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The very cosmos is an act of creation. Ancient myths tell of the great mother from whom all life flows. The Bible tells the story of a father god who created something out of nothing. One of my favorites is the Mayan myth of creation wherein God blew into being man, woman and child. But before she gave them life, she blew into their minds the dreams of possibilities of starting families, building villages, growing food, making art and making love. From dreams we come to dreams we go. The world is awash in creation stories; from the Mayan myth to the Greek myth; “In the beginning was Chaos. Then came Earth which produced Sky. Covering Earth each night, Sky fathered children upon her. Earth was personified as Gaia/Terra and sky was Uranus (Uranus). Their children included the Titan parents of most of the Olympian gods and goddesses. Then to the Norse myth when there was only a chasm, bounded on either side by fire and ice. When fire and ice met, they combined to form a giant, named Ymir, and a cow, named Audhumbla, to nourish Ymir. She survived by licking the salty ice blocks. From her licking emerged Bur, the grandfather of the of all humanity. Then to the Hindu Rig Veda when Brahman, the “first fashioner” created Earth and Sky, as a dwelling place, and many other things. Brahman was a universal impregnator who made other things reproduce including human beings. There is Chinese creation story wherein Heaven and Earth were in cosmic egg for 18,000 years. When it broke apart, the high and clear formed Heaven, the dark formed Earth, and P’an-ku (“coiled-up antiquity”) P’an-ku becomes earth, sky, stars, moon, mountains, rivers, soil, etc. Parasites feeding on his body, impregnated by wind, became human beings. And of course, our scientific story of the Big Bang. The Hebrew Bible has two creation myths, the oldest is the second of these stories in Genesis, wherein God fashions human beings out of clay and blows the holy breath of life into them. The newer version is the seven days of creation and the rather bizarre tale of Adam and Eve and the snake, who gives humanity consciousness and free will for which they are expelled from the Garden. There is a slightly different take on that story you know:
On the first day, God created the dog and said: “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.” The dog said: “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I’ll give you back the other ten?”
So God agreed.
On the second day, God created the monkey and said: “Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a twenty-year life span.”
The monkey said: “Monkey tricks for twenty years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?”
And God agreed.
On the third day, God created the cow and said: “You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family for this; I will give you a life span of sixty years.” The cow said: “That’s kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I’ll give back the other forty?”
And God agreed again. On the fourth day, God created human beings and said: “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you twenty years.”
But man said: “Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?” “Okay,” said God, “You asked for it.”
So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Despite the title of this sermon I am not going to pontificate on the creation stories of how the world came to be but rather talk about how we can make our own creation stories; how we can live a creative life. What does it mean to live a creative life? Well, in one way have to create the day to day stuff of life; often that is money, but it also food and shelter and care and love. We have to make ends meet, make relationships work, and try to make sense of it all. As practicing UUs we try to do this without retreating from the world but living in it and trying to change it in the process, it’s a tall order. It would seem on most days when you read the paper that we are a long way from our created beginnings. Wars, abuse, depressions and struggle, it’s hard to imagine being part of the world in any meaningful way (after all, what can I do) much less creating our own life story. Despite all these hardships though, I still have faith in the worth of each of us, even when humanity does some pretty terrible things. Despite the pain of our lives I still believe that we have within each of us some impulse, small spark though it may be, that keeps us alive and part of creation. Even in the darkest days we yearn to create a better life than the one we have. I remember wondering more than a few times what my children would create of their lives, even before they are born. Do they dream waiting to be born? Are there memories? What do they feel? What goes on in that dark quiet moving world of the womb? Even though the Bible has some pretty violent stories there are those moments of hope in the stories: I have to imagine some tenderness between Adam and Eve after they were thrown out of the garden. They ultimately chose life by eating of the fruit; ultimately they chose to keep living and creating. The important part of the story is that they chose at all. The first lesson to realize in trying to make sense of the world is that you have a choice in how you live in it. Artists don’t just draw or sculpt or sing or write, they choose to do so. They do so everyday. Living a life with meaning, that is living the creative life, is not easy. My spiritual mentor Bo Lozoff who runs a project in prisons to help inmates free their spiritual potential once said “self knowledge requires self discipline. The right choice requires moral decency. A good life happens to be a fair amount of work. It’s not for the lazy.’ (From It’s a Meaningful Life, 2000).
