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PUUF Sermon

Knocking at the Gates of Heaven

June 11, 2006

by Eileen Maurer

 

Chalice Lighting

The words today come from the Paramahansa Yogananda. He founded the Self Realization Fellowship in Encinitas to teach scientific methods of meditation and principles of spiritual living that lead to direct, personal experience of God.

 

I am fearless; I am made of the substance of God.

I am a spark of the Fire of Spirit.

I am an atom of the Cosmic Flame.

I am a cell in the vast universal body of the Creator.

 

Water (5.5 minutes)

 

Steven Pinker, Psychology Professor, Harvard University:

Overcoming naive impressions to figure out how things really work is one of humanity's highest callings.

 

(Take a long sip of water)

That is one refreshing drink of dinosaur pee! Yeah that's right… Plants and animals and then later, humans, have been using the same water over and over for millions of years. There is no more or no less water on the earth than when dinosaurs roamed the land. Maybe I even shared a couple of drops of water in this glass with Cleopatra, or Moses, or Lucy, the first human being. Earth's water is indestructible; eternally cycling through its solid, liquid and gaseous manifestations.

Before humans understood the evaporation cycle, many religious rituals were performed to get God to make “new” water to grow enough food for survival. As modern humans we know water is not spontaneously created and we understand the natural processes at work.

But even we tend to think that the water we drink is gone for good, and that the water that flows from the mountain or rains from the sky is “new.” Even though we tell our kids “Don't waste water or we'll run out” the earth won't actually ever “run out” of water, humans will just make it unusable faster than the earth can recycle it and make it usable.

 

Watch closely…(Open the lid on the steaming pot)

Now that the steam is no longer visible, is the water gone? Even though we can't see it, we have to overcome our naïve impression that it no longer exists. Before science helped us understand evaporation and condensation–and technology gave us the tools to measure them–humans had only their naïve impressions to rely on.

 


A Sufi tale:

Once a little stream of water born in an aquifer pushed its way through nooks and cracks up through the earth and flowed down through great lakes, tumbling over cliffs, sometimes joining other streams until one day it reached the edge of the desert. The stream could go no further…and it realized it had reached the end of its life. Then the wind said, “If you lose yourself you will become more than you ever dreamed you could be.” So the stream surrendered itself to the sun and the wind picked it up, particle by particle, and it evaporated into the heavens to form clouds.

The particles saw that they were not alone, for the wind had whispered to other streams, and ponds, and even to the morning dew. All had turned into clouds. Then the little particles felt themselves and all the other droplets falling, until they ran together and were reborn a mighty river high in the mountains.

 

A Hindu illustration:

If the moon is reflected in a cup containing water and the cup is broken and the water runs out, where does the reflection of the moon go? The reflection may be said to have returned to its inseverable identity in the moon itself. If another cup of water is placed in the same spot, another reflection of the moon will be reincarnated.

 

All around me in the natural world, I see things that are seemingly gone for good, but in actuality have only been transformed. I boil water and it turns to steam and disappears, but water cannot be destroyed, only transformed. A bolt of lighting, electrical energy, hits the ground, turns to heat and disappears, but energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. When we split an atom, a tremendous burst of energy occurs but the mass of the atom was not destroyed, only transformed.

 

We usually assume that belief in God or heaven or reincarnation is at odds with reasoning and science. But the part of me that observes the forces of nature at work around me thinks that maybe the spark of divinity inside all of us–the part some call our soul–is not created at birth or destroyed at death, just transformed within some unseen, as-yet-unknown natural system at work in our universe, something like the other fundamental systems of nature surrounding us. Maybe we just don't have the science or technology to observe our soul's evaporation and condensation. Maybe the naïve impression that we have to overcome is assuming that we cease to exist when we die.

 

Paramahansa Yogananda:

The Self is never born nor does it ever perish. It is birthless, eternal, changeless, ever-same. It is not slain when the body is killed...No weapon can pierce the soul; no fire can burn it; no water can moisten it; nor can any wind wither it."


Mystery (5 minues)

Mystery, shmystery. I hate mystery. I know I'm a good Unitarian Universalist because I ask a lot of questions…but unlike many other UU's, I ask them because I want answers. If there is a heaven, my hope is that we'll get some answers…learn the truth of the magic of creation.

