home opener 2013

synchronized swimmers cartoonAnnie Dillard writes that “the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense.” I have a number of problems with that line.

Part of me does not believe in any kind of separate, judgmental god or goddess. Part of me does truly appreciate the concept of a god, but that part then disapproves of the metaphorical deity sleeping. The Universalist part of me insists that a loving god might well be disappointed—pretty regularly, really—but she or he or it would never take offense.

Having dissected that line, we move on to my favorite part of the reading: “or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

That’s the real danger—and the real hope—of religion: that we may be permanently transformed, that we will evolve into something better, someone more courageous, somebody more compassionate, than we ever were before.

It’s not so much that we *cannot* return to who we were. Rather, it is that we do not *want* to go back. We may never again be satisfied with small risks and small joys. Having learned to savor the richness of a fully-engaged life, we won’t be truly happy serving only our own needs.

Having woken up, in the water, and formed a synchronized swimming team, we will never again be content with defending our own little life raft.

And so, casting our imaginations forward to the first Sunday after Labor Day in the year 2023, ten years from now, we can see a jam-packed sanctuary, at 801 East Washington Street. And mentally interviewing our future selves, we are astounded to see the ways we have changed. The risks we have taken, separately and together; the failures from which we have regrouped and the successes and rewards we have shared; the interfaith partners with whom we have collaborated and the remarkable things we’ve accomplished—we have indeed been drawn out to where we can never return.

And yet: as much as we have changed, it is abundantly clear that we are also even more deeply the same. We have been transformed, and yet that transformation has only revealed our most authentic selves. Like water which goes from ice to liquid to steam and back, while maintaining its essential character, we have changed our outward appearances, and some of our customs, and we have remained fundamentally the same people, the same families, the same covenanted church community.

So may we be.

(the title of this service, “We Wake in the Water,” is taken from a passage in John Shea’s book Stories of God. Most of the written homily was skipped, due to the water ceremony early, and to leave room for Debbie’s excellent participatory version of Tom Chapin’s The Wheel of the Water.” The excerpt above was preached, at the congregation’s current home, the Good Shepard Montessori School. The Dillard quote is from her Teaching a Stone to Talk).

photo from Hey Arnold!

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