Is This Not Divine?
by Connie Barlow

Fragment of a sermon delivered extemporaneously at
Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, NC (8 Feb 2004)
and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahasee, FL (15 Feb 2004)

published also in the Summer 2005 issue of Pantheist Vision

What came before the Big Bang? Is mind or spirit implied in the quantum realm? Are there conscious beings elsewhere in our galaxy? Are universes right now birthing on the other side of black holes? What happens to consciousness or soul after death? Is there a God, a Goddess, a Great Spirit? When we pray, who is listening? How do we understand mystical experiences?

These are all questions that the community we call science is in no position to definitively answer — at least not yet. Nevertheless, many of us wonder, inquire, experience inner knowings, and perhaps build beliefs about these very things. Sharing our views on such everlasting questions brings to the surface a diversity of perspectives, sometimes passionately held, and for which neither science nor reason can serve as arbiter. These are thus matters that put a spotlight on our spiritual and philosophical differences.

From time to time it is therefore helpful to remember — indeed, to celebrate! — what we can agree on. I submit that we UU's actually do agree on a vast realm of sacred knowing and experience, and that this realm includes an esoteric awareness and offers opportunities for mystical experiences on a par with any of the great religious or shamanistic traditions.

Consider: Ours is the first culture to know that the very atoms in our bodies were forged inside the fiery bellies of ancestral stars who lived and died before our sun was born. Equipped with such awareness, we can gaze up at the night sky and remember who we are: stardust contemplating the stars! We can scan the heavens for kin who bear a reddish hue — like Betelgeuse, at the right shoulder of Orion the Hunter, or Aldebaran, which marks the eye of Taurus the Bull, or Antares at the very heart of the great scorpion. These particular stars are the most prominent Red Giants and Supergiants, and right now, at this moment, each is forging from simpler atoms the life-giving miracles of carbon and oxygen and nitrogen. With each breath, we inhale atoms, every one of which was birthed inside a star that looked very much like Betelgeuse. And we can know that today, tomorrow, or sometime within the next hundred thousand years, Betelgeuse will expire, explosively recycling its body back into the cosmos where its gifts might one day congeal into new planets and perhaps be breathed by new forms of life. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: Ours is the first culture to know that plants and animals are bound together in an intimate and utterly dependent exchange of vapors invisible to the eye. Equipped with this esoteric knowledge, we can walk into a forest or across a meadow and fill our lungs with photosynthetic refreshment. In turn, we can cup a leaf in our hand, and just short of a kiss, blow our own carbon-rich gift into the awaiting stomates, the air-breathing pores of the plant. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: Ours is the first culture to know that redwood, fir, and ginkgo are the forest elders, that these trees evolved tens of millions of years before oak and beech and maple. We are the first to know that long-neck dinosaurs grew to gargantuan size browsing on the gymnosperms — long, long before Earth would give birth to grasses that would feed the largest mammals. Indeed, our scientific culture is the first to honor the memory of Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus — to construct holy temples where we bring our young to learn the sacred story of creation, while they wander awestruck amid the re-assembled remains of giants. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: Ours is the first culture to know the details of the co-evolutionary dance of acorn with squirrel. Whether we encounter these delightful rodents in city park, suburban yard, or wild forest, we can bring to mind that their family originated right here in North America some 30 million years ago during the cool Oligocene Epoch, only later spreading to inhabit much of the rest of the world. Squirrels are North American natives in a deep evolutionary way. And when we watch squirrels do what squirrels do best — gather and bury nuts — we can be grateful that this behavior beckoned a diversity of nut trees into existence. Now oaks and hickories and beeches take the risk of launching their progeny into the world with a hefty sack lunch — depending on squirrels to ensure that one seed in a thousand escapes consumption by a host of blunt-toothed mammals and gizzard-grinding birds. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: Ours is the first generation of humans, thanks to scientific discoveries and inventions made by peoples of all heritages from around the world, to give Earth a full-body view of itself. Thanks to a camera carried in a spaceship by Earthlings venturing to the moon, Earth has admired, again and again, and through billions of eyes, the image of a blue-and-white pearl of a planet reflecting the life-giving rays of its very own star. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: A multi-generational, collaborative effort brought into being a time machine orbiting Earth that is now churning out photographs of galaxies long ago and far away. The Hubble, which can detect photons of light that have been journeying for more than 10 billion years, from sources more than ten billion light-years distant, was recently joined in space by the Spitzer, whose infrared eye now allows us to look right through dust clouds that heretofore blocked our view. Moreover, "us" is anyone with an internet connection. On this, we can agree. Is this not divine?

Consider: All of us here are blessed to live in a civilization in which we are freely taught to read, in which we have free access to libraries, and therefore in which we can each choose our mentors from among any who have written in (or been translated into) a language we know, and even from among those long dead. In a way, we are in direct communication with the dead, and, for those of us who so choose, the greatest thoughts and artistic creations of the dead continue to live on through us. On this perhaps we can all agree. Is this not divine?

Click here to see the list of other WRITINGS ON RELIGIOUS NATURALISM.

Click here to view the ENTIRE LIST OF WRITINGS by Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd, and others, available on this website.

Return to TheGreatStory Homepage