First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: August 25, 2019
Scripture: Hinduism, Svetavatara Upanishad 4:2-4, Genesis 2:15-22
Sermon: “Imagine That”
Hinduism, Svetavatara Upanishad 4:2-4
Thou art the fire, Thou art the sun, Thou art the air, Thou art the moon, Thou art the starry firmament, Thou art the waters – Thou art the Creator of all! Thou art woman, Thou art man, Thou art the youth, thou art the maiden, Thou art the old man tottering with his staff; Thou facest everywhere. Thou art the dark butterfly, Thou art the green parrot with red eyes, Thou art the thunder cloud, the seasons, the seas. Without beginning art Thou, beyond time and space. Thou art the One from whom sprang the universe.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’ Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Genesis 2:18-21 a retelling – It was a beautiful day in the garden … early spring morning and the man was wandering through the over growth, wading through the stream, drinking from the small falls whose melody kept him company but there was something just not right, the man could not put his finger on it, with all this beauty surrounding him as he worked taking care of God’s garden, it was hard to describe; kind of a heaviness deep in his gut, like he had swallowed one of the stones that lined the stream bed…heavy…a longing perhaps, yearning, an emptiness he could not quite describe.
But of course, God had a clue as to what it was… we knew that… after all…God is God, God knows everything right? God decided the man needed a partner, a helper, to help him with the garden…a companion so he would no longer feel this emptiness deep in his soul. So God went about doing what God does… God created a partner for the man…
God brought him a fish…the man said it was a nice bass, but not what he was looking for. God brought him a dog…the man said it was a nice Labrador, but still not what he was looking for. God brought him a monkey…the man said it was a nice Chimpanzee but still not…*shaking his head all the while*…this went on for some time… and with each new animal the man became more and more frustrated….as did God. God brought him a horse…which simply elicited a shaking head from the man… God brought him a lizard…the man just looked at God and said, “Really?”
Finally, God brought him a Duck…the man looked up exasperated … “A DUCK????” “You brought me a DUCK???!!!” “What were you thinking???” At that moment the man felt a sharp pain in his side…and the lights went out.
The story came to me after a wedding I had officiated where the bride had asked for this portion of Genesis and the creation myth to be read. I remember looking up mid-reading of the text and seeing a bewildered look on her face in the ceremony. It was obvious she had not thought deeply about the words of the story until she heard them read again for the first time that evening, she had not thought about the literalness of how we might hear the story…she was taken aback to say the least.
Edward Hays often gave us the tools to see the scriptures, faith, and life through a more creative and interpretive lens. He utilizes imagination and storytelling to open our own story and awareness to the Divine Presence in our midst and to see we are immersed in the very presence of God. He gave us tools to expand and imagine how to live and how to better see what we believe and why. Edward Hays is the mystic we visit about this morning.
An excerpt from the biography of Edward Hays. – Edward Hays portrayed himself as walking the razor’s edge between madness and magic. Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he described his childhood as being surrounded by silent applause from his parents, his brothers Joe and Tom and his sister Jane. With that enchanted childhood as a bulletproof vest, he entered adult life — but never totally abandoned the wonder-world of stories and imagination. His professional education was shaped in the magic monastery of Conception Abbey in Missouri, where the Benedictine monks opened his eyes to the location of hidden treasures along the road of life.
In 1958 he was ordained a Catholic priest and wandered here and there in the mystic land of eastern Kansas. A star chaser like the Magi, he ventured to India and the Orient, only to discover that Shangri-La was back home. Returning to Kansas, he became a member of a contemplative community of men and women located east of the moon and west of the sea. In 1978, nudged by the muses to assist those explorers searching for Shangri-La in their backyards, he began making a series of strange maps which some call books of incarnational and ecumenical spirituality. These books explore experiencing the Presence of the Divine Mystery in the midst of our world. Some of his books include titles such as, The Passionate Troubadour, Saint Francis, The Gospel of Gabriel, A Life of Jesus Christ, Prayers of a Planetary Pilgrim, Pray All Ways, St. George and the Dragon, the Quest for the Holy Grail, The Ethiopian Tattoo Shop, Twelve and a half Keys, Chasing Joy, and The Great Escape Manuel just to name a few.
