Gods, Epicurus, and the WarmthAll Earth Sunday – Last Sunday before Advent
November 22, 2015
For Beloved Community
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
In the beginning
What a lovely creation where
in the beginning was the Word,
the Celtic “Sound”, the primal chord,
the first guitarist strumming the first
“E” chord on the down beat.
And then it all unfolds.
As David Whyte says
“all the birds and creatures of the world/
are unutterably themselves.”
It all unfolds: volcanic islands,
mini-continents pushing against
the larger landmass and raising the Colorado plateau.
And it is raised in such an even manner
that water then arrives and carves down through it
and the layers are exposed
in sedimentary beauty.
It all unfolds, creation does,
and when, in the course of human events,
human consciousness emerges,
it is like the twinkle of first starlight
on the deepening blue of the eastern horizon.
Heart and soul wink into thought.
Hopes and dreams are born.
And with them, the shadows:
fear, dread, abandonment,
and with them violence.
But hope and dreams and something more,
the great river of love that flows and flows,
exposing the beauty in the sediments
of heart and soul,
until one can only stand amazed in the presence
of the love in the face and hands of another,
the love that wants to sing in our hearts
like the kettle sings when the tea is ready.
In the beginning was the Word, the sound, the strum,
and the flow begins.
For this may we be truly grateful.
The beauty of creation is unutterably itself.
How may we honor it,
and honor each other,
each individual, and each community and nation
intended as an expression
of the great flow of love.
Violence scores the earth again and again
with its fire-marks, its tearing down of
even that which is carefully built.
The ancient gods were so often violent gods.
In the beginning was not the “Word”
but the battle, strife for power and survival.
In Mesopotamian mythos, by some accounts,
Tiamat, water goddess, begins creation peacefully,
through a sacred marriage
between salt water and fresh water.
But in the Babylonian stories,
soon there are off-spring who kill their father,
and then Tiamat does battle with them,
and brings forth dragons with poison for blood.
In the Sumerian stories,
a goddess is raped. She gives birth
to the goddess of war and fertility.
In the Greek creation story,
there was first chaos. Then night and the place
of death emerged.
The love was born.
There was offspring from gods mating
and soon there was a pantheon,
and then great bloody struggles.
God creates light and darkness
out of the tohu wa-bohu or “formless void.”
Then there are families.
Cain kills Abel.
God frees slaves from Egypt,
a story of great courage,
but also great violence.
And God commands the slaughter of cities
Religions of judgment and violence,
of sin and retribution arise.
Terrible armies are raised in the names of gods.
Creation is in so many ways
a roiling mess of becoming.
But now there are those who
begin to critique the violence
the posturing around heaven and hell,
the threats and tribalism.
The Hebrew prophets begin to speak.
Isaiah says “Comfort, comfort, O my people”
which is a word we will attend to
in the coming weeks of Advent.
Isaiah paints a picture of a servant leader so gentle,
one who will not break even a bruised reed,
nor blow out even a sputtering candle wick.
The adoration of strength and the practice of violence
is interrogated, and and another practice,
a mysterious practice of deep peace,
is offered instead as the way of God.
Among the Greeks,
Epicurus develops a philosophy
that rejects the notion that reality
is controlled by violent
and judgmental gods.
He develops the theory of the atom.
He suggests that all reality is simply atoms.
As Daniel Delattre writes about Epicurus: “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.”
This may seem like a return to chaos.
But it also sets aside judgment and hell,
and divine commands to kill.
It opens the world for the clarity of science,
for the beauty of what … called “The music of the spheres.”
When Marilyn and I were in Flagstaff
a few weeks ago, we visited the Lowell Observatory.
There, through telescopes, we saw the spheres.
We saw the sun, with its prominences and flares.
We saw the locations of the planets inside constellations.
We saw the Andromeda galaxy,
star-cluster neighbor to the Milky Way.
All these bodies were also colliding, rebounding,
becoming entangles. Old stars going
to red giants or black holes.
New stars born in nebulae.
Beauty and clarity, free of the overlay
of religion that fights to narrow everything down
to who is right and wrong.
