We have gathered here today to pray for peace and the ceasefire between warring groups. It seems like such a futile effort sometimes, to pray for peace in a world so full of strife, so full of anger and hate. But lest you give up hope and think it’s not worth that effort, you should know that this gathering and any other that meets with this same spirit of peace and for peace are balancing pebbles on a cosmic scale, tipping it back towards peace and love and away from the hate and violence. I believe that the problems of mankind stem from our insistence upon divisiveness, our pathological need to separate “us” from “them”. The glory of mankind comes from diversity, or “us AND them”. And this balance, this shifting between the powers of diversity and the powers of divisiveness, has very little to do with one’s religion in so much as it has really nothing to do with what one believes about the afterlife, if indeed one believes in the afterlife at all.
We are not praying for peace as something that will take place after our death. Death does not bring peace, even if the dead person is described as being “at peace”. We are talking and must talk about finding peace in the here and now, in our existence on this planet. I use this particular phrase, “here and now” frequently in most of my conversations because this moment, this portion of time is the only thing we are absolutely sure of. The past is gone, never to return and the future may or may not show up. We can only live in absolute certainty moment by moment—this is our existence. A person’s true being is expressed in how well they understand this concept of existence, with all the responsibility it contains, how well they LIVE in the here and now, regardless of their religious or spiritual views about life and afterlife.
Erich Fromm states it quite plainly: “No matter how often modern man thinks of God or goes to church, or how much he believes in religious ideas, if he, the whole man, is deaf to the question of existence, if he does not have an answer to it, he is marking time, and he lives and dies like one of the million things he produces. He thinks of God, instead of experiencing being God.”
What is the difference between thinking of God or in being God? How can a human being *be* God? Wouldn’t being God be heresy? It just depends on how you look at it. Anyone who acknowledges the sacredness of God, a Supreme Being, the Universe, whatever word you use to mean any Higher Power that you believe in—AND acknowledges that they are a part of that Power, come from that Power and are also sacred, are being God. Or that Power. It’s your word, whatever you use. If that seems too sinful, too egotistical, let me put it this way: Christians are called to be a steward of Christ, to be an example of the spiritual beliefs such as caring for the poor and comforting the sick. So as that chosen representative, you ARE the face of God to the people you meet. Interacting with you may be the first (or only) contact with even the concept of a Higher Power. You are being as God to them, so that they can experience the love and peace of God. Or the Universe, the Supreme Being, the All Father. Don’t get caught up in the words, but let them be symbols that you can use to grasp the context and meaning of what I am trying to say.
What does this have to do with prayer? Plenty. “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer”, the saying goes. This is not to say that prayer is not a good thing because it is. If it’s all you can do, if you are too removed from the situation to help with the work, or you are unable to do the work, then by all means, pray! But as Fromm points out, a man who thinks about God (or in other words, prays to God) but doesn’t acknowledge his own existence, his presence in the world “here and now”, he is marking time. Instead of doing the sacred work of living by being an example of his beliefs, he’s waiting to die. If actually being with your Supreme Deity was the totality of your spiritual belief, suicide would be the most observed sacrament in your religion. So what if your whole existence is based upon the idea of going to be with your God at your death—but the first words you hear upon arrival in Paradise are “What did you do with the life I blessed you with?” and then you have to answer, “Waited to die so I could be with you.”
We are given this wonderful gift of life, with so many opportunities to show love and caring. But there are those people, like in Jesus’ parable about talents, who act like the second servant, saying, “I knew you were a harsh master, so I hid my talent, I buried it and now, here it is.” They hide their talents, they bury their God-given gift of life…and they are no more than one of the million things they produce. Part of the gift of life, this existence, the “here and now” certainty that we have is the awesome responsibility to represent God, our Supreme Being, to those around us. Another gift is to also recognize our Supreme Being shining out from the faces of the people we meet—an interaction of the sacred, as it were.
