Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mystery Sermonette

Sermonette delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee on 3/25/12.

If there's one thing that we UUs ought to do this morning to fulfill our compulsory stereotypical quota, it's find the commonalities among all religions, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? So, to oblige that duty this morning I'll ask, what's fundamental to every religion? Below all the vast differences, where's the bedrock lie?

Well, ask 5 Unitarians and you'll get 50 answers, but I'll add one more to the pile. A religion can't make it, can't function, can't hack it without one thing--mystery. Like some kind of perverse addiction, humans desperately seek out mystery. No where is this fascination with mystery more evident than in four fundamental aspects of the human experience: sex, stories, science and religion.

First off, sex:  Cognitive developmental psychology explains that one of the mechanisms that drives the formation of our sexual attractions is an affinity for difference (I’m told this is true for homosexuals as well). We look for differences and are drawn to them. We seek out mystery in romance. We want a tease. As it's said, if you want sizzle, you've gotta leave something to the imagination. Mystery lights up our brains and our romance.

Stories:  Have you ever thought about how weird our fascination with stories is? Why do we spend billions and billions and billions on movies, books and TV? We, "Just gotta know how it ends!" We despise and yet are addicted to cliffhangers. Good writers know this. They know that it's often what you /don't/ say, don’t show that is more important than what you do say--the monster you never see the face of, the whodunit, the love that may or may not find consummation. We're desperate to solve a mystery.

Science: Some of science is solving practical problems so that we can fix everyday life problems, but a huge portion of science has been and always will be just for the sake of knowing, because we're curious--mysteries of consciousness and how the brain works, the uttermost stretches of outer space, the existence of extraterrestrial life, the inner workings of the quantum realm, the pageantry of our planet's evolutionary history. Each unanswered question draws a deep part of ourselves that doesn't just want to know, but wants to find out; to search and not just to obtain.

Religion's no different: German theologian Rudolph Otto gave us the term 'mysterium tremendum' to describe the sense of 'holy' or 'god', a 'tremendous and terrible mystery' that we desperately seek out in life to worship. Our religious preoccupation with the mysterious abounds in the form or paradoxes and secret knowledge in religion--the nature of the Trinity, the path to Enlightenment, the paradox of free will, the duality of spirit and matter, prophecy, secret incantations, hidden codes, the list continues.

Einstein said it best:

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this alone, I am a deeply religious man---Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature." --Einstein

Mystery inspires, inflames, enlivens, seduces, captivates, fascinates, terrifies and brings us to tearful awe. Mystery is religion at its deepest core because mystery is the fundamental response of the universe to our most basic questions. As the songwriter Iris Dement put it,

"Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment! You can comment anonymously! Please send ideas and topics to research and post on!!!