A Call to Action, and Observations, by Grey Lee, Member, Standing Committee, First Parish Cambridge
July 17, 2016
- intro to self, and sermon topic
Hello, Good Morning. It is wonderful to see you all here! How marvelous to be together!
I’m Grey Lee. I live on the other side of the campus from here – on Wendell St near the Divinity School. I spend my days promoting green buildings and a sustainable built environment. I’m a generally gregarious person who enjoys learning about things. I like gardening, antique stuff and visiting far-off places. And, I love coming to First Parish! I’m here today to talk about Spiritual Journeys. You know what I say about Spiritual Journeys? Come on, it’ll be great!
I have been coming here for about ten years but only became a member about five years ago. I’m slow to engage. I have found coming to services a great thing – like belonging to a spiritual gymnasium where I can get a good workout, get some good “Churchin’” and grow over time my familiarity with the community, the Unitarian Universalist tradition, and my own inner life.
We all have special roles. We all have special commitments. Isn’t it amazing how each of us has a life story that has resulted in each of us taking on various roles and responsibilities and this morning that fabric has all come together with each of us being right here, right now? Wow! There are so many interesting stories in this sanctuary this morning. Thank you for your patience as I share a little of mine.
I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist in the suburbs – a cute town with a big old church, another “First Parish” where Sunday School included explorations of various faith traditions. It was also one of those few “Christian” UU congregations where there was a lot of Jesus, Bible, Lord’s Prayer and Christian holidays. Which I grew up enjoying. We went to other faith traditions’ houses of worship and I enjoyed that – I recall a mosque, a temple, and a quaker meeting. I remember at First Parish in Weston the kids would attend a formal “Chapel” service once a month. The Chapel was a dark little hall that felt like stepping into the middle ages – lots of carved wood and stone. I remember sitting dutifully listening to some biblical story and picking at the wicker weave of the seat. There was a lot of kicking the seat legs of the kids in front of you, and “Shhhhhh” from the churchladies who had volunteered to keep us in line (bless their hearts!)
I’m sharing a bit about about my story to give you all a sense of the journeys I’ve been on, and where I’m coming from. Maybe it can help you reflect on your story.
Something in me is exploratory. I have found a natural desire to connect with people who are different from me and to share those experiences with the people close to me. Maybe with more familiarity of superficial differences, we can realize more fundamental commonalities. I find myself wanting to “help the world” – as if that were possible. But trying to be of service and being a helpful person has led me into a lot of activities. I have also had the privilege to be a sort of mini-ambassador.
In high school I went to Brazil for a year as an exchange student. I just wanted to be somewhere else as a 16-year-old. I was in French class, not liking it, and hearing about an exchange program in France. Incidentally, the teacher was saying, we also have a program in Brazil… I knew nothing about the place. I followed up. They hadn’t had anyone participate in many years…well, long story short, four weeks later I was in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the start of the school year there. I went away, into a new realm, before the age of email and skyping. It was a separation from all that was familiar to me, painful in ways, but exhilarating in others. This was a formative experience. I thought I was just getting away from the difficulties and identity crisis of my teenage years; I found a new role and proclivity for diplomacy. I found confidence, agility, and a whole new language (portuguese). A certain energy from brazilian culture has been with me ever since.
For grad school I went to London for economics – wouldn’t understanding the workings of the world help me “save the planet?” Well, as it happens, I found Christmas Humphries: the buddhism introducer who perfectly bridged my anglophilia with buddhism, writing over a century ago. I still have a hand-transcribed note from one of his tomes pinned to a wall in my bedroom. It has an image: when one is shot by an arrow, you don’t start asking “who shot the arrow, what kind of arrowhead is it, who made that arrow;” you immediately get to work taking the arrow out of your flesh! Thus one should be earnest and forceful in seeking the truth. Make haste! Liberation is nigh! Is the message.