What I have found in Edward Hays’ work is his great imagination, his connection through prayer, and his creativity. I believe any mystic has these qualities. Hays, like so many mystics are able to breathe life into the stories of our scriptures, able to bring new light to the faith through storytelling and creativity. For Hays there was a sense that the Divine is all around us and within us. I believe it is so with mystics. One cannot look at anything, anyone, any circumstance and not see the spark of the Divine, God at work somewhere even if it is not readily evident. There was a Divine Cosmic sense to his life and faith. An example of one of his prayers for a Sunday morning such as this from his book, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim,
I bow before you in adoration, O God, on this first day of the week. The earth rises to new life this morning and has turned round once again to face the sun. Yet, I hear not a sound; silent to my ears is the revitalizing energy of the roaring nuclear furnace of our daystar, the sun… On this Sunday may I be aflame with love for you, my beloved. 1
It was a sense of connection to the whole of the universe. Our work here on this small spinning planet is not just to exist, or to sit back and wait for God to do something, however our prayers, our lives, are meant to be co-creating with God in dreaming a world that is just, compassionate, and loving.
Hays writes in his book, Chasing Joy, of this participatory work in the world in his chapter, “A Cheerful Cure for Xenophobia,” “Smiling is a sure remedy for xenophobia – the fear of strangers, especially those of different colored skin than yours, or who speak a different language. Smiling at any stranger immediately indicates that you don’t consider the person as dangerous or an enemy, but an unknown friend.” 2
I made a conscious effort to practice smiling at strangers this past week, and especially when I encountered someone of a different race or if I heard them speaking another language. It is not always a comfortable experience. Some received the smile by smiling back, quietly speaking a good morning or a good afternoon. Some had a quizzical look in response as though trying to figure out whether they knew me or not. Some scowled at me and some quickly averted their eyes.
However, the practice, while I cannot speak for those for whom I smiled, was good for my own soul, it gave me a deeper sense of connection to others and because of a sense of a deeper connection to others, a deeper and more profound sense of connection to the Divine. The mystic’s vision is to see the Divine in all there is. In all.
I remember a colleague of mine sharing an experience of sitting around an evening fire with an interfaith group after a long day of conferencing. He said the mosquitoes were getting a little bad and some were speaking of going back inside the building where they had been meeting as they swatted their arms, legs, necks… as the flying menaces continued their attacks. My colleague said he noticed their Buddhist friend sitting calmly across the way from him, patiently and gently grasping the mosquitoes between his fingers and setting them free. For this Buddhist practitioner there was something sacred even within a mosquito. The spark of the Divine is all around us.
The Presence of God permeates all that is. I consider our current climate change crisis and the way we take our planet, this creation for granted. Here at FUMC, trying to do what we can to lessen our own carbon footprint, many here making the same attempts at home. And the emissions around the world, ice caps and glaciers melting at increasing rates, the rain forests burning as we speak… what would our world look like, be like if we were able to see the universe, our world, our country, our cities as immersed and permeated by the very presence of the Divine… not sitting back trusting all will be well, but actively participating with God who is already there. However, it is larger than climate change, which is large enough… it is about how we see the whole, every creature, every One… every ONE… when we view another as less then, not worthy, someone beneath… we diminish the sacred dwelling within them… we diminish the sacred dwelling within us.
Imagine a world filled with justice, care, kindness, compassion, humility, and love. Tell a story of that world. Be that world every day… it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Imagine That! And then Live as if it is already a reality… until it is so. May it be. Amen.
1 Hays, Edward, (1989) Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, Forest of Peace Publishing, Leavenworth, KS
2 Hays, Edward, (2007) Chasing Joy, Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World, Ava Marie Press, Notre Dame, IN