Josh joined First Unitarian last year. He seeks moments of magic in the rushing rapids of the daily muddle. He lives with his lovely family in Pawtucket.
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First of all, thank you to the church leaders for letting me stand here and talk to you. The fact that I can stand up here without having submitted a script is both thrilling and terrifying. Thanks to Suzanne, Neil, Jenn, and Nancy for the guidance. Thanks to Sally Racket for the harmony I search for. Thanks to my friends and family for supporting me, and thanks to you for being present in body and spirit.
My first time here was to hear my friend Bruce speak last summer. A religion that encouraged its members to speak was enthralling. I am a searcher and a stranger in any land, seeking fellowship and communion. As I sat to feel sermons and speakers, as I took part in the thriving community, as I met each of you, I felt a kinship of purpose. A feeling for the fullness of life. This church stands on blocks set by the landed gentry in the most radical of colonies at the beginning of the American Experiment. A foundation that reverberates with the notion of Justice for All and a structure strong enough to support the idea of Universal Equality. The dome and the pulpit raise hosannas to the heavens. The bell forged by the founders of liberty tolls to sing all of Providence songs of joy and sadness. The weather vane tells which way the wind blows, and the clock keeps the congregation on time for fellowship and sweets.
The only symbols that I can see are the eagle of freedom and the chalice holding the fire of faith. I was intrigued. Looking deeper, the community seemed engaged, open, and active. Opportunity for involvement, gatherings for reflection, and fellowship flowed unforced.
My family and I decided to keep coming. Rev. Liz Learner’s deep sermons give flight to the heart, and the magnificent music stirs the soul, so it’s never a chore.
But the idea of a church whose voice is the voice of the people echoed with me. It seems important in the democracy I desire. The intrinsic value of a church that speaks with the voice of the people can only exist as long as people rise to speak.
So now I rise, hopeful and well intentioned, to join the tradition of this congregation and speak some view of the truth.
I believe in the commonality of God. I believe that existence is the word of God, removed from time and space, echoing within each of us. That each of us is a particle of the wave function that is existence. And that this function is consciousness itself. I am going to talk about fulfillment, faith, and love. I am going to talk about the necessity of service. I hope to say the words I want to hear, because a life unexamined, a truth unspoken, is incomplete. I hope my words are useful. I hope they mean something to you. I hope I mean something to you. By way of a warning, I do not live up to my expectations. But may these seeds find soil – in myself and in you.
In the Beginning was the Word
The first line of the book of John in the Christian Bible. A line so seemingly out of place, as a quick creation myth where one had already been well accepted. This single line seems distilled from a more ancient wisdom and placed in such a position of honor. Not as a replacement for the Genesis myth, but as an addendum used to give bona fides to the hero, Jesus. But as a creation myth it resonates with beauty …and where there is beauty there is truth.
The beautiful truth of it keeps echoing in my heart and mind. In the Beginning was the Word… If taken out of context, there are many places where the beginning can only be a word.
Maybe a book, beginning with a single word, reaching out to the reader with a deluge of words structured to pass on a story. A story that carries an emotion or an idea searching for connection. Imagine the amount of words written throughout history, totaled in one count. Every one searching for a connection, bringing meaning between minds. A meaning so important to the writer that they took the time to forge its form, sending it out into the dark, unknowable future, hoping to find a reader that can understand or identify with the idea or feeling. A message in a bottle bobbing on the waves of history. A written word carries a connection that can be so powerful in its ability to reference a memory or feeling that everyone has had.
“In the beginning was the word” could be the story of a meeting between people. A connection between beings that can only exist when communication is present. A word passes from mouth to ear, carrying all the emotion and meaning of the moment in the smallest sound. Every being craves this connection. Beyond the nourishment of the flesh, we understand implicitly the universal yearning for connection that feeds our soul. We can’t be convinced of the creature that exists truly alone. When one is alone a word is useless.
The simple idea of a word is full of implication. For there to be a word, there must be a mind. The mind must have a thought. The thought must have meaning. No word is devoid of meaning. So of course the beginning of existence can only be the beginning of meaning. Existence implies energy, energy implies direction, direction implies intent, intent implies meaning.