The first step to creating your own creation story is to remember that it’s the long haul that matters. It’s not the impulse that matters as much as the endurance to keep at it. This was one of the reasons I was attracted to TUCW; you have the impulse and the endurance to build that inclusive community. The strength of your character is in the years you have committed your lives to this church and to each other. The hard part is the second step. Having faith. I use that word unabashedly and without apology. To become our own creation story we must believe that we can do so. As mothers will tell you, giving birth fades from consciousness but raising a child never does. Ask any parent who has been disappointed by their children, ask any of us who have been rejected by our parents, creation is hard work. In creation it’s not always the battles you win that count but that you were there to fight them. “Success” said a Christian colleague of mine “is not measured in the battles won but the battles you showed up for.”
What makes us practicing UUs is the same thing that makes us human beings – or is it human doings? The impulse and then the endurance to create something new: not always a thing, sometimes a relationship, a community, a program. Thomas Moore once wrote “that creation is something we do in spite of reason” (Care for the Soul, 1996). There may be good reasons to want to create something new, but sometimes it’s beyond the rational. More than a few have left behind promising careers in the money making world to feed the hungry, build a house, care for their aging parents. That same force that drove Michelangelo to create the David, the force that gave Beethoven the ability to compose, the force that moves a father to lift a car off his daughter, the force that gives women the power to bear children and parents the power to raise them is the creation story in us all.
Too often we are held back from being creative by the mistaken belief that what we create has to be original. Creation is the power to create something new or improve on something old. Better yet, creation invites us to participate in the making. That is the real magic to the community here; you are invited to participate in the creation of a more inclusive community. Today some of us will complete 21 days of spiritual practice; mine has been contemplative walking and fasting twice a week, others have meditated, read and wrote. We have a very active memoir writing group here and of course, our small group ministry of which some of you are a part discusses a different topic each month, weaving together our different stories into a shared narrative. Our SGM has an inspiration committee, who researches and writes supporting questions and material each month. Each month creating a new story.
Living your life at all is a creation story. Being a part of the story does mean you aren’t being original, but being original in a group of people. Some of us care for others, some of us make music, some of us some of us create worship; some of us take care of our church. People work for justice. The point to living a creative life is to let loose the ministry in you. That is what I mean to by being radically inclusive: opening up the ministries in all of you. That is how people will feel included. Without that we are nothing but a social club.
So when someone wants to start a social justice program that reaches out to the disabled or someone wants to start a ministry to those facing addiction or someone wants to see us invite musicians from other cultures to perform here and we agree, than we are all being creative. Our vision here is to build a radically inclusive community for the new millennium. Reflect on that word radically for a moment. What does it mean? Something new; trying to welcome people here and affirm their worth in new and exciting ways. Maybe you have an idea on how to do that. If you do we want to hear about it, we want you to be here in the creation, and then we want the rest of you – once we have decided through our process what we can do – to get on board. Raising money in our pledge drive as we are now asking you all to be a part is the fuel in OUR CREATION STORY.
To become your own creation story does mean you have to be patient. What was it about Edison? He applied for hundreds of patents before he invented the light bulb. What you don’t see behind so much that we find beautiful are the thousands of hours that go into that beauty. Some of you admire my ability to preach. I wasn’t born with this: I have learned how to do this, I have practiced for years, and I have made many mistakes.
In the Japanese story of the Crescent Moon Bear, a mother waits for her son to return from the war. Many years have passes and finally she hears that the war is over. In preparation for her son’s return, the mother makes a tray of his favorite dishes and sets a nice table outside the house. Towards evening she sees him coming down the path slowly. His face is expressionless. She runs to him and throws her arms around him but he stands there motionless, his arms hanging at his sides. “What is wrong my son?” she asks. But he does not reply. She leads him to the table to eat but he only yells and throws the food off. The he stands and walks off into the woods where he spends the night. The mother is distraught. The next day she prepares another tray of food and walks into the woods and sees him sitting there. She places the tray in front of him but he throws the tray away in anger. The mother goes to see the medicine woman to find out what to do. After hearing the mother’s story the old medicine woman thinks for a long time and then says “there is a medicine I can give you but I need one important ingredient. You must bring me a hair from the throat of a crescent moon bear.” The mother is shocked. The moon bear is said to be a fierce giant who lives high in the mountains. She fears for her life but wanting to cure her son overcomes all fears and she sets off in search of the bear.
