© Mark Rahman 2009. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
August 9, 2009

"A free and responsible search for truth and meaning." It seems simple and straightforward. Just hang around and think whatever feels good or right, no problem. Well, maybe it just is not as simple as it seems. This is not an idle journey. There is an obligation to pursue Truth with a level of vigor and persistence. There is as much about others in Truth as there is about oneself. Where we fit into any scheme amongst our fellow beings defines our roles, our relationships, and our life's purpose.

To make clear, this is not a search for factual results. There is no expectation of rigorously logical theses. The capital-T Truth need not be accurate with respect to what we regard as lowercase-t truth. Great Truth is mythic in that it is so, even if it did not really happen that way. This inquiry is about what binds any one of us to the divine, to something greater than ourselves. Each of us is different in our history, genes, thoughts, relationships and more. We each have a different idea of what moves ourselves and others. When one of us considers Truth in a different light, the world around us is altered to us. When we change, the consequence is that others change. To be a different person is to have others be different people as a direct consequence.

The search for Truth is wide open to its horizons and in its scope. Eternal, universal, and everlasting; Truth is what we are likely to feel even as we understand that we do not actually understand. Because what we endeavor is to know the unknowable, we cannot possibly get it right, and we shall not each get it the same. No matter how careful or accurate revealed Truth may be, it is not possible to understand that which passeth all understanding. The situation is described in common aphorisms such as "through a glass darkly" or the tale of six blind men describing an elephant. Further, when we talk of a system that is non-material, we cannot test what we think at all, however much it might intercede in this universe through special powers. If we are unable to realize that people cannot possibly all come to the same understanding, then we will be in the soup until we do.

An example of being able to consider the world differently comes from ancient Israel. Up to the time of Ahab, King of Israel, God is shown mostly as a great and powerful being. Creator of all existence, the burning bush, manna from heaven, destruction of the six hundred priests of Baal. But Elijah had a different experience (from 1st Kings, Ch. 19:11-13):

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

The ancient Israelites knew that it was possible to consider God not only as overt power, but that He could also be found in a "still small voice."

Any seeking after meaning is necessarily a spiritual journey. Material goods are the props of the great theater within which we, as material beings, must operate. They are not the markers of success, but tokens of spiritual relationships. When we feed the hungry, free the oppressed, or oppose the production of bombs, we affect the spirit of people with whom we share this world. We may never be thanked, because we had the opportunity to build our spirit. How we think about anyone of any kind, how we deal with them, even if we never meet or hear of them, will affect our inner spirit.

Unitarian Universalists are not alone in having a search for Truth. Many native Americans seek for their personal connection to the divine through a vision quest. If they are blessed with a vision, it is considered to be not only for their own future but specific to their inner being, their soul. Seekers are not limited to one vision, truth can change, become more specific, or become broader. Truth can belong to the individual. Yet, there can be some direct momentary touching of other worlds.

In the old Mesopotamian cultures divine powers were local or regional. The pantheon in the next city-state was one that belonged to and looked after that city. Were I to go over to that city then it were best if I make sacrifice to those gods rather than my own. Truth was not the same everywhere. Universality had not become the order of the day.

The Romans gave recognition to similar but different pantheons by saying that they were really the same but with local names. Local myths could be variations on a larger Truth encompassing all of the citizens of the empire.

For Zen Buddhism Truth, is necessarily personal. The Buddha mind exists within each one of us and requires that it be unbound by the individual in order to know and be known. For some Zen masters this is best done by koan, paradoxes that strive to break the boundaries of everyday logic and thought.

A Zen story: A group of Buddhist scholars were arguing one day about objectivity and subjectivity. A Zen master came upon them and listened for a little while. Finally he kicked a large stone nearby and asked one of the scholars, "Is this stone out here or in your head?" The scholar thought a little bit and responded, "Buddhist teaching says that the material reality is actually a construct of our worldly mind. Therefore the rock is actually in my head." "Well," said the Zen master, "your head must be weighed down greatly by the stone." And he walked on.