Science at its best.
The gentleness of Isaiah’s servant leader.
The clarity of science.
The Roman poet Lucretius was influenced by Epicurus,
and wrote the poem “On the nature of things.”
Stephen Greenblatt in his book Swerve
writes that the re-discovery of Lucretius’
poem launched the Renaissance.
(see article excerpt below and also the link to the full New Yorker article)
So the message is:
Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.
And from Isaiah, God is gentle.
But now these insights must marinate
and deepen in the human soul and consciousness.
Carl Jung teaches us that we live
in a matrix of metaphors.
Coyotes are tricksters who come change our lives.
(see last week’s meditation)
The ocean is an ocean
but it also teaches us about the vastness
of our inner selves.
Quantum mechanics arrives.
Now we learn that the entire universe
is wired for connection.
All particles affect all particles.
Space is not simply empty
but is bubbling with motion and effect.
We learn that there may be universes.
We learn the fuller implications of
infinity, first described by Anaximander of Miletus.
Now infinity is out there in the curving universe,
and also in our heads – we now understand
that our brains have as many synaptic connections
as there are atoms in the universe.
And we understand the infinity of love.
God becomes one who creates in infinities,
not in limited tribal sets.
Do you want beauty? Look to Andromeda.
Or count the cells in your body
and number their processes.
If we have to have it a certain way
in our limited vision, our limited religions
and national plans,
God may well say to us, as to Job,
“Where were you when I set the foundations of the earth?”
And so a sense of deep warmth begins to emerge.
It is said that Andrei Sakharov,
the great Russian physicist
in his last years, said of the vastness of space,
“It is warm.”
We begin to sense that space, the universe,
the former cold emptiness both out there,
and in our hearts,
is warm, warm with the infinities
of creation, warm with the love
that we sense in the midst of it all.
Mystics began to sense this more and more.
Theresa of Avila wrote in the 1500s:
“May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.”
― Teresa of Ávila
This wisdom grows and grows and shows up in many places.
It will continue to teach us peace.
If the universe is warm, then
no one only understands violence.
If the universe is warm,
the nothing is ever lost.
No one is ever lost.
And we become dedicated to finding ways
to address violence. We invent non-lethal weapons
that stop but do not kill – http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/02/non-lethal-force
We develop “moral imagination” that
moves us to find ways beyond the binaries
of “us and them” and “kill or be killed.”
(See John Paul Lederach’s book The Moral Imagination.)
We live into a spirituality that knows
not merely by words or doctrine
but by experience that love is stronger than hate,
and that the world is not on the brink of destruction
but rather is the place of God’s joyful creation.
In the end, it is as in the beginning,
the Universe speaks with the Word of love,
the sound of love, the first E-chord strum
and the great flow begins.
May we love and honor that flow in our lives.
May this be our Thanksgiving and our gratitude.
Epicurus -The New Yorker article excerpt:
November 16, 2015 “The Invisible Library:” by John Seabrook
(from the article)
(my summary: Leave the crazy Gods. Everything is atoms.)
—Epicurus also posited that the world is made of atoms—the atomos (indivisible) elements of matter. “Epicurus says we are in an atomistic system,” [Daniel] Delattre, papyrologist, explained. “Everything that occurs is the result of the atoms colliding, rebounding, and becoming entangled with one another, with no purpose or plan behind their motions.” For Delattre, Epicureanism encompasses physics and ethics, a complete world view that he both studies and emulates. As he gets older, he told me, he finds it comforting to think that “when we die there is a dissolution of the aggregate, and the atoms come together to make a new thing. And so we have nothing to fear from death; there is no punishment, no Hell—we simply cease to exist.” There are gods, “but they are very quiet and very happy and don’t interfere with human activities.” Epicurus influenced the first-century-B.C. Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius, who wrote “On the Nature of Things,” the epic poem that was rediscovered in a monastic library in 1417 by Poggio Bracciolini, a find that Stephen Greenblatt, in his 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern,” credits as being a founding document of the Renaissance.