Humility and purpose

A couple of items caught my attention this week, separate yet connected, and worth noting.

converted PNM file

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this photo of our Earth last week, taken by the Cassini spacecraft from its orbit around Saturn.

That’s us, scurrying around on that small white dot right of center, between the rings and the light band below. Could that band be the sun’s glow?

All the human drama, the births and deaths, the love and the hatred, is contained in that small dot that we inhabit — that we share with the mountains, the oceans, and the abundance of plant and animal life.

A tiny, tiny dot in the infinite vastness of space and time.

As I contemplate this image, I’m reminded of the mystery of creation and the fundamental spiritual questions: what is the meaning of life and how do we live lives of meaning?

Related to this, the second item that caught my attention this week came in the form of a blog post by UU minister Tom Schade. He asks how we define ourselves and how we UUs might define ourselves given a 50-year perspective.

It’s all about perspective. You or I can define ourselves by family, city, nation, where born, high school or college, profession, religious affiliation, one or more issues. Just think of how you choose to define yourself.

Tom posits:

“There will be a day when we all see ourselves as one Earth People.”

That conclusion seems pretty obvious from the perspective of Saturn, albeit more hopeful than obvious from Earth.

Tom sees signs, though, rooted in the global challenges humanity is facing: climate change, immigration, and the disparities of the global financial system. As he says,

“Our consciousness of who we are will catch up with the reality.”

How can we UUs provide leadership in this process, rather than passively observing the grinding millstone of history? Tom reminds us of our Universalist heritage and of its continuing theme in our world view. He says

“Our theological construction imagines a single humanity equally beloved by God … We carry from our theological forerunners the seeds of an emerging consciousness — that we exist as the people of the Earth and we are in this together.  One of our missions for the next 50 years is preparing the way.”

Preparing the way. That’s something we UUs can do as a wholesome endeavor and to fulfill our desire to live meaningful lives.

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Meditation on a moonrise

How often have you watched — completely watched — the moon rise above the horizon? Photographer Mark Gee provides this transfixing view of a moonrise in Wellington, New Zealand, with a perspective that may well give you a sense of transcendence.

Enjoy this meditation.

Full Moon Silhouettes from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

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A reminder of our human connection

Watch this touching video produced by the Cleveland Clinic, poignantly reminding us of our human connection.

Hat tip to Krista Tippett’s On Being, where I originally saw this, and to the Cleveland Clinic, for telling the story so well.

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Musical transcendence

Benedictus by 2CELLOS is a beautiful track for meditating. Focus on the cellos; see if they lead you to a few minutes of transcendence.

 

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Echoes of a life

I’m home after attending a memorial service celebrating the life of a longtime member of our church, a remarkable woman who lived Thoreau’s admonition to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

The church was full and the service ran over 90 minutes. Family and friends recounted their memories spanning her 85 years, stories that painted a vivid picture of a life and the essence of a woman any of us would want to know. We cried, but largely we laughed and smiled as we acknowledged her death, yet focused on the way she blessed the world.

Leaving the warm church and hurrying through the cold afternoon to my car, I mused over two life lessons I drew from the memorial, reminders of truths that I so easily forget in the day-to-day living of life.

First, the stories, the memories we shared that brought laughs and tears were about times spent together, the connections between us — not about money amassed during a lifetime nor prestige or prominence attained. We heard of her acts of kindness and generosity, her willingness to explore and try the new, the dimensions of life that reflect our common humanity and bind us together.

Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Nowhere is that clearer than a memorial service. Yet how many of us lives our lives mindful of that?

The second lesson I brought home to consider:

Within the past couple of months, I’ve attended two memorial services for an elder, meaning someone 70 or older whom I’ve only known during this period of life. Sadly, it has been their memorial services where I’ve learned what rich and wondrous lives they lived.

How much better would it be to hear the stories from their own lips and see the joy and sadness in their eyes and faces — and for them to hear and see my appreciation and respect and amazement at their life journeys.

In a culture that prizes the new and the young, our elders are discounted and slowly fade from view, often spending their last years in seclusion in a nursing facility or, if they are fortunate, at home. They only reemerge with death, when we all gather in a church.

Life seems forever, until it ends. We never know when that fateful day will come. May I use these days I am given to hear the stories of my fellow travelers, to cherish and deepen the connections, and to make the memories that will bring smiles and laughter some distant day.

Ripples in Walden Pond

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A moment in time

How would you define a moment?

They’re all sacred. Be present.

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Perspective

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, iconic thermometer of the U.S. stock market, ended the week up.

The 2012 campaign heated up as Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, pounced on President Obama’s statement that “the private sector is doing fine.”

Last week, America’s Got Talent was the highest rated program with adult viewers 18 to 49.