Here at First Parish, I hang out doing a variety of things, but I more often find myself at the Buddhist Meditation Practice Group on Tuesday nights with our teacher Joel Baehr. Just this week we explored the practice of compassion and decided that our emotions are just alarms going off – we can choose how to respond to them. What a delightful image! I love that little sangha on Tuesday nights – everyone is welcome to attend. Maybe not all of you at once but I know we would find a way to accommodate somehow.
Spiritual Journeys are going on all the time. Look at each of us here today! We have made the trek from a nice breakfast with the paper or some recent cool podcast to be here in this amazing Sanctuary for worship services. Wow! You motivated and made this happen. Congratulations. You are a successful spiritual journey-taker.
There are so many types of spiritual journeys. And here at First Parish, we have so many ways to explore together. Unitarian Universalism has a fundamental strength in accepting and encouraging each individual to pursue their spiritual development and expression based on what works for them. We have foundational principles, but we don’t imagine everyone is going to benefit from the same rituals or specific prayers – we have a shared framework which we can use to develop our own perspectives and processes.
- UUism as tradition of multiple spiritual pathways — explicate Church’s metaphor
I’m glad we introduced the fundamental image from UU minister Forrest Church about the Cathedral of the World. Consider this image of light – call it truth, or God, or fundamental logic or reason-for-it-all, streaming in from somewhere but through a variety of lenses, a variety of window shapes and colorings. (and I’m glad he also acknowledges the image of it streaming from us out into the world)
Each of these windows have been created by groups of people in various traditions, trying to understand the mysterious power of this greater force. Each is valid and useful, for some people. What an amazing world! And what a great potential, through Unitarian Universalism, to explore, embrace, and benefit from these many perspectives.
I was glad to have had an intro in UUism – where I knew there was more than one way to explain inexplicable things. And there were ways people could come together to absorb the gravity of a situation. To hold each other and not just recite the same old lines, but choose some appropriate poetry or reading to reflect upon. We could tap into the oh so many ways the light is streaming in through the windows. I read Rumi and Whitman and others. I watched documentaries about hinduism and greek mythology. I loved learning about these many varieties. These were my first spiritual journeys.
iii. Explaining the idea of multiple spiritual journeys
What are some spiritual journeys that you have taken? Think about it. There is a huge tradition of people going on pilgrimages to sacred places. People take meditation training and retreats. People practice devotional exercises like special singing or dancing. There are lots of ways to go on a journey that leads to clarity for something internal to you, to attain peace inside or with your spirit.
What is a spiritual journey?
There are two components of a spiritual journey: intentionality and grit. You need to really want to do it, and then you need to commit to go the distance.
Spiritual journeys can help one uncover a truth by taking the time to tune in and assess your internal workings. They can help you find resolution – the underlying commitments you have that can resolve apparent disharmony. They can give you the experience of offering gratitude for something. Sometimes they are a rite of passage – a knowing that one phase in your life has ended and another has begun. They can open up your eyes to see in new ways, and to have moments of intense connection to reality. They can help you to know what you are all about, and then how you can respond to the complexities of the world around you.
One of the things that hit me influentially in my formative years was Joseph Campbell, a scholar from the mid-20th century who explored mythology around the world. He posited that over and over in cultures distant in time and place, humans have spontaneously developed very similar mythological stories and created same archetypes to categorize the world and especially the inner world. It’s a marvelous (and that is one of his favorite words) theory and his writings take you on amazing adventures of the myths he recites, and his connecting explanations.
One of his major concepts is “The Hero’s Journey.” I am part of a cohort who entered Campbellism through the book “The Power of Myth.” This is a series of interviews between Bill Moyers and George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. Moyers wanted to help people tune in to Campbell and mythology in general. It was a popular book in the late 80’s. However, it was introduced to me by my history teacher, Mr. Williams, so I can assure you it was adequately oriented to a young mind like mine…Yes Star Wars is a simple tale that handily exemplifies Campbell’s “hero’s journey:” person is fine, something shakes him out of that, a discomfort, injustice, whatever, and he is compelled to address it, but must leave all that is familiar. He or she (in this case Luke Skywalker) confronts incredible challenges, finds incredible strengths, and brings back some boon to his home community. There are various epicyclical side stories and sub-tropes to this but it’s workable. A lot of mythology, many modern novels, a lot of celebrity pop stories, a lot of our own lives fit into this.
