Sunday 15 Jan 2012

God, Music, Love, and Oneness

Chalice Lighting

We light this candle as a symbol of our faith.
By its light may our vision be illumined;
By its warmth may our fellowship be encouraged;
And by its flame may our yearnings for peace, justice and the life of the spirit be enkindled.

UU Principles


For a few years of my adult life, I was a Catholic. I joined for the tradition, the physical beauty and majesty of the church, the mystery, and the hope that somehow I would finally be able to understand God. It also helped that we were best friends with a Catholic couple. As a child, I had prayed for a tangible sign from God, and never got one, other than the beauty and complexity and majesty of this earth and its people… until my children were born. And then I knew — there MUST be a God. I looked carefully and finally settled on the Catholic church (I actually liked the priest and the head nun very much. They seemed to me to be thinkers.) After five years of adherence and a nagging feeling that this religion was not really speaking to me, I left the Church. However, there was one concept that stuck with me: the Body of Christ.

The theology behind this idea is that we are all members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. But not the church with a little “c” as in the building itself. The Church with a big “C” which is the people. (The big “C” can also be seen as the Institution of Catholicism and all the political discomfort that goes with it, but for today it means “the people.”) You have heard the statement that God is in You. When I was younger, I never understood this. How could something so big be bottled up inside someone, how could something so infinitesimal be confined? It was explained to me that the Holy Spirit (another manifestation of God) flows freely throughout the universe, “Within You and Without You,” to quote a Beatles song. The older, and more mature, I got, the more I could loosen my mind and free it from the bane of categorization that we are all taught from such an early age, to open it and see that, yes, indeed, we are all a part of this thing we call God. So, the idea of us all being part of The Body (of Christ, God, etc.) still rings true to me.

The website quotes many instances of this from the Bible. Here is one such quote:

4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,
5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;
7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;
8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

But what is “God”? This question has so many answers, but no true, complete, definitive answer. It has been asked from the beginning and will continue to be asked. For an agnostic, it is almost a duty not to postulate an answer to this question. I am proud to accept the fact that I could never understand the nature of this truly gigantic idea. But I want to try.

As humans, we are in the business of construction. We make things. We make a world for ourselves. We develop skills so that we can express what is inside us. We have families. We speak and write and teach. We are always producing something, even if it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. But we always WANT it to go somewhere. Some people long for fame, or power, but others are content to make their friends and family happy. Whether it is on a large or tiny scale, we are always reaching out to others in some way, and even if we cannot, we wish we could.

I think this is because we are all connected. We are all carbon-based creatures. This seems silly, to boil humanity down to its molecular structure, but this is what we all undeniably have in common. Some postulate a soul, some do not, but there is no denying that we are all the same in this one way. That does not take away our uniqueness, or our autonomy. (God forbid!) But, as humans, we essentially come from the same place.

The connection that we seek with others is so strong, that sometimes we get ourselves in trouble trying to establish it. And so why do we seek out others even when it hurts? We fear rejection even as we pursue relationships. We pursue these relationships even after being hurt and rejected. Like a moth to the flame, we cannot help ourselves.

Even hatred and anger are natural responses — the other side of the coin of love. If we did not care what others thought, we would never feel such hurtful emotions. The need to have others in our ballpark is so strong, that it can hurt us mentally, emotionally, and even physically if we do not. We long for oneness with others.

The Chinese and Taoists have the concept of yin/yang. You have seen the image of the white and black shapes which swirl around and into each other in a circle, the infinite cycle. They are opposite, yet fit together perfectly. They complement each other. They need each other, or there is no circle, no wholeness.

Most of us want a mate to spend our lives with. Many of us start families. We take pictures of family and friends and put them up so that we can look at them. We join clubs. We go to church…Why do we do this, sometimes in spite of ourselves? Is it perhaps because we can’t help it? Is there something that compels us to seek out the company of others? What is it?

Is it God?

