. Especially in this time in our lives, we must realize the beneficial results of our differences – in our church family and in our society. We have a duet to play together, not a solo that we play by ourselves. Mark Nepo tells a story about Mozart that I had never heard before:
In the midst of his waterfall of genius, Mozart composed a very unique piece of music called The Table Duet. He wrote one set of notes on a single page, which could be read and played from either direction, from top to bottom or bottom to top. Read from the top down, one tune was revealed, and if read from the opposite direction, the bottom up, another tune was revealed. With the single sheet of music placed flat between two facing pianos, one player would read the page as right-side up, while the other could read a different tune from what they perceived as right-side up. Yet the same notes read from opposite vantage points would create a duet when played together. Isn’t this the paradox of true relationship?
Isn’t life an endless flow of moments that move between us like notes on the same page? Don’t we experience the same things differently? Don’t I always in my innocence and in my adherence to my own perception play back what happens to you upside down? Don’t you in all sincerity play my joys and pains in a way that seems to reverse my intentions and reactions? Yet don’t we play the same events, thoughts, and feelings together?
Don’t we, despite our struggles to be understood or to be understanding, don’t we play The Table Duet? Don’t we, through love, eventually understand each other? Don’t we, through deep listening, turn noise into music? Don’t we, by adding our voice, complete each other’s story?
So who will live your life in relationship? If all we do is aim to please, we abdicate our capacity as a facing instrument and merely echo the stronger voice among us. Unable to withstand this struggle, many lovers either mirror their dominant partners or live alone. As in intimacy, so too in society: many citizens either abdicate their individuality by mirroring the wants of their culture or they withdraw into a self-imposed exile, living as a hidden warrior in a land of conformity.
Often, we experience our quests for personal truth and intimate attachment as opposing drives. For each human being, in pursuit of what it means to be alive, finds and climbs their mountain, again and again, like Moses, not sure what they’ll find going up or coming back down. Yet in this journey into consciousness, into experience, into meaning and back to where we live, in this endless sojourn of exploration and return lies the test of our human greatness. For the masters, in love and art, whoever you think they are, are such because they do not cease to climb and seldom fail to bring the climb home.
Yet, when we look around us and see the massive mountains, we sometimes become disheartened. The problems in our world can seem overwhelming at times. Asked how we can avoid giving up, Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently said: “As an old man, I can say: Start where you are, and realize that you are not meant on your own to resolve all of these massive problems. Do what you can. It seems so obvious. And you will be surprised, actually, at how it can get to be catching.”
He goes on to summarize something that both he and the Dalai Lama said in their recent weeklong meeting together, about our need to work together:
“What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” the Archbishop added, “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others. You can think about others who are in a similar situation or perhaps even in a worse situation, but who have survived, even thrived. It does help quite a lot to see yourself as part of a greater whole.” Once again, the path of joy is connection and the path of sorrow is separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face – together.
-The Book of Joy
There are so many conflicts and challenges that we all must face in life, but we must realize that all of us are connected, connected in ways that we cannot fathom at the moment, but that will be known to us in surprising ways.
There comes a time when we must give up the ways of childhood and youth and see with the eyes of love, the hearts of compassion, and the strength that comes from the surprising experience of awe. But in the duets of our life and of our society, let us remember what is present in both the joys and sorrows of life. Let us learn to let joy affect our sorrow so that we can get through the toughest parts of life, but let us also learn to let sorrow affect our joy so that we can learn to be compassionate to those who travel life’s journey around us.
When the challenges of life seem insurmountable, let us take heart and remember what we are called to do. Writer and Native American elder Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us that:
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.
I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
We may feel that we are not strong enough or smart enough or perfect enough or energetic enough to respond to the needs of people around us, but let us remember what Krista Tippett once wrote:
Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day none of them were simple, unsullied heroes in a storybook way. They were flawed human beings, who wrestled with demons in themselves as in the world outside.
But if I’ve learned anything, it is that goodness prevails not in the absence of reasons to despair but in spite of them. If we wait for clean heroes and dear choices and evidence on our side to act, we will wait forever. And my radio conversations teach me that people who bring light into the world wrench it out of darkness and contend openly with darkness all of their days.
For me, their goodness is more interesting, more genuinely inspiring, because of that reality. The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday don’t let despair have the last word. Nor do they close their eyes to its pictures, or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and . . .” And they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to act and live accordingly.
-Speaking of Faith
And a reminder from Joan Chittister: “It is the choice I make when unlimited choice is not an option that determines both what I do and what I am. It identifies not only what is in me but what I intend to become. Everything I choose is not the best choice I could have made, perhaps, but the way I deal with it is the choice that will define me in the end…. Life lies in adapting to choices that are not mine. It requires that I understand that life is not final until it ends.”
The choices we make, the duets we play together in compassionate action – even when we do not agree about everything – these are the things that define who we are.
And in both the tough times and the joyful times, God is still with us, from the deepest valley to the highest mountain. I offer my own paraphrase of something the prophet Isaiah said a long time ago:
Have-you not known? Have you not heard? Our God is still Lord. Our God does not faint or grow weary, and understands far more than we can conceive. To those who are so tired, God gives power, even when energetic youth are exhausted.
God will renew our strength. Our God will allow us to soar like eagles above all things. Our God will help us to run and have the energy to finish the tasks. And our God will give us the strength to walk- to just put one foot in front of the other- even when our bodies and minds and hearts are empty of strength.
No matter what life brings us, we will never be alone.
And in a compassionate church family, we will find that what Paul wrote is wonderfully true: And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.