I want to continue to dig into our roots. This involves a discussion of our Unitarian Universalist beginnings in America, our heritage in Transylvania, and other historical roots, but it necessarily includes a look into the roots of our faith system from a philosophical and/or theological point of view.
Whitman, in his signature piece, Song of Myself, expresses the aspect of our deepest roots in this brief passage from chapters two and five of that fifty-two chapter poem:
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through
the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self….
….I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now….
….And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women
my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
Whitman’s use of the word kelson, or keelson, is of special interest. The keelson is a timber or girder fastened above and parallel to the keel of a ship for additional strength. The keel runs lengthwise along the center line from bow to stern and to which the frame of the ship it attached.
Our affirmation begins and ends with love, from bow to stern: “Love is the spirit of this church…to seek the truth in love.”
Before looking again at our Unitarian roots in Transylvania, and our Partner church there, in the little village of Alsoboldogfalva, let’s take a stroll through our garden.
Whitman says, poetically, that our deepest roots are embedded in the earth itself, shining down from our sun, which is one of millions of stars in our galaxy. The deepest roots connect us to the earth and to the stars, the Natural world of which we are a part.
He reminds of the need for a Sabbath: “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.”
Stop. That’s a Sabbath. To stop. To stop trying. To stop trying to alter the universe—to simply be in it—to be in it simply.
Revelation, then, is the process of stopping to ‘look at all sides and filter them from yourself.’ It is not something handed down from the sky, from heaven, from a supernatural being. It is something that is rooted in the essence of Nature.
Revelation is the ongoing process of filtering our own experience to discover, again and again, what is at the essence or the heart of life—our own individual life, and by extension the essence of the life we share.
“A kelson of the creation is love,” he says. Without that extra support beam the ship would not stand withstand inevitable storms. That’s true for each of us.
We need one another. We need a sense of our individuality, a sense of independence. But we also need to nurture a sense of interdependence. We’re not alone.
Unitarianism in America, like the nation itself, was conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal. As Whitman said, love is the sense that “all men ever born are my brothers and women my sisters.” We’re part of humanity, which is a specific part of Nature, or God.
Unitarianism is intimately connected to the War of Independence—the Revolutionary War…the overthrow of the tyrant. America was born after a gestation period that culminated in the labor pains of 1776.
Unitarianism is to religion what our democracy was and is to the body politic.
Thomas Jefferson predicted, and I quote, that ‘every young man born in America today will die a Unitarian.’
His prediction was, first of all, a statement of hope, as well as a suggestion of the relationship between the Unitarian religion which he embraced and the democracy in which he invested himself.
At first glance it would seem that Jefferson was wrong in his prediction that ‘every young man born in America today will die a Unitarian.’
But maybe he was right. It was his timing that was off. First the nation itself had to take hold, then slavery needed to be abolished, and women had to be included fully. The labor pains continue even to our own day on those two aspects of our national life.
If you look closely I think you’ll see that there’s more than a hint of Unitarianism deep in our national roots. The ideal of individual freedom is so deeply ingrained that we often take it for granted. And this sense of individual freedom has colored every religious group that puts down its own roots in America. The Catholic church is colored by it, and the various Protestants faiths are fired in this kiln to the extent that a Jimmy Carter decides to withdraw from that part of his Baptist denomination that continues to refuse to ordain women and to accept men and women whose sexual orientation does not fit the traditional mold.
Freedom requires responsibility. Freedom denied to one has dangerous implications for us all.
Our Unitarian roots, then, are deeply embedded in this soil, in the ideals of this nation.
Our roots run deeper. As a congregation we recently celebrated our fiftieth birthday. That birth was, in part at least, the result of the birth of Unitarianism in Transylvania in 1568, when King John Sigismund issued the first edict of religious toleration. He was encouraged to do so by Francis David, or David Franz, as our brothers and sisters in Transylvania say.
When I was in the pulpit of our Partner Church a year ago last summer I was able to affirm the basic theological statement which is carved in so many of their pulpits, and so often on their tongues: Egy As Isten—God is one.
In my sermon there I affirmed this basic notion that unites us, saying, “We are all children of the One God; Egy Az Isten.” (Edge Oz Eeshten)
That journey was more than a travel experience, it was a pilgrimage. It was a journey, first of all, to a sacred place—a place made sacred by the martyrs who gave their lives for this faith of ours.