I am not talking about the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, or even the many gods of Hinduism and its offshoots…Just as a musician will re-arrange a song so that it communicates what he wants it to, I have created my own arrangement of God, taken from ideas I have picked up along the way. From others, you object? Well, yes. Everything is everything. The One is many, and the many are One.

Song: One Bread, One Body

It is said that God is love. What does that mean? One way to explain it is that thing that keeps us reaching out to others, even when we’ve felt pain because of it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that God is that deep and nameless feeling of connection between people, the raison-d’etre. It is that person who keeps us going when we want to give up, who inspires us to greater things. It the feeling of love when another person is good to us. It is the feeling of happiness when someone helps us, or satisfaction when we help someone else. It is found in the feelings of contentment, accomplishment, joy, gratitude, and many, many others that arise from a connection with other human beings. I hate to confine it down to feelings, for it is much more, but we are physical creatures and feelings are a central way we communicate with the world and each other.

So, as we sit in this room together, I want us to take a few moments to reflect on the important people in our lives that we have felt that connection with, a person or people who made us feel like we were worthy of existing, or happy to be who we are. Someone who helped us get over a sadness or tragedy, someone who helped us get over a hurdle and grow mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Even if that growth was painful at first. I want us to recognize that even pain is an occasion for joy, as it is part of the process of living and growing. I want us to also consider the feelings we have about this person or people, and if gratitude is appropriate, after the meditation, I hope some of us will share that gratitude out loud. I think sharing is another dimension of our connectedness, which is why we do it so often. Disclosure is one of the steps of relationship building. So, let us now reflect…

Reflection and Sharing

Like cells in a physical body, we are meant to work together, to serve each other by fulfilling our respective functions. We are the same, yet we are different…We are introspective yet gregarious, private and yet social creatures. We have both an inner and an outer life. But we are all connected in the greater force, or body, of love, or God. Whatever you call it, we are all One, and like drops of water collecting into a pool, we constantly search for that connection that makes us bigger than we are alone. I believe this is because we are all part of the same organism. Call it what you want, but, today, I will call it God.

If God had a language, what would it sound like? I believe it would be beautiful and sound like…like music. Music IS that deep and primal force that affects us beyond our ability to understand it. It draws us beyond our ability to resist it. I believe that is because it is a language beyond words, one that speaks to us of love, sadness, joy, and mystery in a way that words cannot. It touches us in a place words cannot reach. Without music, life would be stony and cold. It opens us up like a flower, a sunset, or the smell of the air after it rains…it brings us memories and emotions, ties in the past to the present, and helps us look to the future.

Augsburg Fortress is a Lutheran Website, and its webpage on the topic of music in congregational assembly has many good observations to make about the role of music in the life of the congregation. It is Christian-based, but I have adjusted the language to fit a more universalist approach. This is not a direct quote, but a paraphrase:

When we gather in faith we become the very “body of Christ,” as it were. Our assembly constitutes church — ecclesia — and our communal expression becomes the very breath of the living God. Communal singing is seen then to be the living voice of God in our midst…Perfect recordings made through a series of takes and edits condition our ears to surreal sounds with which we simply can’t compete, so we shame ourselves into silence.

(I would add here that Shame is not a healthy emotion. It keeps us from participating in the human experience, the divine relationship. We must abandon shame if we are to be truly happy, functional, and able to serve others as we are meant to.)

They also observe:

“The melody of congregational song is prime. Harmony acts as its nurturing cradle, facilitating leaps, rhythm, and flow. “

Music is found in all cultures. It is a common human endeavor and is found in every corner of humanity. We use music for many things. We can use it to tune out, or to tune in, to express ourselves, to heal. It speaks to the spirit, that part that starts deep within and flows between us all, and the part of us which longs for connectedness is supported, justified, and satiated. Music is the language beyond words, the language of the spirit, the language of God.

Song Sharing and Teaching

Song: This Little Light of Mine

End with This Little Light of Mine

Service leader
April Keating