Salutation To The Dawn, By Kalidasa (Hindu)
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty,
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.
The first rule of writing, they say, is: “Write what you know.”
What’s the first rule of preaching?
If the content of preaching was limited to what we know, sermons would be shorter, for sure. But they would be less interesting, less challenging, for those in the pulpit as well as those in the pew.
I’d suggest that the first rule of preaching is, “Preach that with which you are struggling”
What makes a sermon interesting, challenging or even exciting is that the one delivering the sermon reveals and shares part of his or her struggle with real life issues, as opposed to sounding like he’s got it all together, wrapped up in a neat little package, like a favor at a wedding for you to take home.
Without struggle sermons simply sound silly.
I remember the story my friend and colleague Herb Adams told at my installation…going on 29 years ago.
At the time Herb was president of Science Research Associates and had been on a business trip in to Alabama when he read a little article in the local paper about a Baptist minister who had run off with the church secretary and $10,000 of church funds. The pair was discovered in Las Vegas.
The reporter had waited outside a closed meeting of the Board of Deacons of the church. When the meeting ended and the chairman emerged the reporter asked, “Are you going to press charges?”
The chairman said, “No, we’re going to bring him back and make him preach it out.”
Now that’s a sermon requiring struggle!
Kalidasa said that in the brief course of a day lie all ‘the verities and realities of your existence.’
The verities are the ‘true principles,’ the things in life that are of fundamental importance – things that are so true that they are irrefutable…things which are impossible to deny or disprove.
I’m reminded of a favorite line in the poem, The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz:
“I have walked through many lives,
Some of them my own,
And I’m not who I was,
Though some principle of being abides,
From which I struggle not to stray…”
What is that ‘principle of being?’ What is the struggle ‘not to stray’ about? It is, I think, about faith…and faith is, to some degree, a struggle. It’s a struggle for me.
Many a believer has to struggle with their faith when difficulties or tragedies happen, either to themselves, a loved one, or simply to fellow human beings (especially children) you read or hear about in the news.
Faith is one of the verities Kalidasa’s salutation to the sun is about – impossible to deny or disprove, on the one hand, but not easy to explain…which is what this sermon is about…a kind of explanation of my idea and experience of faith…
How would you describe faith?
Do you have a faith that sustains you? Do you ‘struggle not to stray’ from it? I was thinking of all the words that are related to the word faith.
Faith sits at the head of the Thanksgiving table and seated around that same table are hope, love, trust, doubt, truth, skepticism, courage, intuition, and confidence, and I imagine that they are in the midst of a boisterous discussion, all talking at once.
Faith is usually equated with religious belief, which often includes a belief in God, and a discussion about some kind of afterlife…things taught by certain religions.’
We hear people talk about Biblical faith, meaning a belief in what the Bible says about God – or, to say it differently, what people believe that God says in the Bible.
For a couple of weeks there was a sign outside the Methodist Church in Westport: “God sent the first text message – the Bible.”
There are (or so we are told) lots of people who believe in the ‘inerrancy’ of the Bible – that every word is literally true, rather than containing truth figuratively.
Biblical infallibility is different – Biblical infallibility is the belief that whatever the Bible says regarding matters of faith (and Christian practice) is true in the sense that it is a useful guide, if understood correctly…the belief that the Bible is a trustworthy guide requires interpretation and interpretation requires discussion, debate and a degree of struggle with uncertainty.
The trick, of course, is to see the deep truth in any and all of those stories – not that they are literally accurate, not true in that sense, but true in a so-called spiritual sense; and I can agree with that, but the Bible is then like a poem in which you have to find the truths that are deeper than the surface meanings as stated.
I’m satisfied with what I consider to be my personal faith system – a faith that requires me to continue to think, but not allow rationality to trump spirituality; a faith that allows me to continue to grow, but not to be competitive about faith – as if it’s a contest to see who has the best.
I’m not so satisfied with my ability to articulate that faith.
