Monday, February 9, 2015

A Way of Life for Seekers

Sweet dreams are made of this.  Who am I to disagree?  Travel the world and the seven seas.  Everybody’s looking for something.  Those words are from a song written by Annie Lennox, the lead in a British pop duo. If you attend our Vesper’s service tomorrow evening you will hear more of Annie Lennox.  The lyrics lead us to a truth that every living thing is searching for something to fulfill itself. The spiritual teacher Shaw Readster asks us, “Can we see how, in one form or another, everything in creation longs to touch and be touched?  Flowers and trees stretch their leaves and limbs up to the sun, just as it reaches down to touch them.  Fields of grain summon small birds to carry away their seeds; every breeze searches for something to move.  Raindrops rush down to slake the thirst of a parched earth.”  As Unitarian Universalists we affirm our Seven Principles. Our fourth  principle grants us the right to be a seeker, “A free and responsible search for Truth and Meaning.” We are indeed seekers who join every other living thing in our search for fulfillment.

I’ve been a pilgrim, a seeker, on long journeys. The most significant was my call to the Unitarian Universalist ministry.  I had been a leader in non-profit organizations for over 25 years and was quite successful.  I had worked for major players in the non-profit world in New York and Massachusetts.  I had easily moved up the ladder in any organization I worked for.  There was one problem.  My ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.  Even though I was experiencing the success, the benefits, the accolades of my work I was dissatisfied.

Richard has spent many hours trying to understand why I was never happy with what I was doing.  I spent many hours asking what was wrong with me and wondering if I would ever find what I was meant to be doing, searching for that fulfillment. During that time I was also the Director of Religious Education for a congregation in Massachusetts.  Again, it was a successful program, we experienced major growth and organization, yet I still wasn’t fulfilled.  In New England religious education for UU children and youth happens in the basement of the church.  When I first arrived here you may have heard me talk about the Religious Education program as “downstairs.”  Late one Saturday evening I was preparing for the lessons the next day.  I was surrounded by glue sticks, curriculum, likely had glitter head to toe, and something changed.  In that moment I experienced revelation. The nagging I had felt for years which I was labeling chronic discontent was actually seeking.  In the basement of a church, sitting alone, I was called to ministry.  I found what I was seeking and the nagging discontent took leave.  I once asked Richard what he thought of all this and he told me that my ministry was the only time he had seen me truly happy, satisfied.  As a pilgrim, a seeker, I was relieved, anxiety and discontent removed.  I am fulfilled by this call, this work.
The hidden nature of almost all that we do is the direct, but unseen, effect of that one great unconscious desire to search out what we believe will complete us.  We do experience contentment as seekers, but isn’t it often temporary?  Readster tells us, “Our reward may be a momentary sense of fulfillment that, in most cases, passes from sight as soon as do the temporary conditions that provided it for us.”  We then return to our search.  What are we to do?  Where are we to find a solution to that seemingly inescapable dilemma?

Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, tells us that if we wish to bring an end to the cycle of our discontent, then we must “find the antidote in the venom!”  Honestly, I spend a lot of time trying to understand what the heck Rumi was talking about.  I adore his poetry but sometimes in bounces off me.  Find the antidote in the venom.  Whenever we dare to stand in the light of some unwanted truth we might feel powerless to change ourselves and the world.  We understand that our present situation and choices cannot lead us to freedom and understand our present choices are secretly what is holding us captive. Venom.  In the same moment we see what doesn’t work and gain the understanding that if we are to succeed in our search for wholeness we require a new and higher order of self-knowledge.  Antidote.  To whom and to what do Unitarian Universalists turn to in our search for wholeness and understanding that our way of life, our way of living of being in the world will transform other lives?

When you need a place that feeds the hungry, clothes the poor, stands beside the immigrant, embraces and holds the other, stands and marches for equality for people of color, the gay, women, supports many grassroots community organizations with their money, that reaches beyond themselves know there is more love, more peace, more joy out there?  When you are battered by the world we live in, are mourning, are celebrating, are in need of a friend or are able to be a friend, where do you go?  Is there a center in our lives where we can all arrive and find our place, our values, where we are accepted for our true selves, where we can raise our children to be in love with the world, its environment and its people.  Is there a home for us where we can live the life of a seeker and be celebrated and encouraged for this way of life?  You are here. You’ve found the place, the potential center of our lives that holds us and those we love in an embrace of acceptance, learning, love, justice, revelation, and transformation.
Exodus Chapter 3 verse 5: “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” We are on holy ground.  These walls hold love in and evil out.  We are safe here.  This place prepares us for how we will live our lives as seekers.  Teaching us, challenging us, holding us, we can return again and again and sit a while, exhale, and know that we will leave transformed in some small way.  How do we preserve the way of life for seekers?  We must consider this holy ground, this place, our Congregation, a site of heritage.

Sites of heritage are especially important because they help people learn about the ideas and lifestyles of a civilization.  This site of heritage helps people learn about freedom, reason, and tolerance, our ideas and lifestyles as Unitarian Universalists.  We are the liberal voice in the south.  This must remain the site of our heritage.  We are descendants of Servetus, David, Emerson, Alcott, Fuller, Channing, Parker -- all who concerned themselves with creating a place for the free thinker, the seeker.  We must preserve and strengthen our voice, our Unitarian Universalist way of life in this community and our world.  We are faced with the opportunity to create our legacy.

We are stewards of this Congregation.  “Legally we are the owners, but morally and ethically we do not own it, we hold it in trust for the generations of the past who created and nurtured it over the years, and for future generations, for those people who will be here in the years to come.  We also hold it in trust for other Unitarian Universalists throughout the world.  We hold the name and should honor it so that we maintain its good name for them.  Because they will be judged in part by who we are and what we do.  We hold this Congregation and the name Unitarian Universalist in trust for Unitarian Universalism in general and it is our responsibility to tend it and care for it as we would want others to care for it in our name.”  Unitarian Universalist Elizabeth Leisersin writes, “If we are Aristotle's rational animals, we are the animal that is capable of deep thought, of comprehension of abstract concepts. We are also the animal that is capable of both creation and destruction on a grand scale. Any being, any animal, can create happiness for themselves, but seeing that happiness for the blessing it is and preserving it for others is an ability unique (as far as I know) to humans.”

Let us create a legacy of happiness, seeking, freedom and justice.  What is the essence of a good and faithful life? Not rules. Not beliefs. But Love. Not the kind of love felt in fleeting emotions, the falling in love kind of love but the love we practice all our lives, the love which is an attitude of the heart, a disposition with which we choose to engage life, Our way of life as seekers.  Choose once again.
May it be so.

A Way of Life for Seekers, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Feb 8, 2015.