Moreover for a word to exist, there must be a medium through which to move. If the word is made of sound or if there is some other wave at work, there must be certain physical conditions. There must be space, and there must be time. There must be space to give dimension to motion, and there must be time for motion to make sense. For at its most basic, a word is a wave, as any energy is. The light through the window that lays so softly colored, the celestial satellites spinning through the sky, or the sound of my voice are all simply waves. Energy pulsing in periodic patterns through space. In fact, as scientists peer deeper and deeper into the structure of matter itself, seeing as small as we can see, we find that there is no matter at all. Just fields of energy vibrating into quarks that create the atoms to make molecules that is the matter we’re made of.
Of course the beginning of everything was a word. A single tone ringing out in the void – defining the void. Defining existence itself. Just a vibration. A motion to and fro.
There was a nothing. There was a pulse in nothing. That was everything. A word. A sound. A song. Full of all the meaning that ever was. This word, this tone, is the sum total of all energy.
All the religions hold a tone sacred. The om, the amen, the gong, and the bell. The sound in the background we all hear when everything sits silent and still in the night. The search for this song is a distillation of the noisy cacophony that surrounds us to its purest form. Feeding the hunger in all of us for a simple truth. A unity of understanding. The basic vibration of beauty.
So what is most beautiful to us? What harmonies do we yearn for? What makes us the happiest?
Because that’s the measure of our existence. Happiness is the goal after all. Religions are all built on roadmaps to this place. Our sciences of happiness. Rules, reasons, proscriptions pondered and passed for millennia for tried and true ways to get to this place. Happiness. Life in harmony.
There are a few landmarks. Take away want, and set aside need, removing distraction to happiness. The song that cannot be heard, cannot be sung. Fulfillment is part of happiness. Take away worry, and be free of fear. Know that your voice is needed and that you belong in the song. Faith is part of happiness. Take away the focus on self. Be swept away by the beauty and wrapt by the joy of the song. Love is part of happiness.
We can choose to hear, we can choose to sing, we can choose to love. The song that we are all part of will be sung. The word is being spoken. As we live, we can choose our note. We can choose what we harmonize with. But practically, everyday, in real terms, how? What can we actually do to harmonize toward happiness. What is this word made of?
Ask anyone who has ever lived. What made them truly happy in their lives? To a soul, each would say the service to others. The greatest of kings and paupers alike, as they breathe their last breath, hold tightest and longest to the memories of the smiles they have shared and the hearts they have touched. Not the riches or the monuments, but the hands gently held. The sweetest bars of this song of life are not the solos, but the harmonies. The soft symphonies of connections and community.
We are not alone. We are together, though we are one. We each see colors and hear sounds separately and specially, building a universe around each of us that is unique. But it is the communication of tone that we crave. The search for a harmony of purpose drives our days.
Each of us brings some instrument to the song. For some it is a smile or an open heart. For some it is the song of justice or the belief in beauty. For some the song is in the work of our hands or the reach of our imaginations. For some it is caring, and for some it is just being there. For harmony of community thrives when we each care for and tune our instruments so that they ring with each other. It is this we cultivate. The hope that we can add to and elevate the harmony around us.
In a harmony, notes do not seek themselves, but the space around another note. A note is not just pure energy, blocking out the void it travels through. A note includes the void, vibrating around the spaces in-between where harmonies can happen. There must be a need to fill in order for harmony to happen. For our harmony to be complete, we must share this space, this need with each other so that others may know where to harmonize. On a sheet of music the notes are named so that all the singers can be sure of where to sing. In life, to achieve harmony, we must strive to hear the notes around us and let those notes hear us. We can increase harmony when we seek to serve and hold a space where we may be served.
As this community that my family and I have chosen to harmonize with, this Unitarian Church, brings its song into the future, I have hope. The world of humanity is again on the verge of great leaps. Blurred borders and co-mingled cultures melt together as masses move as one. Religions find their foundations strong, but their territorial towers of truth are crumbling. People are raising their voices. There are opportunities to join in harmony wherever we look. We can seek to provide real fulfillment to the afflicted. We can seek to provide care so that others know that their voices are part of the song. We can seek to love by removing the self and truly hearing the harmony of the word as it is spoken. To do so, we must let others know our needs and notes so they can harmonize with us. We must be present and willing to lift our voices in service of the song, having faith that our needs are part of our notes.
Each and every moment is an opportunity to share our note. Ask yourself: What can I give? What do I need? Look for every chance to harmonize. To truly sing.
I hope we have faith that we belong in this song, and that all others belong too, for we are one. I hope we harmonize in many notes but one voice. I hope we harmonize having faith that others are listening to harmonize with us. I hope we harmonize for the love of the word that we are all creating together.