Faith accepts the fact that we cannot know everything, but we continue to learn, continue to deepen our understanding of life. That exploration need not be limited to any particular religion — there is truth in all religions and we can learn from them, and grow from them, to be challenged by them.
My personal faith has very little to do with traditional beliefs in or interpretations of the Bible, or a traditional belief in God, or in any of the specific teachings in Christianity or in Judaism, which is the religious foundation on which I stand.
So, if my faith, or my idea of faith, is not about belief, not about the Bible and not about a traditional belief in God, or a god, or the gods, what is it about? And why do I want to talk about it?
I want to talk about it because it’s important – one’s faith is important – whether or not you call it faith. By faith I mean the solid foundation on which you stand.
Another metaphor for faith is the vehicle with which you move through life, through all the stages of life…a vehicle that allows you to navigate those difficult times, and helps you to make the difficult decisions when life deals a hand you would just as soon pass *.
Faith has something to do with self-confidence – a person’s faith in one’s ability to comprehend the truth, and the humility to accept the limits of our human grasp of the larger truth about God and eternal life…
Of course self-confidence is a bit risky – too much of it leads to the downfall of pride, and pride does come before the fall.
Self-confidence needs to be balanced by sincere humility.
Thomas Aquinas reportedly said, “All that man knows of God is to know that he does not know Him.”
So, faith not about ‘knowing,’ it’s not about believing in a traditional theology; it’s about holding on to something that feels like the truth while acknowledging that you don’t know it for a fact, in the way we know about Abraham Lincoln’s life and the details of his presidency that can be put on the big screen.
The essential belief I hold is that all the religions were invented by humans with the same capabilities and the same limitations as I have – the same capabilities and the same limitations as you have…the human capacity to grasp the truth and to express it in poetry, in music, in art and architecture, in stories and myths.
Kalidasa offered a faith statement: ‘Look to this day…” The naturalist, John Burroughs, offers his faith statement:
“The laws of life and death are as they should be. The laws of matter and force are as they should be; and if death ends my consciousness, still is death good. I have had life on those terms, and somewhere, somehow, the course of nature is justified.
“I shall not be imprisoned in some grave where you are to bury my remains. I shall be diffused in great nature: in the soil, in the air, in the water and sunshine, and in the hearts of those who have loved me, in all the living and flowing currents of the world, though I may never again in my entirety be embodied in a single human being. My elements and my forces go back into the original sources out of which they came, and these sources are perennial in this vast, wonderful and divine cosmos”
Margaret Fuller offered a brief faith statement – she said, “I accept the universe.”
In his epigraph to Howard’s End, the novelist E. M. Forster said, “Only connect.”
The common ingredient in all the religions, as I see it, is the realization that we need help and support on this journey through life, and a set of beliefs and spiritual or religious practices can provide the help we need to navigate the trip from birth to death.
Some religions claim a monopoly on God and assert that this religion, their religion, is the only path to heaven, or eternal life. That’s only human, but it’s not something we humans are proud of – it’s just the way we are…it’s about our tendency toward ethnocentrism – that our religion or our culture or our clan is superior, and it’s the basis on which we judge all other cultures or clans or religions.
We’re getting over that as the world shrinks.
Not all religions make such claims, and not every adherent to a particular religion sees it that way; there’s more self-criticism about one’s own culture, clan, religion, etc.
And there’s an acknowledgement that we don’t know everything.
For example, Lao Tse, reputed founder of Taoism, talked about ‘the absolutely incomprehensible.’ The Tao Te Ching begins: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
Alfred North Whitehead said, “Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.”
I take him to mean, ‘good religion begins in wonder and at the end, when religious thought has done its best, the wonder still remains, but is even more powerful and penetrating than the wonder in which it began.’
My Universalist faith feels strong – the essence of which says that whatever happens to anyone after death happens to everyone. Heaven and hell are the products of human imagination, and some human needs. The idea of an all-knowing, all powerful god who consigns some to hell and others to heaven is monstrous.