What I gleaned from the story was that the scholar had internalized the teaching, but had not been able to unleash his Buddha mind to accept the Truth of the teaching. For Zen the nature of Truth is more important than any particular truth. It is the inner existence of the Truth, one that can only be opened by the solitary person that makes each journey unique.

The Bahais hold that revelation is cyclical with a little bit of the Truth coming out or being revised as each new prophet is sent by God according to our ability to absorb new Truth. Truth is different now from what it was and shall be different yet again. Our individual perception of Truth is imperfect because of how it is delivered, and how we are able to absorb it. There is no need to belittle those of different thought. Each of us has our own quality of awareness of what is right and cannot be expected to stay in lock-step with everyone else.

Mystics from every religion regard the search for Truth as individual and private. But Truth is not a possible destination for just anyone. The direct apprehension of divinity is a dangerous undertaking not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Long and careful preparation is involved. In English the words silly and touched refer to people who had been in direct contact with God and not ready for the experience. The behavior such persons exhibit is the result. The mystics acknowledge that they do not know for sure what they will find, else why would they need to go. Thus, mysticism always has an unsure reception in organized religion, as a mystic might at any time contradict accepted teaching by virtue of their particular and uncontrolled experience.

But enough about those who have some similar understanding of Truth as UUs. What about those who are absolutist, and endeavor to deny to others the right to an alternate path to enlightenment. A hard question. What kind of response is appropriate for those who would deny to us fundamental rights? The answer is they are not wrong. They have found their own personal path. Not simply what works for them or what suits them, but that which is part of their very being down to the minutest fiber. Our response is "we need not think alike in order to love alike." If we do move to stop them from imposing a religious will upon others, it is to keep each side free to experience Truth.

Enough of the religious fanatics. You secular types should not be too smug. Scientific Truth has often been as arrogant as Religious Truth. In place of revealed knowledge is "provable" fact whose existence gives certain people power over others. Not so long ago the inferiority of races was a scientifically proven fact. For example, in the recent past physicians were taught that it was an absolute certainty that mothers caused severe mental illnesses in their children. These prejudices hang on today, long after we understand that these grave afflictions are based solely on brain chemistry. Matters of economics or politics that are taken as gospel today to the great sorrow of many, may be considered silly in the future.

Anyone is capable of taking their Truth and imposing it on others. It ill behooves us to be as arrogant in return. The tough luck position is that we are as likely to be wrong as right even as we are completely, positively certain. This is why we keep the search going all our lives, why we must maintain our humility as well as our perseverance.

Singling out this one value of Universal Unitarianism, this one affirmation, does not mean that it is the most important. Yet it is part of all the others of our creed. As we permit a search for Truth by others and deem the results to be as valid as our own, we own up to their value and their spiritual growth. We validate everyone's right of conscience and the world community we are a part of. Reaching out beyond our little corporeal boundaries places us squarely as part of the web of existence. Being an independent integrated seeker is a UUs hallmark.

Our Truth is truth that is not truth. We search for what we know we shall not attain. And yet it is a Truth for it binds us to that which is greater, however much it is merely personal and transitory. Not to be one with the universe, but simply to make connection, any connection. Truth may be grand but it need not be.

As we change, as we age, have new and renewed relationships, who and what we are becomes perhaps more than we were. Our understanding of that which is outside of us changes and adapts. Our understanding of Truth will do the same. A greater awareness, a greater context allows for varying thoughts, thoughts that would not have been possible before. With a more evolved picture of what Truth is comes the potential of what it might be, a tantalizing tapestry woven into our life and the lives of those we know and do not know.

In the Meaning of Life from Monty Python "you come into this life with nuffin', and you leave with nuffin', what have you lost? Nuffin'!" In the inbetween we are here amongst others, we share space and time, we share thought and heart. This free and responsible task is a solemn endeavor. The better we are by making our search for Truth as honest and diligently as we can, the better we leave all who come after. Such is the responsible part of search, the imperative.


This is from the now old song, The Reverend Mr. Black sung by The Kingston Trio and others: "You got to walk that lonesome valley, you got to walk it by yourself, oh nobody else can walk it for you."

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