The way up the mountain is hard. She must climb over boulders and through thorn trees that tore at her hair and her kimono. By evening she had reached the top and rested for the night. Early the next day she hears the most fearsome roar. She awakened and walks slowly towards the sound. There in the distance she sees the moon bear, a female with cubs nearby the entrance to their cave. The crescent moon bear is roaring her early morning roar. Quickly the mother puts some rice and meat in a bowl and places it some distance from the cave and hides. The bear sniffs and lumbers towards the bowl, eats it up and returns to the cave. The next day the mother puts out more rice and meat and moves closer to the cave and hides closer to the bowl. The bear roars, sniffs, eats and returns to the cave. Another morning, another bowl of food. Now she can see that this is a beautiful bear, with a crescent of white hair upon her throat. Each day more food closer and closer to the cave until the old woman is almost out of food. It is then that she knows what she must do. On the last day of her food, she places the bowl right at the entrance to the cave. The bear emerges, roars and sees the food. At that very moment, the woman steps out from behind the rock and stands right before the bear who is high on her hind legs. The bear roars and she can feel her hot breath on her face. Her heart beats like a trip hammer and her legs are about to buckle but she says “mighty mother, I come in peace, to bring peace to my son, to create a new life, permit me this, as one mother to another.” And with that she reaches over and plucks the white hair from the bear’s throat. The bear is startled and roars even louder but does not lunge. The woman bows her head to take the blow but no blow comes. The bear falls to all fours and returns to the cave.
The woman breathless with the hair between her fingers runs all the way down the mountain to the old medicine woman. Panting as she bursts through the door she yells “I have it!” And she holds out the hair to the medicine woman who takes it and says “so you do” and then throws it into the fire where it sizzles and is gone. “What have you done!?” yells the mother. “I went up the mountain, fed the bear food, faced her, risked my life, brought you what you asked and you have thrown it away” and with that she cries. The medicine woman walks up to the mother and raises her face in kindness. “Now my child, you have the medicine. Go back to your son and do with him as you did with the bear. Then he will come home, to create a new life with you.’ (From Clarrisa Pinkola Estes Theater of the Imagination, Vol. 2 1996)
Edmund Burke once wrote that “patience will achieve so much more than force.” You cannot will your creation story into being; you cannot change your world overnight. You must do it daily. I write everyday of my life but only some of it is good. There are days when I can’t write. Days, weeks, even years, can live within us like some vast desert waiting for our emotions to burst forth from barren ground bringing the cool springs of creation with them. Creation always comes when we are ready for it. Sooner or later, we create something new, as the saying goes sooner or later, you feel, then you heal.
We are all afraid of failure. We will fail as often sometimes much more than we will succeed. But this is the only way to become more than you are. We are afraid of failure, and of criticism, and of not being up to the task. But our creation story is never fully up to the task. The worst criticism is of ourselves telling us we can’t do it. Much of the criticism of others is really their own. E.M. Forester once wrote that the phrase, ‘think before you speak’ is too often the voice of the critic, perhaps there are days like today when our motto ought to be do ‘do before you think too much about it’. This is it what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. We weren’t created perfectly, imperfect we were born, imperfect shall we die, but that should be no reason to not make the world a better place. Every quilter knows you put a little imperfection intentionally into every quilt you stitch.
Our creation story has everything to do with living in the here and now. Today, tomorrow, the next day. When will your story begin? There are moments when it is dark and lost, but then the light comes up again, perhaps today is that day for you. Perhaps here is the place. Perhaps you are ready to answer the call. May the blessings of creative story be in us, now and always.