There are things in all the religions that turn thoughtful, sensitive souls away from it altogether.
But there are also things in us which fail to grasp the deeper truths in the religion of our childhood, or early adulthood – things about which we feel angry and bitter, which we would do well to get over and to come to terms with.
Part of the task of maturity is to express our faith in positive terms. It’s easy to say what we don’t believe, but saying what we don’t believe wears thin.
Faith deserves a positive expression. We find strength in giving positive expression to what we do believe, what we do understand to be the deep truths in our lives.
Faith, hope and love abide, these three…they are a kind of trinity…three aspects of the same thing
The Bible says, “God is love.” (I John)
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul offers a definition of faith: “Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that are hiddent.”
Thomas Aquinas says, “Faith is a habit of the mind…” In other words, it’s a way of seeing the world…a way of seeing that balances our doubts or our assertions about what we do not believe with things we do believe, things we know to be true…to ourselves, at least.
Faith is, in a way, synonymous with love…we know who and what we love…we don’t have to ask whether we believe in the love we feel…but we know that we rely on it, that our life, in some ways, depends on it…
Just as our skepticism is a necessary habit of the mind, so is our faith a habit of the mind.
Faith is a spiritual practice. When we see through the eyes of faith (and of course I’m not talking about belief) we affirm life: ‘life is good,’ ‘what a wonderful world’
I see trees of green…….. red roses too
I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.
The colors of a rainbow…..so pretty ..in the sky
Are also on the faces…..of people ..going by
I see friends shaking hands…..sayin.. how do you do
They’re really sayin……I love you.
I hear babies cry…… I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more…..than I’ll never know
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world…
Yes I think to myself …….what a wonderful world.
That’s a faith song. Faith is expressed in gratitude: what are you grateful for?
Faith is a function of love: who do you love? Who loved love into you? Whose memory do you hold precious?
Last week I had lunch with a clergy friend who got to thinking about his father who died twenty years ago, and at one point he paused for a long time, clearly in mid-sentence and not to be interrupted, and when he completed the sentence he said how much he missed his father, yet how close he felt his presence, deep down.
The expression of that gratitude, that love, is an affirmation; it’s a statement of faith in a very personal way.
Faith is at once personal and universal; it’s personal, in the sense that we are continually working out a faith system, or building a foundation of faith that is our own individual faith. It is universal in the sense that every person in the world is doing it…and we have to do it for ourselves, but we can’t really do it by ourselves.
Faith is about the serenity to accept what you can’t change, the courage to change what you can change and the wisdom to know the difference.
Four Noble Truths in Buddhism, as I’ve come to understand the concept, boils down too the acknowledgement that life involves, or includes, suffering; and spiritual suffering is the inability to accept things as they are; some of those things – some of that suffering — need not be – there are things that can be changed, and other things that simply have to be accepted.
The wish that things were not the way they are is the source of spiritual suffering.
That’s what the serenity prayer is about: the need for the serenity to accept the things that can’t be changed, the courage to change the things that can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Humility is the ‘serenity to accept things you can’t change.’
Humiliation is the feeling that someone else knows the answers and you do not…that your faith is ‘less than’ others’.
Our faith tradition sits on a three-legged stool: freedom, reason and tolerance…the freedom to question, to change, to grow. It requires the use of the rational mind, and it requires an understanding of the other guys’ point of view, of other religions.
Susan Jacoby recently spoke about the faith of an atheist in an op-ed piece in the NYT. She said, “The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next. Atheists do not want to deny religious believers the comfort of their faith. We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.”
Margaret Fuller offered her personal faith statement – she said, “I accept the universe.”
Close: Each day the first day, by Dag Hammarskjöld
Each day the first day –. Each day a life.
Each morning we must hold out the chalice of our being
to receive, to carry, and give back.
It must be held out empty –
for the past must only be reflected
in its polish, its shape, its capacity.