I myself really do not enjoy magic shows. I often miss tricks because I'm stuck trying to figure out how the trick before was done. Instead of being delighted or awed by the magician, I'm irritated that he can pull something off that I can't understand. I feel the same way about God. To me, science and religion is the same thing. What I call science is the stuff we have mostly figured out and what I call religion is the stuff we're still trying to figure out. 

 

Sigmund Freud:

Religion is an illusion, and it derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our instinctual wishful impulses.

 

Ruminations of a Skeptic from Inside the Womb

By Eileen Maurer

 

In the place where I implanted,

I was warm, I was fed, I was safe.

But now I feel the world contracting in on me,

And pushing me towards my death.

And although this life has given me all that I could imagine,

I do not want to leave it.

 

My instinctual wishful impulses want me to believe

That another life follows this one,

That my existence has a purpose,

That I was created as part of someone's plan–

Someone who will be waiting at the end of this life to welcome me.

 

I am squeezed into a tunnel,

Farther away from my place of attachment.

When the bond that connects me to the world is severed,

How can I be nourished?

When the kernel of my Self is expelled,

When my body is shed,

Surely I will cease to exist.

 

With no logical explanation for how or why I could continue to live,

I surrender to the finality of death.

After all, Life after death is just too good to be true.

I choose to accept that I am nothing more than

the natural product of a chain of fortuitous events.

I choose to accept I was brought to life simply to die.

My reason prevails.


I hear the deafening sounds of the absence of silence,

And see the blinding light of the absence of darkness.

And feel the numbing ether of the absence of warmth.

 

Were my eyes created just to see the light of my destruction?

Was my voice created just to cry out at the moment I leave my body?

Were my ears created just to hear my own fear?

Was I nurtured from a single cell to think and feel,

Only to be undone at the moment of my full development?

 

The cord is cut; my lungs expand with air.

The sound of my voice fills my ears.

I am not dead. I am liberated. I am alive and I know.

My purpose in the last life was to develop what I would need in the one to follow.

 

My creators wrap me in warm softness

Gather me in their arms,

And whisper their love into me.

 

Richard Bach:

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the Master calls a butterfly.

 

Life after death too good to be true? Life before death is too good to be true! Stardust lands in primordial soup and life is born!? Given the conditions and the chain of fortuitous events that had to occur for life to flourish on Earth, it is an unbelievable miracle that we are even together here today.

If we weren't allowed to believe in things that were too good, if everything that fulfilled our instinctual wishful impulses was a fairy tale, how could anyone believe in this life? Are the stars too good to be true? Is the sun, the blue sky, the ocean too good to be true? Is my husband too good to be true? My children, my sister, my friends… a newborn baby? Even with all its imperfection, could anyone believe in the perfection of this life without experiencing it for themselves? Just because something is too good to be true, doesn't mean it isn't true. Faith is what you know to be true whether you believe it or not.

 

Serbian proverb:

Be humble for you are made of dung. Be noble for you are made of stars.


Heaven (6 minutes)

About six months ago, I watched a Barbara Walter's special on Heaven. She interviewed seven or eight spiritual leaders of differing faiths to find out what their ideas of heaven were.

Three of the American faith leaders said that in heaven you could eat all you wanted and not get fat. The Islamic religious leaders talked about the 72 virgins that every man in heaven would get. When Barbara asked the Imam where would all the virgins come from, he explained they weren't earthly virgins, they were virgins God created just for men in heaven…I guess, kind of like angels with an intact hymen.

Respecting the theologies of other religions is a basic tenet of Unitarian Universalism, but the idea of food and sex in heaven strikes me as just way too…well, human. We get a human life to be human. If we get a heaven, I want to move beyond being human, to lift the veil of unknowing, to understand the part of me that's not human. If there is a heaven, I want it to satisfy more than just human physical needs. I want more out of heaven than just more of what I had in this life.

Our beliefs about heaven reveal our deepest longings on earth. Someone living in a country where famine is commonplace would be justified to imagine a heaven where no one feels hunger. But the faith leaders from America, a country with a definite weight problem, didn't just say that everyone would have enough to eat, they said, “eat all you want and not get fat.” It saddens me to think the best heaven an American can imagine is a fabulous Hometown buffet, the golden arches of McHeaven, where everyone would stuff themselves for no other reason than they wouldn't have to worry about gaining weight. Correct me if I am wrong…but isn't gluttony on the list of seven deadly sins?