The notion of having some discomfort, something amiss, and then getting up and going to sort it out, going to find a remedy or to find in yourself a way of overcoming the discomfort or the challenge, is not really heroic, necessarily. It is quite common!
We are reminded on a daily basis the complexities and mysteries of our world. We are confronted daily with things that do not compute. Why did that horrible news story have to come to be? Why are the systems we live with so messed up? Why do so many bad things happen to good people? This should and does make us uncomfortable. We sit in front of the latest news and are shocked. We involuntarily jerk. We may cry. We are not okay with what is passing for normal.
Many of us do get up and work to address these injustices and work to right the wrongs. This is our way of being spiritual. It is an awesome pattern in Unitarian Universalism going back into many movements for justice. This will continue.
The work to mend the world is noble and I think we all support those efforts. We all have different ways of addressing the world around us. We all have different abilities and levels of attention to devote to different challenges. We all want to see the world whole.
- Why do we go on spiritual journeys? Why are they important? –
So, we do enter into some part of the “hero’s Journey” even if it’s not some hollywood epic way. We respond to discomfort or that sense of “something’s wrong” and motivate to change something. Quite often it is just something within us. Other times it is that “problem” “out there”. Sometimes it is to work on something within us to be better at addressing that thing beyond us. Other times we see it as purely an effort to make an intrinsically beneficial internal change. Sometimes, just to take a break and chill out.
We are each and all on some part of this journey toward wholeness. We are all on some kind of spiritual pathway, or spiritual journey. A fascinating thing for me is reconciling the hero’s journey with the buddhist notion of immediacy. There is no time. There is only now. How can you have a progressive (linear or not) journey when you only have the now? When you are already home…
The buddhist philosopher Alan Watts wrote, “No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.”
Consider This: every moment is a spiritual journey.
Some journeys are months or years long. Consider the pilgrimages. Consider the quests for the grail. Consider the years of meditation in the mountain cave.
But consider the moment you catch eyes with your loved one. With that old friend. With that new connection. With the waitperson. A moment into the eyes is a spiritual journey.
The key thing is intentionality.
When Watts suggest we “mustn’t forget to live our lives,” this is not to leave off any effort as I’ve been describing of transformation.. He is looking at the frenetic calls all around us to “get better” which assault us all day. Use this product, get another degree, listen to this podcast, have more to say at the next party…We are in a society that commercializes self improvement.
But spiritual journeys can’t be commercialized. Of course we can spend money on a retreat or a new book or a training. But the internal effort has no price. It is just within us. This is a still point, a balance that only you know.
And Watts is suggesting we live our lives not just progressing through to the hero’s journey’s resolution, but to embrace that as a single moment throughout our lives. We can live in a way more like that symphony than an argument building toward a conclusion. We can be the music.
Taking a breath. Wow. We are alive. How wonderful is that!
- Encourage each other to take a spiritual journey and support each other:
Thank you for joining me on this spiritual journey today. We are each other’s cast and characters on the stage of our lives.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all tried to be the best supporting role in each other’s hero’s journey? We could imagine each other as coaches or directors at the side of the stage helping each of us embrace our efforts to explore spirituality? Even though it is so private, we can help each other by giving support, making space, checking in, and just encouraging each other.
Wouldn’t that be fantastic?!
Let us live our lives intentionally. Let us take those moments to smell the flowers. Joseph Campbell suggests: People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive”
Let us feel that rapture. Let us find it in a little moment of recognition at social hour. Let us find it in the next meal we take. Let us find it in the big hike or the long pilgrimage. Let us find it in a deep breath. Let us find it right here, right now!
We could each support each other’s spiritual journeys by accompanying each other and supporting the intention to learn, to explore, to deepen our understanding of the complexities of the world and the world-beyond-this-world.
Come on, It’ll be great!
I look forward to sharing and encouraging your spiritual journeys. Thank you for taking this little journey this morning.