Everyone Eventually Be Consoled
Karen G. Johnston
Candidate for Unitarian Universalist Ministry
Village Church, Cummington, MA
October 6, 2013
STORY FOR ALL AGES
We start with this excerpt from The Little Prince, as he is taking leave of his human friend and returning to his tiny planet with its one rose and three volcanoes (one of which is extinct)…
“That’ll be my present (…).”
“What do you mean?”
“People have stars, but they aren’t the same. For travelers, the stars are guides. For other people, they’re nothing but tiny lights. And for still others, for scholars, they’re problems. For my businessman, they were gold. But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!”
And he laughed again.
“And when you’re consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me. You’ll always be my friend. You’ll feel like laughing with me. And you’ll open your window sometimes just for the fun of it….And your friends will be amazed to see you laughing while you’re looking up at the sky. Then you’ll tell them, ‘Yes, it’s the stars; they always make me laugh!…”
Concerning the Atoms of the Soul
Someone explained once how the pieces of what we are
fall downwards at the same rate
as the Universe.
The atoms of us, falling towards the centre
of whatever everything is. And we don’t see it.
We only sense their slight drag in the lifting hand.
That’s what weight is, that communal process of falling.
Furthermore, these atoms carry hooks, like burrs,
hooks catching like hooks, like clinging to like,
that’s what keeps us from becoming something else,
and why in early love, we sometimes
feel the tug of the heart snagging on another’s heart.
Only the atoms of the soul are perfect spheres
with no means of holding on to the world
or perhaps no need for holding on,
and so they fall through our lives catching
against nothing, like perfect rain,
and in the end, he wrote, mix in that common well of light
at the centre of whatever the suspected
centre is, or might have been.
~ John Glenday ~
Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, ed. by Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce
What is it about the heavens that are so compelling? What draws us out to look at the stars on clear nights, like perhaps you are (or were, given the latest forecast) planning to do tomorrow night, just after sunrise, to see the Draconids, or later this month, the Orionids – meteor showers that continue to thrill and delight?
Is it the chance to laugh, as the Little Prince suggests?
What are the stars for you? Are they guides? Nothing but tiny light? Are they possible sources of gold and profit? Problems to be solved?
It turns out that even for those problem-focused people – scientists, astronomers – the more time they spend trying to solve the problem of stars, the more likely they are to not only come up with some new information that will blow the mind, but that they will also come away with an astounding sense of awe that expands the heart.
For instance, there’s Ron Garan, with two missions on the space station in 2008 and 2011 under his belt, who describes the view:
You see that line that separates day into night, slowly moving across the planet; thunder storms on the horizon as the sun sets, then watching the earth come alive when you see the lights in the cities and towns. … Shooting stars below us, dancing curtains of auroras.
Or US astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth person to walk the moon. He was part of the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. As the spacecraft lifted up and turned in a spiral, offering recurring glimpses of the sun, the earth, and the moon, interspersed with wide heaven, here’s his thoughts:
I had studied astronomy and I had studied cosmology and fully understood that the molecules in my body and the molecules in my partner’s bodies and in the spacecraft had been prototyped in some ancient generation of stars. In other words, it was pretty obvious from those descriptions that we are stardust.
Perhaps our being drawn to the universe, to the moon and the sun, to the stars, to dark matter, to all that we have begun to know and all that is still out there, perhaps it is a case of like being drawn to like. From stardust we come, of stardust we are made, to stardust we return.
Maybe when we peer into the starry void, when we look not only up, but out, to the milky universe, we are really gazing into a mirror – a mirror of creation, a mirror of the Divine, a mirror of ourselves.
There is a famous photo from the Voyager One space probe of the earth. It was taken in 1990 as that spacecraft was leaving the solar system. You can barely tell it’s the earth, because it’s taken from 3.7 billion miles away. From that perspective, the earth looks like a tiny “mote of dust” in the midst of an never-ending sunbeam. The photo has been made famous by Carl Sagan, the astronomer, because in 1996, he said:
“On [that dot], everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
“The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. …To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
This is the same man who wrote the quote that is at the top of your order of worship today: “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”
Though this is not true of all religions, both my faith communities – Unitarian Universalism and Buddhism — explicitly welcome scientific engagement. Both see science as a mutual enhancer, perhaps even a co-conspirator, rather than an opponent or rival. I feel blessed by this relationship — because otherwise, my chance for awe and humility would be greatly reduced, and thus my life less rich.
For instance, what is dark matter? We know that something we have come to call “dark matter” is there not because we can observe it or measure it, but because of its impact on other things, other so-called measurable things like the rotation rate of galaxies or by the very fact that galaxies cluster (rather than position themselves randomly).
If I were a straight-up theist, I might say that sounds a lot like God: un-measurable, but discernible.
I don’t fully grasp that dark matter isn’t its own proof: that only observed phenomena infer its presence. Some days I get the dark part way more than I get the matter part. My heart can sort of grasp at it – because it’s kind of like God – no proof, just faith.
But it’s not just Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism that see cooperation, not competition, between science and spirituality. There are mystics and moderns among all the religions who have since ancient times known and tried to articulate the connection between Spirit and the Cosmos.
The Sufi mystic, Jalal-al Din Rumi, is translated as having written:
“We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.”
The Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, wrote in her Book of Divine Works (Liber Divinorum):
“I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars … I awaken everything to life.”
Modern day mystical theologians and practitioners, such as the Catholic priest, Father Diarmuid O’Murchu, acknowledge that beneath the doctrines of organized religions, there are likely archetypal truths that we can gain new understanding through the gift of science. “Time and again [science] awakens for me a sense of awe, wonder, and reverence for the elegance and complexity that characterizes the creative universe.”
This week’s events have left me with a familiar ache in my heart. Of course, I have to ask, which week’s don’t these days? And that ache in my heart keeps asking – what’s your point, Karen? Not your pretty, poetic, be clever-with-words point, but your real point?
There are times we need to be reminded of our capacity for transcendence – a reminder that is sometimes nearly impossible to find in the coarse and cruel interactions of human beings with one another, alienated as we can become, from our Source. Emerson wrote of finding such solace in nature; some of us find it in the young faces of children; and some in the flurry of stars always there, day or night, always — always –there. So we look out to the heavens and look back to the whole of this planet, this cherished blue mote of dust, to find our compassion and kindness for one another.
I have been thinking about Miriam Carey, the 34-year-old woman who drove her car so erratically in Washington DC on just a few days ago, and who is now dead, shot in front of her eighteen-month-old daughter while our nation’s Capitol was placed on lock-down. I have been wondering how differently this would have played out had it taken place when I lived in DC in the early 1990s, working six blocks from the Capitol at one of the city’s homeless shelters. I have been wondering how our society, with its unresolved Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder since 9/11, leads us to violent, defensive postures when they aren’t always necessary.
I have been thinking about how Miriam Carey’s family reports that she suffered from postpartum depression. My prayers are with them as they grieve, as they try to put the pieces of Miriam’s story, as well as their lives, together. I think it’s critical to be clear that postpartum depression exists as a continuum – from “baby blues” to postpartum depression to postpartum psychosis and that at this early juncture in what is known, it is more accurate to talk about postpartum psychosis. The language we use now is important because so many women experience some form of this malady, often in silence and shame – we need not add fear of doing something so terrible to the list.
I have been feeling renewed gratitude for those women who spoke at our last worship service, standing here, describing their grassroots effort to provide support to families with new babies in their midst. I have been feeling thankful that they held their training of community volunteers here, last Sunday afternoon and I feel deep appreciation for those who are giving of their time, either with that effort, or through some other, or just on your own, to support parents of new little ones as they make a joyous, but often stressful, transition.
There are times we need to be reminded of our capacity for transcendence – which is another way of saying we need to be reminded that there is no separation:
- not between us as stardust and that stardust “out there;”
- not between us and God;
- not between us and this pulsing planet that we have for too long treated as possession;and
- not between us and Miriam Carey; between us and her eighteen-month-old daughter; not between us and the police officer who shot her knowing it was his or her duty, perhaps now rightfully wondering if it could have gone differently. (I am not saying here with absolute certainty that it could have gone differently, though I do wish it had; I am saying it is right to be asking the question.)
Father O’Murchu reminds us, “devoid of awe and wonder, we cannot hope to make sense of it all, never mind negotiate our way within it with a sense of empowering engagement.” So seek the vaster picture, the one of the stars and moon and galaxies that collide, dark matter and God particles, so that we might find each other there laughing — with the fervent prayer on our lips, just as the Little Prince said, “everyone eventually is consoled.”
May it be so. Amen.