When we were together last year, my presentation was called “United We Stand” and it ended with the concept that we are one. From the recent horrors of shooting sprees and the ongoing obscenity of war in the Middle East, to insatiable corporate greed, a corrupted political system which is removing rights instead of protecting them and an America where the majority of the population has none of the wealth that is so esteemed, everywhere you look it would seem that we are NOT “One”. Divisiveness is a way of life for most of the world. The haves, the have-nots; the Christians, the Jews, the Muslims; the women, the LGBT community. Unfortunately, religion is all too often cited as a very good reason for dividing people into groups. There is no room for diversity or for us to agree that there are different paths to the same goal: being sacred, acting in a sacred manner, and eventually, if your beliefs include it, to meet the Author of the Sacred in an afterlife.
I am very proud to be a small part of the diversity I see here. I am proud that I can be a part of the local Unitarian Universalist congregation which not only welcomes diversity, but indeed celebrates and rejoices in it. We ARE different or it would all get very boring very quickly. It’s okay to be different as long as there is not divisiveness because of the difference. We need to have a diverse Universe—diverse meaning “a large variety” and Universe meaning “all existing matter and space considered as one”. So our diverse Universe is a large variety of all existing matter and space considered as one. Good, we’re finally back to the idea that we ARE One!
Divisiveness is a long way of saying “to divide”. To separate, to keep apart, to put apart. To say “us but NOT them”. Any language you use that splits groups apart, that gives one section of the population a superior position, in either the literal meaning or the scientific use of the word, is divisive. The concept of a superior position is human ego speaking. The Supreme Being, God, or Author of the Sacred does not assign superiority to any one person, or any one particular group. Not one single being has more right to be on this planet, has more right to life, than any other. There is room for all, there is a reason for all to be here.
So why do we automatically separate ourselves? Ego. What makes us split into groups of “us”—and why haven’t we caught on to the fact that to each group, that group IS “us”?! “Them” is always the other guy. Not “us”. Not me. Me? I’m a part of “us”. And so our ego merrily leads us along, dividing “us” from “them” even when we’re not quite sure what “they” are all about. I can’t speak for the other countries, but I believe that America is particularly blessed with this disease. Perhaps because we came from all over the world so that when we get here, it’s just easier to be “us and them”.
Except that it’s not better. Easier, maybe. Better, definitely not. That ego desire to form superior groups is manipulated like wet noodles by the media, the mega-corporations, our politicians…and the preachers, pastors and ministers who would have us stand apart from all of the collective “them that aren’t us”. The reality of a peaceful, sacred existence is that we ARE all one, with enough variety to tell each other apart. How do we get to that reality?
We start with the one person we can change. Our own being. We let go of ego, with its insistence on separation and its complete ignorance (or denial) of the sacred. We stop listening to others who would divide us from ourselves, who seek out strife by splitting apart the sacred One. We are careful about the input from the world—what news stories we listen to, what Internet pages we read, what people are in our social groups—so that the input these things provide then adds to the positive energy, increases your feelings of the sacred and of peace. We avoid the things or the people who decrease our sense of the sacred, who try to divide us from peace. We do a lot of self-examination and make the changes we need where we are able to, to find that place of peace within our own being. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” It has to start somewhere, and we can’t control it or force it from anyone else but “me”.
It’s not that we are unaware of the evil that men do, of the horrors and suffering that are in the world. Rather, we do what we can to mitigate or stop evil, whether it’s standing up for those who cannot stand for themselves such as children or the LGBT population or giving our lives in a military conflict. There are no limits, either upwards or downwards, to the positive, life-affirming actions of a person living in peace. We work, or we pray…or we pray as we work, work as we pray. There is a hymn with these words: “There is peace like a river in my soul.” All we have to do is find that river within ourselves, to happily and willingly throw ourselves into that river by releasing our chains to the ego. Then the river flows, with us in it, out into the ocean, where all the rivers flow and meet, and we are gloriously drowned in the sacred peace of the Universe, of God, of the Supreme Being, of the Author of the Sacred, Him—or Her—self.
My child, what did you do with the gift of life that I gave you? What will your answer be?
My answer is this: Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Because if I am me and you are me and I am you and we are us, there is no them. There is only ALL of us and we are ONE.
And so I end this with this prayer, a blessing upon all of you that holds a hope for peace with these words:
“I honor the place in you where Spirit lives
I honor the place in you which is of Love, of Truth, of Light, of Peace,
When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me,
Then we are One.” Which means: Namaste!