Why are We Here? What are We Doing?

[This post is the homily I had the great privilege of delivering for the three individuals called and ordained to Interfaith Ministry on September 22, 2012, by the Interfaith Congregation for Creative and Healing Ministries.  Thank you and Congratulations, Reverends Bob, Elaine, and Hanna!  ALSO: for another version of this post, please visit my friends at Lumunos, a very special Christian organization, focusing on Call and Relational ministry.  I’m delighted to share that, for the next few months, I’ll be joining the Lumunos blog as a guest!]

A few weeks ago I sat with Bob, Elaine and Hanna to talk with them about this day.  I asked them what they were hoping to have conveyed in this segment of the service, and one of them said, “In a nutshell, Lauren, we want you to explain ‘why we are here and what we are doing.’”

GRAND questions!  Why are we here?  What are we doing? 

First, Why are we here?  I have three ideas:

  1. For starters, as family and friends who love you, we’re here to honor and celebrate your sense of clarity.   Any person who comes to know his/her Right Work in this world deserves, at a minimum, recognition and more appropriately still, a ritual to proclaim it and to bless your way forward.
  2. As a spiritual community, we’re here to honor the practice of Interfaith.  I’m using the word, “practice,” very intentionally, because the word, Interfaith and how it is defined carries multiple truths for many people.  As a community, we’re here both to engage with and to celebrate the dynamic tension and stimulus invited through our Interfaith practice.
  3. Also, as individuals within the greater human family, I will boldly suggest we’re here because within each of us, there is a hunger or desire for things to be other than they are; for the Big Picture to look and feel different.

A day ago, I fell into a conversation with a handful of women I barely know.  We were reflecting on a local news headline that had us all distressed. Sighing softly and – I thought – inaudibly, I uttered, “We need to do something different.”  The woman across from me, put her hands to her chest, “Oh my gosh; that’s it!  We need to do something different.”  And this segues into the next question…what are we doing?

In Sanskrit, there is a phrase, “Neti; Neti.”  Translated, it means, “Not this; neither that.”  When something isn’t this…and it isn’t that, what remains?  This question actively informs our studies at The Chaplaincy Institute, and our spiritual practices as an Interfaith Congregation.  As a first step, we endeavor to better understand the “this” and the “that,” in their unique wholeness.  For example, we study the core teachings of Christianity, and the core teachings of Sikhism.  We strive to appreciate the light and the shadow imbedded in all the Wisdom Traditions.  And then, as Interfaith Ministers or Chaplains, we venture on, a little further.  Valuing the completeness of two ideas, what happens when we actively lean into the space that’s in-between? 

We all have experience with this concept; most commonly, it appears when we try to resolve a conflict, but it also shows up when humans are trying to do something different.  The work of interfaith ministry is not only about this, nor only about that, but about tending the possibility, as it arises.

I won’t lie: this work is DICEY.  Doing something “different,” means living unrehearsed.  It means responding to uncertainty; it means speaking truth when the stakes are high; it means searching for justice and embodying peace, it means sitting with others and allowing our powerlessness — our inability to fix painful situations — to be the offering of suffice.  Is this work reserved for clergy?  Heck, no!  In these times, it’s all hands on-deck.  On behalf of all species, the human family world-around; our resources, businesses, cultures and support systems all in flux and varying states of innovation and break-down, we are ALL being invited to engage in this practice.  AND, we need support.

And, this is why we’re here and what we’re doing.  Today, Bob, Elaine and Hanna are heeding a deep sense of Call.  Responding to their faithful belief, their trust in the Divine, they are offering themselves as resources of support.  In co-creative practice with the Divine, these three are signing-on to companion and witness the rest of us in the holy, unpredictable patterns of life and death, joy and sorrow, coming and going, growing and grieving.

And on this day, the Interfaith Congregation is both celebrating your Call and recognizing your accomplishments.  Your studies have strengthened you to do this work as authentically as each of you – Bob, Hanna and Elaine – can vulnerably-bravely-resiliently-wisely-and-compassionately muster.

March 2011 Ordination, Laying-On of Hands. Photo: V. Weiland

Each of us, responding to our hunger for greater connectivity, more intimacy, deeper understanding has arrived here today to bless your way forward.  Thank you for your courage; thank you for saying “Yes!;” thank you for inspiring the rest of us to ask if there’s, perhaps, something out there that might just be refreshingly, soothingly, soul-shiftingly different.

To close, I bless you with the words of Rumi and his poem, Always You:

First when I was apart from You, this world did not exist, nor any other.

Second, whatever I was looking for was always You.

Third, why did I ever learn to count to three?