It also saddens me that the best heaven a fundamentalist Muslim male can imagine is one that includes willing non-person virgins, but that says more about a sexually repressed society than what heaven really is. Isn't sex with countless numbers of unknown women considered sinful, especially when it is forbidden to even look upon the face of a woman outside your family? Isn't lust on the sin list as well?

During the show, all of the faith leaders, except the Buddhist Dalai Lama, stated that only those Believers who accepted their particular definition of God would get to enter heaven. The rest of us would suffer for eternity.

Pride (also known as Vanity) is another one of the seven deadly sins and is said to be the sin from which all others arise. It is defined as an excessive belief in your own abilities, one that interferes with the your recognition of the grace of God. Isn't it a bit vain to assume that only your religion holds the ticket to heaven? Doesn't that discount the grace of God?

Why do people on earth long to believe that only people just like themselves will be in heaven? Why do people long to put all those who are different into hell? That says more about human nature than what heaven really is.

I'm saddened knowing that there are people who actually look forward to being in heaven enjoying God's bliss while their non-believing friends and family are suffering eternal torment in hell…and these are supposedly the good people–the tiny minority of God's best people! How can anyone who could ignore that kind of suffering while they are eating and having sex all they want even be considered good enough to get into heaven?

I guess they don't believe compassion is a virtue you need there. Maybe this explains why so many Americans can live a life of materialism and excess in this life without giving a second thought to the suffering going on in the rest of the world.

Guess what, I don't have to wait until I get to heaven to eat all I want and not get fat. I can do that in this life …I just have to want less. Being satisfied with less food would be good for me. Being satisfied with less of everything would be good for the whole world.

Rather than satisfying our sexual appetites with multiple partners, how about using sex to learn to love someone better, to strengthen a human connection, and to spiritually consummate a union?

While I watched this show, I realized what it really means to be a Universalist. I'm not sure there is a heaven, but if there is I don't believe that just a few of us are handpicked for it. The Universalist in me believes that we all end up in the same place, even if that's nowhere.

I would rather be with my children in hell than be in heaven knowing that my kids will suffer for eternity, because of a belief they held during their lives. The Universalist inside me could not enjoy a single second of bliss in heaven knowing that anyone–stranger, outsider, family, friend, or foe–was suffering for all eternity because of some thought they when they were human.

 


Purpose (7 minutes)

From the novel Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros:

When I was little, there were things I couldn't think about without getting a headache: One: the infinity of numbers. Two: the infinity of the sky. Three: the infinity of God. Four: the finiteness of Mother and Father.

I don't want to live forever. I don't want to be dead forever either. I don't even want to be in heaven forever. I just don't want to be forever. And I annoy myself when I get lost trying to resolve what I want to believe about what comes after death.

We can think and talk about afterlife and eternity and heaven but we can't do anything about them. The only thing we know is that this life ends. We don't, and can't, know anything more about the next life than a baby in the womb can imagine about this one.

For this sermon, I wrote pages and pages of Buddhist and Hindu stuff about the afterlife, and heaven, and hell and celestial worlds…I could write another whole sermon on that stuff and maybe I will. But basically Hindus and Buddhists think that heaven and hell are the same, a temporary, not eternal, place where we reside in between lifetimes to enjoy the fruits of our accumulated merits and repay the debts of our wrongdoing; to learn the lessons of our lifetimes; to be reminded of the true purpose of our existence. But we can't do anything there, so we can't perform any new acts and so we have come back here to live again. The emphasis is definitely on living this life, rather than thinking about the next one.

Every death is a tragedy. The tragedy of a baby's death is the loss of the life unlived. The tragedy of a child's death is the loss of the life unfinished. The tragedy of an elder death is the loss of the life experienced…80 years equals over 42 million minutes...the heartbeat, the breath, the footsteps, the caresses, the tears, the laughter, the love, the anguish, the insights, the inspirations, the joy…gone in the final breath.

