When we were kids my older brother Chet raised homing pigeons, among others; there were warblers, who turned in mid-air, there were pigeons with big fluffy crowns, and so forth. They were beautiful, and the homing pigeons were quite remarkable in their ability to find their way home.
One day we went to Revere beach, about an hour’s drive from our house, and Chet brought three of his homing pigeons. He released them just as we were leaving the beach. Sure enough, they beat us home. There they were in their coop to greet us when we got there. Quite remarkable.
There are a few theories about how the birds find their way back home. The one I like is ‘magnetic navigation’ – they have a kind of magnet in their brains that acts like a compass for them. Researchers have found a tiny bit of iron in their brains, and they believe that it acts like a magnet or the needle on the compass.
Recently I heard a story about a cat in England who found it’s way to the new home of her owners. The story says that they moved from the house where they and the cat had lived, but they left the cat with a family member who was going to join the others later. The cat got out and was missing for weeks, and amazingly she showed up in the new home. How did she do that?
How you find your way here? What route did you take? Most of us took a route through a religion of our childhood—Jewish, Catholic, Protestant—some have been through the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist route.
Do you feel at home here?
Do you feel at home in yourself?
In his poem, The Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost has Warren say to his wife, Mary: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Mary responds, “’I should have called it something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’
To feel at home is to feel comfortable in a place–a secure environment. It’s to feel a sense of connection, to feel part of a group where you feel okay about yourself because there’s a sense of mutual respect and caring.
Home is a place where you feel safe. That is, where it feels safe to be yourself, whether you are gay or straight; theist, atheist or some combination; whether you are married or single; child or adult, and so on.
This is our place and it’s up to each of us to make and keep it a safe place where we can grow and development a deeper, sustaining spirituality. It’s our religious home. You remember the line from our special hymn: ‘…this hearth though all the world grow chill will keep you warm.’
We’re going to sing it in a few minutes.
This annual service of rededication has special significance for those of us who have been coming back year after year, and we hope it will take on a deeper kind of meaning to those who are relatively new.
Our service of rededication is a reminder that we’re continually creating this place, this spiritual home.
We don’t need to pretend that we have all the answers. We don’t need to claim that we’re somehow special, in the sense of being ‘better than’ the other religions of the world.
But we do claim that this is a place where you’re encouraged to ask all the questions you want to ask, and need to ask, and should be asking.
That’s why we like those lines in T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
We are here to explore both the outer world, where there’s such a drain on the human spirit these days, and the inner world, where we’re encouraged to take a journey into the heart and soul of this thing we call the self. The Hindu distinguishes between the small ‘s’ self and the capital ‘S.’ The small ‘s’ is the ego, the personal identity which we need to develop and to assert. The capital ‘S.’ is similar to the idea of an immanent God; a God that is inside each of us.
We’re here to continually build and rebuild the life of the spirit, which is beyond our knowing, beyond our intellectual capacity, beyond explanation, but with which each of us is intimately aware.
We are here to explore old ideas—take another look, and do some housecleaning–to get rid of prejudices and old moldy ideas–like bread that has been kept too long.
We are here because we have the courage to question and because we believe that it matters what we think, what we believe, and that we should be growing in our beliefs, rather than stagnant or stuck with all our old ideas and prejudices.
We are here because we believe in the democratic process where every voice has a chance to be heard; because we do not believe in authoritarianism, where there’s one voice at the top, or one idea that dominates, or one book that is sacred.
We are here to learn humility, again and again; to be reminded that we are not in charge of the universe, but we are responsible for the building of our own lives, and in that process we need one another; that we are responsible citizens of a nation in which our freedom is cherished, and which we have a responsibility to preserve.
We are here because we are faced with decisions in our day-to-day lives, and we need to step back and avoid plunging headlong down the old road that’s paved with anger and stained with violence and filled with potholes of despair.
We’re like the lone traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, with which I’ll close:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.