From Your Minister
BY MEG RILEY SENIOR MINISTER, CHURCH OF THE LARGER FELLOWSHIP
I am talking to a man whose wife has just told him she loves someone else. I need to go to the ocean, says this Midwesterner, to see something bigger than my pain.
I am on the phone with a woman whose sister is dying. Her sister’s young child is inconsolable. Even here, says the woman on the phone, there is beauty. There is joy. Even here, there is something beyond the pain.
I am reading a letter from a prisoner, behind bars for more than half of his 37 years on the planet. I have to work hard, he says, to see things to be grateful for. But they are always there, and my spiritual practice is to notice them.
Theologian Tom Driver put it: “Radical immanence is transcendence.”
Transcendence does not mean that the holy exists separately from the beauty and heartbreak of life on earth, which pulses in our bodies and daily lives (immanence). Rather, divine mystery is woven throughout every moment of time, every cell of our aging and imperfect bodies, every interaction and choice. Our spiritual practice is to remember to see it!
I don’t know a God who is a big abstract perfect God…a being in the sky, removed from life on the earth. Sky and earth are as inseparable from one another as breath and body. This is not some remote abstract principle. Try holding your breath and see how long you make it!
I have always felt that worshipping the remote God of abstraction is similar to being devoted to a parent who is never present, lavishing the absent one with longing and adoration, while not recognizing the worth of the one who is there day after day, preparing meals, caring for us. We can, instead, commit our lives to seeing holiness as what is right here, rather than something that we long for in some other time and place.
This shift toward “radical immanence” opens up abundance rather than scarcity as the nature of the universe. We savor the beauty of each rock or shell, rather than projecting the concept of beauty onto that diamond which we either can or cannot afford to buy. As UU musician Peter Mayer puts it, “Everything is holy now.”
The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism affirms that we are all part of an interdependent web of life, which means that each one of us is necessary for the rest of us to live. It is in that web where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is among that kind of interconnection, that I know transcendence.
Interdependence is also held up in the Buddhist principle of dependent co-arising, which comes as close to describing what transcendence means to me as anything.
When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.
(Samyutta Nikaya 12.61)
I feel the truth of that dependent co-arising in my daily life, as consciousness occurs. I am struggling with something—anxiety or rage or grief. It is right in front of me, and no amount of trying to knock it out of the way will work. It is only when I go deep, deep to its root that suddenly something bigger emerges into view. It is only when I state my intention—“No matter where this leads, no matter what I have to do, I will use this opportunity to find liberation and more freedom”—that I can see beyond the suffering. Background and foreground shift, and I find relief from the struggle, if only for one moment. When this exists, that comes to be.
I feel the truth of this in my work for justice. Recently, in Florida, legislation to privatize 29 prisons looked as if it would unfortunately but inevitably pass. Those in control of the hearings were absolutely committed to swift and unchallenged passage of this measure. CLF member Donna Red Wing, though not optimistic about changing history, could not let this corrupt legislation pass without giving it her best fight. She contacted everyone she knew in Florida. They in turn contacted others. A Baptist minister found a way to be in the caucus room before the legislators went out to the floor to vote. “I want to see all of your statements about conflict of interest,” he told them, citing a Florida law that demands transparency. “Are you financially benefitting here?” Because of his actions, the measure did not go to a vote. Those prisons, at least as of this writing, will not be privatized. Profits will not be made off of the suffering of thousands of people. When this does not exist, that does not come to be.
CLF’s unique spiritual community, this congregation without walls, is a living incarnation of the interdependent web. Most of us will never lay eyes on one another. Yet knowing that we belong to each other brings real blessings, companionship on the journey, strength. With the arising of this, that arises.
May our days be filled with the awareness and arising of blessings. May we always know that we are held in a thread of life that extends back to our common ancestors and forward to generations we will not live to see. May we know that there is nothing we can do, no mistake we can make, that removes us from this web of life. May we care for one another, knowing that the transcendent is present in every one of us.
Each month we dive deeply into a spiritual theme.