There are people whose evil actions have caused so much pain and sorrow that they may deserve to die. But even their death is a tragedy, for the life that might have been, had things had been different for them somewhere along the way.

 

Paramahansa Yogananda:

Evil actions arise from the greatest of all sins–ignorance. You may condemn the wrongdoing but should not condemn the doer. Wrongdoer is the right word rather than sinner. Sins are errors committed under the influence of ignorance or delusion. But for a different degree of understanding, you might be in the same boat.

 

Leona Wolf:

I'm making this life as good as possible because I don't think anything comes after.

 

Not believing in heaven or hell but still living a good life is more selfless than living a good life because you fear hell or anticipate heaven. Even though Buddhists are encouraged to do good works, they are cautioned that becoming attached to the idea of doing good works is simply another desire of the ego.

Ancient Vedics believed there were two roads to heaven: People who chose the first path had to lead a sin-free life full of good deeds, and those who took the easier lane prayed, performed rituals, and wrote hymns and prayers to please the gods.

To hedge my bets, I'm trying to keep one foot in each path…writing a sermon now and then, meditating, and performing a few good deeds. For me, though, the hard part of living the right life is finding a balance. Do I:

Say yes more often; or say no more often?

Get more done; or get more rest?

Sleep late; or see more sunrises?

Sleep early; or stargaze more?

In the car, do I follow world events; or lose myself in music?

Roll more thunder; or make room for quiet?

Sing harmony; or sing solo?

Speak out more; or listen more?

Incite more dissent; or sow more peace?

Teach others; or learn more for myself?

Act now or meditate?

 

Paraphrased from Paramahansa Yogananda:

To get away from this life and find union with God, don't forsake your responsibilities and seek seclusion in solitary places. It's not that simple, because your mind will still be absorbed in its moods and restlessness, and your body will still have to be active to satisfy your hunger and other needs. Instead, strike a balance between meditation and constructive, dutiful work. Be like the active/inactive force at work in the universe. In creation, be joyously active; beyond creation be joyously quiescent in divine bliss. Because I made the effort to find God in meditation, I am enjoying bliss even in the midst of activity. Strive to be calmly active and actively calm.

 

There is disagreement over whether the universe is indeed finite or infinite in spatial extent. The observable universe contains about 7 × 1022 stars, organized in about 100 billion galaxies, or maybe even more based on new observations from the Hubble Telescope. The volume of the known universe is equal to something like 1.9 × 1033 cubic light years. My volume is around 5 cubic meters, something like 10 to the 70th power smaller. I'm not just a needle in a haystack…I'm a needle in about a billion, billion, billion…you get the picture…billion haystacks.

And yet here I am, taking up my little spot. I like the idea of a vast universe with a little spot for me in it. Maybe it just that darned human ego, but I don't feel like such a little spot. Like right now, I feel like my Self fills this entire room. And at the edge of ocean, under a cloudless sky, I feel like I am the middle of the entire blue dome over my body and my Self reaches all the way around. And a week ago at Laguna Mountain, in a big meadow under a starry sky, my mind traveled to distant galaxies and I felt like my Self filled the expanse.

 

Maybe, like the baby in the womb, as I age my world will just get smaller and smaller around me, until I realize, that to be liberated I have to vacate the current premises and take a chance on what's outside.

 

Here are my last words, from one of our modern great philosopher's:

Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:

To a well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.


Song Lyrics:

 

Sweet Old World by Lucinda Williams

See what you lost when you left this world

This sweet old world

What you lost when you left this world

This sweet old world

The breath from your own lips

The touch of fingertips

A sweet and tender kiss

The sound of a midnight train

Wearing someone's ring

Someone calling your name

Somebody so warm cradled in your arm

Didn't you think you were worth anything

Millions of us in love

Promises made good

Your own flesh and blood

Looking for some truth

Dancing with no shoes

The beat, the rhythm, the blues

The pounding of your heart's drum

Together with another one

Didn't you think anyone loved you

Let the Mystery Be by Iris Dement

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.

Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go

when the whole thing's done.

But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.

I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever,

and some say you're gonna come back.

Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if in sinful ways you lack.

Some say that they're comin' back in a garden,

bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.

I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory

and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.

But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory

and I don't like the sound of that.

Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.

But I choose to let the mystery be.

 


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