2003-07-09 04:19:27 -- You are walking to your car with a bag of groceries in each arm. You stop for a moment fumbling for your keys, trying carefully to not spill anything. Someone bumps you from behind. One bag starts to topple. You reach to catch it. In the process, the other bag slips out of your arm and you lose your balance. Suddenly you are sitting on the ground with onion bagels under you, milk on your shoes and cans of tuna rolling across the pavement. Your face heats up as you turn, ready to shout, "What's the matter with you, you idiot! Are you blind!"
As you face the person you see that, in fact, she is blind. She's lying sprawled out amongst broken eggs. The words that actually come out of your mouth are, "Are you okay? You aren't hurt are you? Let me help you."1
Two weeks ago I spoke of four worldviews that can be found in all the major world religions. Joanna Macy2 calls these, world as battlefield, world as trap, world as lover and world as self.
To get a handle on these, let's go through the grocery bag incident again. Imagine sitting amongst the organic bananas and dried kitty food. Before turning to see the person imagine thinking, "This guy probably bumped into me on purpose. The jerk is mischievously entertaining himself at my expense. I'll give him a piece of my mind." This is an example of the kind of thinking typical of the view of world as battlefield. There are hostile forces out there that manifest in people with bad motives.
Now imagine sitting there in a moment of confusion thinking, "Idiots. The world is filled with idiots who don't even pay attention to where they are going. Why do these things always happen to me? " That is thinking typical of world as trap. You just want to free yourself of the grief and bother of being in a realm of nincompoops.
Now imagine turning, seeing the woman sitting amid the eggs and celery and feeling concern for her. This is the kind of thinking that arises out of the view of world as lover. The world is our home. The people in it are brothers and sisters. We celebrate the joys and help each other through the hurts.
And finally, imagine looking at her thinking your own inattention contributed to the accident. You see your own blindness. You experience your common ground with her. This is an example of world as self. We cannot separate our welfare from others.
These examples do not define these worldviews. They represent thinking that can come out of them. If you think in one of these ways every once in a while, that does not mean that is your predominate world view. But if you think in one of these ways in many different situations, it could be your worldview.
Two weeks ago we looked at world as battlefield, world as trap and world as classroom. This morning I want to spend a few minutes reviewing these just to be sure we are all together. Then I'd like to describe in more detail world as lover and world as self.
Battlefield and Trap
World as battlefield is concerned with the cosmic clash between the forces of good and evil. The world is a battleground upon which evildoers try to do their worse. We must do whatever it takes to align ourselves with goodness and defeat the unjust. If innocent bystanders get hurt, that is regrettable but acceptable. There is too much at stake to worry too much about civilian casualties, civil liberties or due process. This is war.
World as trap also sees the world as relatively unimportant. But rather than trying to defeat evil, we try to free ourselves from it. Our effort is to rise above worldly concerns and enter a higher spiritual realm. The earthly is merely a trap from which we must extricate ourselves.
The problem with both of these worldviews is they try to split reality artificially into good and bad, right and wrong. Consider the figure in your order of service. Is it a duck or a rabbit? It can be either, depending on how you look at it. When we try to divide the world into good and bad, right and wrong it is as if we are saying the duck is on one page and the rabbit on another. It sounds like you can free the rabbit by destroying the duck.
But they aren't separate. They are a part of each other. What you do to one affects the other. Destroying one destroys both.
Black and white thinking is developmentally young. It fails to embrace life's contradictions and ambiguities. To get a more integrated view we have to turn to world as lover and world as self.
World as Lover
To introduce world as lover, let's sing the first verse of hymn 163, "For the Earth Forever Turning. "
For the earth forever turning;
for the skies, for ev'ry sea;
for our lives, for all we cherish,
sing we our joyful song of peace.
The world is not a moral battlefield or prison. It is our home. We belong here. The world is a rich and gratifying partner. The world embraces us and we care for her. Yes, there are difficulties to work on these. But we don't do it out of moral rectitude. We do it out of love.
Hinduism gives us one of the richest expressions of world as lover. In some early Vedic hymns, the universe was lonely. So it split itself in two: lover and beloved. These two came together in erotic union. Out of this pregnancy sprang forth all the things of this world. So this world and all its desires are not bad. They were born of divine play. In the core of all desire is a yearning for Krishna, a yearning for the most holy. Rather than abandon the world or our desires we must delve into them more deeply. As we move from their superficial manifestations to their essence we find a yearning for the sacred.