Innocent men, women, and children continue to be killed in Syria, yet another example of a despotic government.

Our dog was diagnosed with anaplasmosis. Two days into her 28-day antibiotic prescription, she is back to normal.

This week’s weather seemed unseasonably cool and rainy.

Oh, and Tuesday, Venus transited the sun — for the last time this century. The geometry of the Earth’s and Venus’ orbits about the Sun define that transits occur in pairs eight years apart, then not again for 121.5 and 105.5 years. (What a great example for a geometry class!)

The advances of medicine notwithstanding, it’s unlikely that anyone alive today will witness the next transits in 2117 and 2125, just as we weren’t around for the 1874 and 1882 transits. Ulysses S. Grant was U.S. President in 1874, James Garfield in 1884.

The first recorded observation of the transit was in 1639, 373 years ago. The transit was used to determine the distance between the earth and the sun — unknown until then.

The Earth is 93-million miles from the sun. Venus is 67-million miles. Venus, known as both the evening and morning star in our night sky, is but a tiny circular disk as it passes the sun.

Thanks to Venus and NASA for providing a bit of perspective, lest we be too absorbed by ourselves.

Read more about the geometry and the human history of the transit of Venus on Wikipedia.

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Raw Faith Premiers on Documentary Channel

The film Raw Faith will premier this Sunday, May 20, at 8:00 pm Eastern and Pacific on the Documentary Channel.

Raw Faith is a moving love story of Unitarian Universalist minister Marilyn Sewell’s decision to retire from her church, while struggling to reconcile her self-image from her childhood. Unexpectedly, love enters her life — a counterpoint to her lifelong doubts.

Imagine being followed around by a film crew for two years. That’s the extent to which Marilyn opened her life to share her journey and struggles, as you’ll hear in our phone conversation. Raw Faith is wonderfully done, and I think you’ll be moved, as I was.

The Documentary Channel is primarily available on satellite television services DISH Network (Channel 197) and DIRECTV (Channel 267). Check their web site for additional show times if you can’t catch Sunday’s premier.

The film is also available on DVD from Alive Mind Cinema.

If you haven’t already heard it, Marilyn shared her religious journey on Episode 20 of the Be Spiritual podcast.

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Losing Faith

NPR’s religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Haggerty tells this touching story of a Methodist pastor whose spiritual searching led her to conclude that she’s an atheist.

Of course, that’s anathema in a traditional Christian church.

So Teresa MacBain played her ministerial role hypocritically. After the internal conflict became too much to bear and she declared her true belief — or lack of — she had to resign and face ostracism from her church community.

Had she been a Unitarian Universalist, her questioning would have been encouraged, her atheism accepted, her spirit nurtured.

Listen to NPR’s story.

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This I Believe

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All nine of us who serve as Worship Associates at the UU Church of Nashua (NH) will be sharing what we believe during this morning’s service.

All nine of us in under 60 minutes. We need to allow time for opening and closing hymns, an outreach offering, Spirit of Life. That leaves only two to three minutes for each of us to crisply articulate whatever “answers” we have found to the spiritual questions that all of us ponder throughout our lives.

I thought I would share my own thoughts with you, since I’m usually asking others what they believe.

Kim Crawford Harvie, Minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, spells G*d with an asterisk. This asterisk is nice shorthand to reflect the conundrum of my religious wonderings since I became skeptical of the paternalistic view of the divine, the concept of God I was raised with.

And while it’s easy for me to reject that view, it’s not as easy for me to say that there is no divinity.

Our rational minds, thinking both logically and abstractly, and enabled by the scientific method, have discerned that the universe was formed in a big bang some 14-billion years ago. We have watched and modeled planets, stars, galaxies, and black holes. We probe the microscopic spaces of the atom and have subdivided it into waves and a myriad of particles. Between these two extremes, governed by natural laws that we have uncovered, we have also discovered the concepts of compassion, justice, and love.

Observing this incredible abundance of nature and life, and trying to comprehend it all, I suspect some sort of creative force propels the universe. Not a totally deterministic force that predicts each and every sparrow’s fall, rather a creative force that embraces randomness and works through quantum mechanics, evolution, free will, curiosity, and imagination.

Richard Kearney, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written a book titled The God Who May Be. The first line of his introduction is the provocative assertion that “God neither is … nor is not … but may be.”

“What I mean by this,” he says. “Is that God, who is traditionally thought of as act or actuality, might better be rethought as possibility.”

The creative force that started the universe has given us life. Whether that process was intentional or random doesn’t really matter.

We are here, each of us, with too few years to respond to the possibilities before us. Do we embody the promises of compassion, of justice, of love?

If we do, we will rise to become worthy agents of the creative force, helping to make real Kearney’s God of possibility — a G*d I can believe in.

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