Sunday Sermon – Mystery and Wonder – January 22nd, 2017

 1/22/17 The First Source of our UU Faith

Mystery and Wonder

Rev. Paul D. Daniel, Minister


That sense of Awe, whether we call it mystery or wonder may not be rationally explainable but


we can experience that emotion directly and personally and it can be deeply transformative.


This sense of reverence is universal across all religions and has the power to open us to forces that create and uphold life


How blessed we are to have such experiences.


Science can partially explain some of this wonder,


the galaxies that surround us,

the snow that falls,

the DNA that makes us who we are.  


Others experiences defy rational explanation and those we can


choose to take on faith, or not.


“a gamble in the face of the unknown” says Forrest Church, until reason changes our mind.



Once at a beloved cousin Amy’s funeral, decades ago now,


I had what I can only described as an “out of body” experience.


I viewed myself from above and outside of my body as my brother and father tried to calm me in my grief.


This experience arose out of mystery, was beyond logic. It was a moment of awe and wonder.


Such experiences can move us into the realm of the spiritual, enlighten us to a greater truth that comforts and calms.

Part of my understanding of religion and faith derives from that ineffable experience.


Religion is what Forrest Church calls “our human response to the duel reality of being alive and having to die.”


He says that “the fact that death is inevitable gives meaning to our love,


for the more we love the more we risk losing.”


To love then is to have the courage to suffer loss.


Our children grow up and leave the nest or we become estranged from them. Divorce or death end relationships, friends move away or we do.


Life demands that we take risks to love and be loved even when we really want is the safety of the familiar without the risk of any loss.


We have a choice, we either can huddle our hearts in fear or open to the forces that sustain and give meaning to our lives.” Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings told Frodo.

“All you have to do is to decide what to do with the time that is given you.


Our UU faith would say It is through our deeds and actions that give meaning and value to our lives. The great Unitarian suffragette Margaret Fuller put it this way, “cherish your best hopes as a faith, and abides by them in action.”


How our souls touch another is what really matters.


Our actions both serve to redeem our lives and to make the inevitability of our death both bearable and meaningful.


Shortly after the gay youth Matthews Sheppard was murdered in1999, I made a pilgrimage to Laramie, Wyoming where Matthew was crucified on a prairie fence and left to die. My sons, fearing for my life, tried to dissuade me but I had to go where I was called, as do we all.


If life is to have meaning, if we are to leave legacy of principle and courage that our faith calls us to

we all must stand for justice. As we saw in the woman’s march.


I had to confront my fears and the hatred that took Mathew’s life. I had to prove to myself that my life had some purpose worth dying for.

We all must go where our heart and values lead us and our faith demands of us.


Channing would call this an act of practical religion. —“The renewal of the spirit, intellectual integrity, and the application of one’s moral insight and aspirations to daily living and social existence”.



I surmise many of you have faced your own transformational experiences of a redemptive nature. What impact did your decisions have on your own life?


Did any of your personal experiences lead you to better define who you are in the world.

Like Jesus, did your experience push you to decide what was worth dying for.


Our personal faith is shaped and transformed in the alchemy of pain and loss. At times, in the fury, of anger, it can blot out the laughter and pleasure of living, and yet we somehow endure and find new meaning to sustain us.


D. H. Lawrence said “religion is about awakening, opening our eyes, and looking out with new wonder upon the creation, becoming not someone other than

ourselves, but more fully ourselves.


Through direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder, we are moved to a “renewal of the spirit and openness to the forces that create and uphold life”, reads our first principle. Surely this embodies a sense of awe that defies rational explanation.


Perhaps any experience of mystery broadens our understanding of ourselves and the universe.


If religion is our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die, then Church is right when he writes that “Unitarian Universalism might best be described as a life-affirming rather death defying faith. Yet if we are to affirm life then we must also face death, and struggle to make sense of both.”


Experiencing mystery and wonder are gifts and not a birthright. They come to us if we are both open and receptive to what is often right before our eyes:

a bright purple Iris,

a gray and menacing thunder storm,

a four-leaf verdant green clover,

or an antelope, slick with sweat, in mid leap. All of this and so much more embody mystery and wonder.  Life itself is a gift and not to be taken for granted. It is an accident of genetics that made you who you are and not someone else entirely. You are a unique being, and every moment you take a breath is a testament to the miracle of your unique life.


The very breath of life is a mark of the sacred; awe-inspiring and mysterious. From Emerson’s perspective, there is only one miracle–life itself. He wrote “the invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.


What is a day?

What is a year?

What is summer?

What is woman?

What is a child?

What is sleep?


To our blindness, these things seem unaffecting. We make fables to hide the baldness of the fact and conform it, as we say, to the higher law of the mind. [But to the wise] a fact is true poetry, and the most beautiful of fables.”


The miracle of life embodies all living creatures, but for we humans the quality of our lives is in our own hands, Joy or sadness, compassion or callousness, generosity or selfishness is a choice. We can choose to live a life devoid of meaning without relationships or act for the benefit of others; living intensely connected life of action that embodies the richness of life.

Such a life can be about deepening the meaning of existence.  Such a life is about taking responsibility for our ethical and moral decisions.


Life is the ultimate and resounding YES!  It is stronger than all the negations that confront us. Such a life is about transforming the ordinary into something very special…, something holy.


That is what all the great religious leaders throughout history have done. Jesus, by acting on principle with clarity of purpose made his ordinary life of humble origins into something quite extraordinary. Our lives can be extraordinary to. While Jesus’s determination and resolve may elude us, it is accessible if we remain open to all that is unknowable through intellect.


The bible tells us our lives are only four score and ten, or with a little luck and some good living, a smidge more. If we are willing to take responsibility for our lives, we can enhance the meaning of our existence. If we are to leave any legacy, we must first be awake to the possibility of mystery and wonder in our lives.  Awaking is not a moment says Church “but an ongoing process. By remaining open to experiencing the mystery of life anew, we are born again and again.” If we are open to life’s unfolding and persistent questions we will not be overwhelmed by what defies explanation.


“Mystery and wonder unites us more deeply with others. Each time we encounter life’s transcending mystery we are moved to a renewal of the spirit and openness to the forces that create and uphold life. Upon awakening we can commit (or recommit) ourselves to join with others in the prophets Mica’s words, “to serve justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly together before the Mystery that gives us all life, and to do so even in the face of death.” That is true grace.


As Emerson wrote, “the renewal, the affirmation, the wonder of being alive, can only come in the present, while we have time to be amazed and grateful.


Perhaps that enough for one lifetime?

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