In the West, world as lover is found in the ancient Goddess religions, in Sufism, the Old Testament erotic poetry of the Song of Songs, in Christian bridal mysticism, in the Kabbalah. Many Native American religions see the world and all her creatures as sacred. We should relate to them more as friends and lovers than as objects to be exploited or destroyed.
Our own Unitarian Universalism has its inspiration in world as lover, though it may not be obvious at first glance. Erotic or even celebrative imagery was a little too much for our New England ancestors' sensibilities. But if you look, you can see a reticent version of world as lover.
In the early 1800s, the Congregational Church in New England split. Half remained Congregational, half became Unitarian. For the orthodox, the main issue was the Trinity or three-part God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. William Ellery Channing and other ministers spoke of God as unity. Hence we were called "Unitarian" as contrasted to "Trinitarian."
But the Unitarians were not as interested in God's nature as they were in human nature. The doctrine of original sin said that human nature is corrupt. We are born in sin. It is only through God's grace and the love of Jesus that some of us are saved.
Channing and after him Emerson, Parker and others insisted that human nature is basically good. How can you look at a newborn and say he is bad? The divine is the essence of every soul.
But if a person was poor, alcoholic, sick or enslaved, these outward difficulties could mask the light of God in them. So doing God's work meant helping that people find their divine light. The most efficient way to do this was to correct the social conditions that obscured that spiritual essence.
So many of the early Unitarians were most concerned with relieving social ills and helping people discover their true nature. The way to bring God's love into the world was to remove the conditions that obscured it in the first place.
This is world as lover: a world imbued with God's love.
Meanwhile, our Universalist forefathers and foremothers developed along a similar line. Orthodox Christians believed that some people would die and go to Hell. The Universalists could not imagine a loving God condemning anyone to eternal damnation. One way or another, all of us are saved. There is universal salvation. Hence the label, "Universalist."
Well, if you don't have to worry about a soul's fate in the afterlife, what is our religious duty? It must be to care for this life. So the Universalists like the Unitarians devoted themselves to caring for this world.
Thomas Starr King served both Unitarian and Universalist congregations. He said the difference between the two was that Unitarians thought people were too good to be condemned by God and the Universalists thought that God was too good to condemn people.
Both of these are expressions of world as lover. They may not be as sensuous as Hinduism. But these were New Englanders, after all.
To summarize, what do you get when you inject Hindu erotic mysticism into the heart of a New England Calvinist? You get a Unitarian or a Universalist.
World as Self
To introduce world as self, let's sing hymn 389, "Gathered Here in the Mystery":
Gathered here in the mystery of the hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit come near.
World as self is a natural evolution from world as lover. When we truly love someone, their well-being is inseparable from ours. What happens to them matters as much as what happens to us. We can't separate reality into good and bad or even lover and beloved. Dualism begins to dissolve. Our sense of self encompasses more than just us.
Buddhists have a metaphor called the jeweled net of Indra. The universe is depicted as a giant net. It is taut, like a spider's web. If you flick any part of it, the vibration spreads across the whole. Everywhere two strands touch there is a jewel. Each of us is one of those jewels. And if you look carefully at any jewel, you will see there reflected all the other jewels.
This is world as self.
This is a difficult worldview to explain. It is more of a perception than an explanation. One arrives at it more through intuitive grasp than through rational discourse.
So I'll leave explanations to another time and just give you some examples.
Developers in northeastern Australia were planning to cut down the last remaining old growth forest in that region. People had filed court motions to stop the cutting. But the developers were determined to act before the court had a chance to rule.
There was a man living near the forest. He was not a militant activist by temperament. But he was deeply concerned about this ancient forest. He found out when clearing was to begin. Just before, he chained himself to the trees.
So it was that one afternoon he was chained up as he faced a cadre of men with chainsaws, men in bulldozers and police with flashing lights. They were angry. He was terrified at what they might do.
Then suddenly, peace settled over him. Strength flowed through him. Fear vanished. In that epiphany he no longer felt like an isolated human trying to protect the trees. He felt he was the forest and the forest was using him to protect itself.
That is world as self.
Can you feel the depth of strength and courage it can give?