It was a pilgrimage in the sense that it was a long journey—long delayed, perhaps, with an exalted purpose, a journey with moral significance.
It was a pilgrimage because it was an opportunity to make a thorough examination…an exploration, in search of something beyond my own understanding. That is to say, I was looking for something but I didn’t really know what I was looking for.
And I found it! That discovery made it a pilgrimage in every sense.
When you mention Transylvania most people will say “Dracula.” I asked one of our fifth graders what came to mind when he heard the word Transylvania. He was looking at the kiosk on which I’d attached photographs I took there. He said, “Isn’t that where they say all the vampires come from?”
There is a more than a touch of Dracula in our Unitarian heritage there, and not only in the dark, distant past. In recent years our Unitarian sisters and brothers suffered under the oppressive dictatorship of Ceauscescu who was violently removed from power in 1989.
Transylvania has been part of Romania since the end of WWI. Prior to that the Homorod Valley, where most of the Unitarians live, was part of Hungary. The Unitarians who live there now are Hungarian. They are an ethnic minority and have endured decades of persecution. They were forced to give up their heritage, their language, and Ceauscescu had a grand plan to destroy all the villages in the Homorod valley of Transylvania.
He did, in fact, destroy one of the villages. I was there, at the village of Bozodujfalu, which is under water. Ceauscescu flooded the village under a pretense of planning to build a damn, which never happened.
The steeple of the Unitarian church rises up out of the water as a stark reminder of the persecution our brothers and sisters there have endured.
Ceauscescu’s iron fist was broken; important changes have already happened, but there is so much to be done to relieve the suffering and after effects of persecution.
This past summer there was a huge rally in Bozodujfal, a pilgrimage for our Unitarian sisters and brothers as they gathered in this flooded village in a remote region of Transylvania.
When I was there with our Partner Church’s minister, Rev. Biro Mihaly, the village under water was nearly empty, and would have been if it weren’t for two Gypsy families squatting in small farm houses that were on the outside of the village on the hill.
Just outside the flooded village there’s a wailing wall, a remnant with the religious symbols of the three different churches of the village, a symbol of the people’s ability to live in harmony with one another, to live in harmony with their differences. I have photos of the flooded village.
And I have photos of our Partner Church.
I stayed with the minister and his family in the parsonage in front of the three-hundred year old church building. On the first morning my colleague in ministry invited me to come out with him to feed the pigs and chickens, knowing I’d be interested in how he lived.
Actually I was already out in the yard where I had picked a nice red tomato from his garden, enjoying it the way I did as a boy, picking and eating a tomato in our Victory Garden.
Mihaly smiled when he caught me red-handed, so to speak, and I rubbed my stomach to indicate my delight.
He called me over to the garage that had been built on to his out building where he kept the pigs and chickens. He pointed to the garage, then pointed to me and held up three fingers, then his thumb as an indication of gratitude.
Then we walked into the church building and he pointed to the gas pipe leading to the big pot-belly stove in the center of the sanctuary, and again gave the three-finger sign and the thumb indicating his gratitude.
I knew, even before getting confirmation from the translator who showed up later, that he was saying that this is how they used the $300 we had sent each year for a few years.
A few days later, on Sunday morning, Mihaly arranged to have me present the $700 gift I had brought for their building, which he had told me by mail they needed to begin work on their renovation project.
Then, this summer, my friend and colleague, Dick Drinon, with whom I traveled to Transylvania last summer, brought our gift of $3000 to complete their building renovation project, and for which they are extremely appreciative.
We’ve done more.
Barbara will talk about the patch-work wall hanging that 210 of our children helped create by designing a patch. Each of the patches was sewed into seven patch-work quilts, four of which were sent to our Partner Church. They now hang in their Fellowship Hall, in the undercroft of the parsonage where they meet for worship in the winter as well as for fellowship all year long.
She will also tell us about the letters our children have been sending back and forth as pen-pals, and she will tell us the story of a young woman we’re helping to send to college in a village near our Partner Church village.
Where do we go from here?
Barbara is gathering those of you who wish to become more actively involved in this work.
We hope to put together a Hungarian dinner to raise money for ongoing needs; two large donors added to contributions you’ve made to make our recent gift possible.
Some are talking about a pilgrimage to Transylvania.
Where do you think we should go with this effort? What next?
“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems…you shall possess the good of the earth and the sun…a kelson of the creation is love.”