Soulstice Midwifery: Standing at Door #3

“You must give birth to your images.  
They are the future waiting to be born…
Fear not the strangeness you feel.  
The future must enter into you long before it happens.”
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

One of my favorite eco-comic strips is a picture of a man standing at the grocery check-out. A voice beyond the frame appears in a bubble proverbially asking, “Paper or plastic?” The bubble above the customer’s head bursts forth, “Suddenly Jon realized he didn’t want paper OR plastic. He wanted something new, something fantastic!”

I love this because it illustrates a sentiment felt by most of us at any given time: “I don’t want this and I don’t want that.” Perhaps we want some combination of the two, or possibly (my personal tendency) we want something altogether different, something out-of-the-box. “What’s behind Door #3?”

In India’s Vedic scriptures there is a Sanskrit phrase, “Neti, Neti,” or, “Not this and Not this.” It is used by spiritual teachers when pressed by students to define the way things are, or to comment on the nature of Self. When things are neither ‘this way’, nor ‘that way’; when we are neither this, nor that—then who and what are we?

As the Schoolhouse Rock song of the 70’s put it, “Three is a magic number.” Never in our evolution have we so needed that which is waiting behind Door #3.

For all its magic, three is also tricky for us dually-inclined humans. Three introduces something new to my clean straight line. Now I’m not simply traveling from here to there. Now there’s a less familiar route on the map, twisting toward a destination that is less certain, possibly foreign.

Our spiritual traditions have supported us on these divergent, curious, exciting albeit nerve-racking adventures to the mysterious territory of three. I’m thinking most obviously of the Trinity in the Christianity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but also of the Egyptians’ sacred geometry and the Triple Gem in Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha), as well as the Triune of deities in Hinduism (Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu), ever creating and destroying life’s dance. Our religious beliefs and faith traditions illustrate and model for us that, uncomfortable though it may be, the third way often leads to expansion, liberation and spiritual depth.

On Nov. 4th, citizens across this country walked up the front porch steps and stood bravely in front of Door #3. (For some, it took a leap of faith, while for others it was as simple as…well, 1, 2, 3.) Drawing from a diverse community of ideas in clean technology, renewable energy and green jobs, Barack Obama’s vision is to create a more sustainable way of living for all of us on multiple levels: in Iraq, in our bank accounts, in the air we breathe and in our relationships to and with others. This means that, beginning January 20th, the United States will have a leader who claims he will be incorporating ideas that are a giant combination of “Yes We Can,” and, “Neti, Neti.”

Our nation elected Obama in the wake of the harvest, a time of earthly abundance painted in vibrant Fall colors, bursting with fertile fruits—apples, maize and squash—and wrapped in the special cast of Autumnal Equinox light. Now the season has changed, and the Solstice is upon us. Solstice brings to us both its gift and a special invitation.

As stewards of Creation, we have a lot of work to do. Be we fearful or of great courage, scientists cannot paint the picture with any more clarity: last Summer, in the Arctic Circle, an area the size of Colorado was melting every week. In the words of NASA scientist, James Hansen, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted….carbon dioxide will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm (parts per million) to at most 350 ppm.”

Given American culture’s emphasis on Christmas, I would like to reflect on the potency of the Solstice season, pairing it with Christianity. Let’s begin with the gift of Solstice—the incubation period it provides. Unlike any other season in the earth’s calendar, the Solstice season creates holy time to pause, recollect and consider the journey ahead.

In the Christian calendar, this season is called “Advent,” or “coming,” markingMary’s Immaculate Conception and pregnancy. Christians are invited to use this time metaphorically, tending the fruits of our soul’s womb. Like tulip or amaryllis bulbs waiting in the cold, dark earth, we plant our hopes and prepare for what is to come. Different from the hibernating response of bears, humans in the season of Advent prefer to warm one another and to stand firm in the conviction that the light will return. We do this by lighting candles, singing songs, and exchanging gifts to celebrate the birth of the Divine.

As we move into the darkest hours of the Solstice, journeying through to the return of the light and the inauguration of one who stands ready to make decisions on behalf of how we care for the health of our planet and our future with one another, Door #3 awaits. It invites us to knock and walk through. It is “soulstice” midwifery. The Holy Spirit is seeking to be born through you in this sacred season.

What “new thing” is waiting to be born in you in the coming year? Might it take you on the road less traveled? How, in the next weeks, is it asking to be tended in your soul’s womb? And what is it asking of you to bring to our hurting world? 

How will this season lend you space to innovate and practice? Perhaps, it is calling on you to join with others. Why not use the simple sweetness of the Solstice season to practice ways of sharing, collaborating and weaving community?

At the threshold of Door #3, our future calls us to bring our divine gifts with trust, joy and gusto. In this season of holy incubation and Divine birth, prepare yourself and those around you for the great joy that is to come. Good news indeed!

All blessings!