Mother Theresa was estimated to have personally helped about 40,000 lepers. She said that if she had set out to help 40,000 she would have burned out the first day. But she saw her tasks as simpler: take care of what was right before her.
Right before her was a man with leprosy, a man deserving respect, compassion and dignity. So she picked him up and carried him back to where she could take care of him. While she did so, she was not thinking about anything but this one man. When he was well cared for and content, she went out into the streets again. There was a woman with leprosy, a woman deserving of respect, love and dignity. Mother Theresa cared for her. As she cared for her she was not thinking of all the other lepers. They were not her concern. Her concern was this one woman.
And so it went. When asked how she took care of all those people for all those years she answered, "One by one by one."
She did not stand apart from the world in order to take care of it. She surrendered into the world by taking care of what was right before her.
That is world as self.
In recent years, Sri Lanka has seen terrible ethnic bloodshed. A growing peace movement is concerned with more than stopping the killing. They want to change the social structures that give rise to violence.
The leaders of this peace movement have a detailed way to address all these issues. They have devised, published and started to implement a plan. The timeline for their plan is 500 years.
When I first heard this, I felt something release inside me. Five hundred years? What would it be like to be part of such a plan? I won't be around that long. I can't do the whole thing. I'll have to let go of that and just do my part.
That is world as self.
What if we drew up such a plan for our country? We'd demilitarize our foreign policy. We'd promote world cooperation over empire building. We'd insist on community values over commercial values. We'd include everyone, not just the well to do in our vision. We'd confront the widening gap between rich and poor. We'd reduce the influence of money on politics.
There is more than any of us can do and more than can be done in a lifetime. So we'd be concerned with how we educate our children. We'd want more poetry and art and literature that embrace a wider vision. We'd plant seeds for future generations.
Such a plan does exist. It may not be written down on paper. It may not have a detailed timeline, but we know it will take generations. We know there will be ups and downs. There will be good years and not so good years. There are people out there living that plan, breathing life into it in many, many ways.
How do we join such a movement? There are so many facets to it. How do we know what to do? It seems overwhelming.
It's actually quite simple. Like Mother Theresa, we do what is before us to do. Whether it is marching in the streets, quieting our minds in meditation, educating ourselves about the effects of globalization or reading a story to our child, we simply care for what is before us in as peaceful and enlightened a way as we can. We surrender. We let go of attachment to measurable results. We loosen the ego's need for gratification and assurance. We trust that we are part of something much larger than any of us. We do our part and offer the fruits of our efforts to the world.
That is world as self.
To Love the World
In the grocery bag incident, when you turned and actually saw who had bumped into you, your mood shifted dramatically. You shifted from warrior to friend, from concern for yourself to concern for her.
We've been looking at four worldviews. You'll notice a similar qualitative shift when we go from world as battlefield or world as trap to world as lover or world as self. We shift from fighting over the world to fighting for the world. Then we shift from fighting for the world to loving it more fiercely.
Whether you call that shift world as lover or world as self is unimportant. What is important is loving the world more deeply.
My friends, I fear that we may be in for some dark times. I hope I'm wrong. But reading the results of the recent elections, it seems that way to me.
We may need to draw more deeply from our religious roots, the roots that say this world is something we must love deeply.
To love the world is not to slip back into battle mode of demonizing those we disagree with. Rather we treat all with dignity and respect.
To love the world is not to treat the world as a mistake from which we must escape. But to know this is our true home.
To love the world is to know that reaching out to others with our intellects and our wills may have been enough for out ancestors. But it is not enough today. We need to reach out with our hearts and souls and spirits as well.
To love the world gives us the courage to stand forth, like the man chained to the trees. It is courage born not out of narrow anger but out of broad compassion.
To love the world is to surrender from the ego's need for acknowledgement and to know that we are part of something larger than our lives or our lifetimes.
To love the world is to take care of what is before us with as much clarity and heart as we have available.
To love the world is to say to the blind woman, "Can I help?"
To love the world is to rest when we need rest yet know that ultimately our welfare is tied to the welfare of all.
To love the world is to celebrate and feel gratitude for all we have.
To love the world is to not be afraid to be a little silly. It is our home after all.
To love the world is to give up the last vestiges of our inherited New England reticence and move freely from the hearts yearning, devotion and strength.
by Doug Kraft
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento