Rev. Greg Martin
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing
October 21, 2012
For most of my life, I have been on a long journey trying to find my way home. Maybe some of you know something of the experience. For various reasons, I have been dogged with a sense of never quite fitting in, a sense of homelessness if you will, a longing to belong, but never quite getting there, if there is a there. It is an experience akin to what novelist Walker Percy called being “lost in the cosmos.” But over the last couple of years, this dilemma has begun to change. And I want to thank you for your welcome to me here. In turning toward Unitarian Universalism I have begun to feel that I have entered the gate and headed up the walk, stepping over the threshold home. I suspect that is why a number of you have come here over time, found a home and stayed.
A year ago, I also woke up one morning to a very profound experience of homecoming. You see, my sense of homelessness has often manifested itself in a sense of alienation from my own body. Again, for a variety of reasons, I have never felt quite at home in my own skin. I was a fairly bright kid, and of course, we reward children like that for living in their heads. We encourage them to stay there. I was also pretty physically uncoordinated, and have had to work hard all of my life to develop a certain level of athletic skill. It was easier to live above the neckline. And in many respects, my survival was rooted in a denial of emotion, a defensive posture of “don’t feel” because feeling seemed too dangerous. I guarantee, there is more to the story, but that will require another sermon that I’m saving for closer to spring. Suffice it to say, what I experienced last October was a profound sense of homecoming, of embodiment. What I remember is a feeling of warmth in my midsection, a movement of energy through all of my body, totally filling every part of me. Now sometimes, different sensations cause you to try and remember what you ate for dinner the night before. But this was quite different from that. This was a feeling of moving in, of being completely at home in my body, perhaps for the first time ever. And I simply lay there in gratitude for several minutes reveling in the sensation before slipping out from under the covers, an amazing beginning to the day.
Now, what I find of significance for our purpose this morning, is that I find this experience analogous to our situation as human beings in the world today. For the last 400 years or so, we, especially in the western world as children of the Enlightenment, have lived in our heads. We have lived a more and more disembodied reality, divorced from the planet that is our natural home, much less from the universe from which we take our birth. We have seen ourselves as separate, living in isolation from other living beings and the earth. We have created a dualism of mind and body aimed at controlling and subduing the forces of nature and exploiting the wealth of earth for our own aggrandizement. And the results have been spectacular in many ways: incredible and unimagined knowledge as we’ve taken apart the properties of the world and the very universe itself. This knowledge has led to unprecedented scientific, medical, economic, industrial and technical advancements. Yet, all of this gain has a shadow side, a great cost, for this disembodiment has led to great devastation of the planet that is our home, and created a potentially life-threatening disturbance of the planetary systems that sustain us and all living beings. Our inflated anthropocentrism, in the words of geologian Thomas Berry, has violated “the primary law of the universe: the law of the integrity of the universe; the law that every component member of the universe should be integral with every other member of the universe.” (The Dream of the Earth, p. 202) In other words, everything is integral to the whole of earth community and must be kept in balance. In words attributed to Chief Seattle:
This we know. The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.
This we know. All things are connected: like the blood which unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. (Singing the Living Tradition, Reading #550)
We do to ourselves. We are stardust. We are of the elements of the earth. The universe and the planet are our home. This is, after all, a uni-verse, a single, if multiform, energy event. We are one with everything, and for our own benefit and the well-being of all existence, we need to find our way back home. We need to re-inhabit our body, the earth. We need a sense of connection, of communion with the rest of the inhabitants of the biosphere, a sense of awe and reverence. We need a new mutually enhancing earth-human relationship. And in many small ways we have begun to move in that direction.
We know that this is our real home. Yet we find it nearly impossible to break the spell, the entrancement, of our radical anthropocentric society. It is like an addiction, a cultural pathology, a paralysis. Like alcohol or drug addictions, even when the addicted person is being destroyed, “the psychic fixation does not permit any change, in the hope that continued addiction will at least permit momentary survival,” according to Thomas Berry (Dream, p. 32). It’s why we find it hard to envision life differently than we have known it for a long time. And so, we need a psychic change. We need to experience a sense of being one with the earth, to fully embrace its wounds and deep pain, as well as the joyful cries and pleasure of living creatures and beings.
Of course, there is much wisdom, ancient and modern, that can help us find our way home. Earlier I mentioned Chief Seattle as a representative of the Native tradition of the circle of life that can be a guide. The ancient Chinese had an understanding of One Body: that the human body was the universe in a microcosm and the universe was one body in macrocosm. And to be fair, many of the females of our species have had an ongoing sense of embodiment and connection with the earth through their own bodies. Deep wisdom kept alive through time to be sure. I also believe that we can find our way home in cosmogenesis. (You’ve been waiting for me to get to that word.)
Cosmogenesis is the dynamic story of the universe becoming conscious of itself that has emerged in the 20th and into the 21st century through the efforts of evolutionary biologists as well as physicists. The word cosmos can convey a static sense of a completed universe. Cosmogenesis, on the other hand, is a vision of an emergent evolutionary universe that is constantly evolving, creating itself in new and novel ways, abundant, generative, often spontaneous and unpredictable, but always creating new realities for itself and life to survive and flourish. It is a process that moves in the direction of greater complexity and deeper consciousness. Human beings, of course, are one of the ways that the universe has evolved to become conscious of its self. And therefore, we hold great potential for the healing of the situation we have created, that is, if we find our way back home. Cosmologist Brian Swimme, says “The universe shivers with wonder in the depths of the human.” (Dream, p. 16) We are more intimate with every particle and wave and string of the universe and with the grand process of it all than we ever have been. In cosmogenesis we experience an identity with the entire cosmic order embodied within our very own beings. It points us in the direction of home. For the sake of the planet and the well-being of all living species, it is time to find ourselves once again part of the whole, embodied and in balance.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to come home.