Many of us are here because of what we don’t believe. Many of us were raised in a Christian church and were told that Jesus literally was born of a virgin, rose bodily from the dead, descended into hell, and later ascended into heaven ‘to sit at the right hand of the Father.’
We didn’t believe it. Bad idea!
Or we were told/taught about predestination and election: that God decides before you are born whether you will get to heaven – the rest will go to hell. Bad idea…we didn’t believe it…we refused to believe in that kind of arbitrary, cruel, punishing God…it seemed like a bad idea then, and even worse, now.
We were told that certain things had to accepted ‘on faith,’ and many of us were reprimanded for questioning what we were told, and it left a bad taste – we needed a ‘good word,’ and still do.
Many of us were raised in the Jewish faith and went through the same kind of questioning, doubting and leaving. We’re here, however, not because of what we don’t believe, but because of things we do believe, things we do affirm, things to which we say a resounding yes!
Good words are words that connect…’it speaks to me’. Bad words divide…hoping to conquer or have power over. Guns; immigration; taxes; health care…the great divide that draws a line in the sand and you are either on one side or the other.
In today’s NYT there’s an op-ed piece by Tanya Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stamford, who writes about the great religious divide – those who profess a belief in God and those who flatly deny such a belief. She says:
“Anthropologists have a term for this racheting-up of opposition: schismogenesis. Gregory Bateson developed the word to describe mirroring interactions, where every move by each side makes the other respond more negatively, like those horrible arguments with your spouse where everything you say makes the other person dig in their heels more fiercely.”
She goes on to say, “These days we Americans live not only with political schismogenesis, but also religious schismogenesis.”
I have a little book called a Discriptionary, one of whose words is Unitarianism, which it describes as: “The church noted for its philosophy that all faiths lead to the same truth and for its readings from the sacred texts of various religions, including Christianity, at services.”
Joseph Campbell, in his wonderful book, Myths to Live By, refers to a myth from India in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, from about the eighth century B.C.E. About it he writes:
“This tells of a time before the beginning of time, when this universe was nothing but ‘the Self’ in the form of a man. And that Self, as we read, ‘looked around and saw that there was nothing but itself, whereupon its first shout was, ‘It is I!’; whence the concept ‘I’ arose.’ And when that Self had thus become aware of itself as an ‘I,’ an ego, it was afraid. But it reasoned, thinking, ‘Since there is no one here but myself, what is there to fear?’ Whereupon the fear departed.
“However, that Self, as we next are told, ‘still lacked delight and wished there were another.’ It swelled and, splitting in two, became male and female. The male embraced the female, and from that the human race arose. But she thought, ‘How can he unite with me, who am of his own substance? Let me hide!’ She became a cow, so he a bull and united with her, and from that cattle arose; she became a mare, so he became a stallion…and so on, down to the ants.
“Then he realized, ‘I, actually, am Creation; for I have poured forth all this.’ Whence arose the concept ‘creation’ (Sanskrit srishtih, ‘what is poured forth’). Anyone understanding this becomes, truly, himself a creator in this creation.’
Then Joseph Campbell writes about the Hebrew myth of creation in Genesis in which Adam is formed from the dust of the earth by the creator. The creator saw that the man was lonely so he formed every beast of the field and bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. None of them gave him delight. Genesis says, “So the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs…” When the man beheld the woman, he said, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” We all know what next occurred – and here we all are, in this vale of tears.”
Campbell writes: “But now, please notice! In this second version of the shared legend it was not the god who was split in two, but his created servant. The god did not become male and female and then pour himself forth to become all this. He remained apart and of a different substance. We have thus one tale in two totally different versions. And their implications relevant to the ideals and disciplines of the religious life are, accordingly, different too.
“In the Orient the guiding ideal is that each should realize that he himself and all others are of the one substance of that universal Being of beings which is, in the same Self in all. Hence the typical aim of an Oriental religion is that one should experience and realize in life ones identity with that Being; whereas in the West, following our Bible, the ideal is, rather, to become engaged in a relationship with that absolutely other Person who is one’s Maker, apart and ‘out there,’ in no sense one’s innermost Self.”
I remind you of the title of Joseph Campbell’s book from which this passage comes: Myths to Live By.
Forty years ago, when I first read this book, I wrote in the margin beside the paragraph that says: “In the Orient the guiding ideal is that each should realize that he himself and all others are of the one substance of that universal Being of beings which is, in the same Self in all.” ‘*Jesus said!’
Jesus is quoted as saying, “I and the Father are One.” And at the Last Supper, the Seder, he is quoted as saying about the bread and wine, “This is my body, take and eat in remembrance of me.”
In other words, we are ‘of one substance.’ We are the stuff of the universe and our little portion of it, the earth – we come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in some sense beyond my personal capacity to imagine much less to articulate, we remain part of the substance eternally.
That, of course is a faith statement – it’s positive, affirmative, it’s ‘the good word,’ for me, at least. Since I cannot describe it as I would like to be able to describe it, I turn to poetry, which is simply a form of mythology – a way of telling little truths, piece by piece, like pieces of a multi-million piece jigsaw puzzle…no, a multi-billion piece jigsaw puzzle, or multi-trillion piece puzzle, and each of us is but one of those tiny pieces making up the Whole, which I choose to call God, as long as I can distinguish it from the idea of a God who is separate from you and me…a God who is Other.
We are One, and life is good. (If you trace the etymology of the word good you’ll find that it Old English it was spelled with one ‘o,’ or god. What’s the good word? God, or Good, with a capital G.)
In the Genesis myth when the god creates each thing, the heavens and the earth and all the creatures, and humans, he looks at it and says, ‘it is good.’
So we look upon creation and say ‘it is good,’ and thus we affirm Creation, including the self – our part of Creation. We are the eyes and ears of the creator god pronouncing Life good. That’s ‘the good word.’
It’s important to express ourselves in positive terms. In his letter to the Philippians Paul says:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
First of all, we say yes to life, and we say yes to the spirit central to our lives…that spirit includes a sincere sense of caring for the suffering of others and the wish to be in meaningful relationship them; the wish to raise our children to be respectful of one another and to be informed about religion without being indoctrinated with theological creeds and dogma, but to see that there is truth in all the religions with their stories, their myths – the wish for them to have self-respect and to live ethical, moral lives – in other words, ‘to do unto others as they would have done unto them, and to refrain from doing to others what they don’t want done to them.’
It’s not complicated, but it’s not so simple, either. It’s a challenge for each of us, not only in our parenting and grand parenting, but in living our own lives with dignity and respect…with kindness and consideration…
That’s ‘the good word.’
Self-talk: From the time we started to use words, each of us has been having a conversation with ourselves…sometimes we are critical of ourselves, as in ‘judge not lest ye be judged.’ Sometimes we’re good to ourselves and the inner conversation helps us to feel at peace.
Prayer is self-talk: intentional…putting oneself in a good state of mind – by saying ‘thank you,’ and by saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and by asking for help – the strength to carry on, to overcome the burdens of the day.
Humility is a form of self-talk:it allows us to be fallible and to acknowledge our faults and failures and limitations, and it’s one of the ingredients to finding peace of mind.
Forgiveness is self-talk:forgiving oneself as well as others so you can move on with your life. It’s an essential aspect of spirituality.
What’s the good word that you need to say to yourself? What’s the good word you’ve been meaning to say to someone in your life? The good word at the right moment lasts forever, or at least as much of forever as we need to know.
In his preface to the first edition of his poems, Leaves of Grass, in 1855, Whitman summarized the good word this way:
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals…give alms to every one that asks…argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”~Whitman, Introduction of 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass
The final good word for today is enjoy!’