1st READING for meditation: "Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves"- Henry David Thoreau

2nd READING: The self discovers the self in a larger self. One who listens to the gentle urgings of his own soul and accustoms himself to seeing God in all nature will gradually be transforming himself from a lower to a higher consciousness.

…Our approach to the Spirit should be simple, direct and spontaneous. There is no more of God in one place than in another. Wherever we are, God is, and wherever we recognize the Divine Presence, then the Divine Presence responds. To trust in this Presence is the highest form of sanity….
-Ernest Holmes

THE WIZARD OF US & THE GOD WHO WASN’T THERE… Talk presented by Rich Hayes May 29, 2016 at Unitarian Universalist Church Pittsfield, MA and at Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South County Housatonic, MA July 10 ,2016

I was visiting a patient and the subject of religion came up. While raised Catholic, he had left religion many years ago. But despite this, as he is facing the end of his life he finds he now wonders if any of the stories he was taught back then were true.  I asked him if there was anything in particular that troubles him now? He told me the idea he’s not worthy kept coming back to him. I caught him a bit off-guard when I asked him what his favorite movie was when he was a kid. He thought for a minute and then said “The Wizard of Oz”. I told him that in my opinion this is one of the great spiritual stories of all time because it tells a UNIVERSAL TRUTH and that’s a commonality in all great stories.

I shared with him that this film is the classic tale of the hero's journey wherein the person, against their will, finds not only unexpected adventure and great challenges, BUT is pushed 
past what they believed they were capable of, and then finds (discovers) a treasure hidden in the last place they ever would have thought possible: within them self!  Here is Dorothy, experiencing great emotional upset as she fears her beloved dog Toto is going to be given away due to a nasty neighbor so she runs away from home, meets a wise old man who tells her fortune, a sudden storm blows in and she rushes to get back to her home in order to be safe, arriving as this black, swirling mass of a tornado races toward her and the house.  Then she and her house are uprooted and whisked away and dropped into a strange and unknown place-beautiful, mysterious and totally alien. This great storm-the tornado has - changed everything and placed her in a place she's never been before! Once so desperate to get away from her home, she now wants the “security” of the known, of what “has been” and wants only to return to it. She’s then told by some strange looking locals that there is a Great Wizard-all powerful and all-knowing-who might be able to help her get back home. All she has to do is follow the yellow brick road and it will eventually take her right to him. 

So, she sets out and along the way meets the scarecrow, who it turns out, wishes to have a brain as he was made without one - then the tin man who longs (???) for a heart. And finally they are terrified to meet a ferocious lion who turns out to be anything but ferocious and he is looking for courage.  They finally get to Emerald City and think their journey is complete and all will be revealed and solved and all their troubles are over! They celebrate, believing that they’re “home free”. WRONG! The adventure has hardly even begun!  They meet the great wizard who is very blustery and scary looking. Dorothy pleads their case BUT he tells them they must 
prove they are “worthy” by accomplishing a great task. And we all know what this is-to get the wicked witches broom.  They set off and finally after many twists and turns and some moments where it seemed all was lost, they actually accomplish the task-almost, it seems, by accident, as Dorothy inadvertently spilled water on the witch  as she was trying to save the scarecrow. She had no idea that water was fatal to the witch! And she actually feels bad as she see’s the witch melt away, crying out to her last breath!  Finally, they all return, broom in hand. Initially they’re told the wizard is otherwise occupied and can’t see them, but finally they are led back into the wizard’s chamber and then, lo and behold, the blustering wizard starts to bellow and berate them and they all shake in terror-except Dorothy-who is now angry as she feels the Wizard is reneging-trying to get out of what he’d promised. But good old Toto has caught sight of something (dogs always seem to know things we human’s don’t!) and runs over to where a curtain is obscuring something and pulls it back.  We all know what happens. It’s revealed that the wizard is not this huge and awesome figure-that was all smoke and mirrors! merely a projection! 
Instead it's this simple, ordinary and rather meek looking man who was pulling all the levers, whistles and bells. Dorothy feels scammed-betrayed-and starts to let him have it but then begins to sob in despair as it dawns on her that where she'd placed her faith was false and a lie. 
Then he reveals the key message of the whole story! 
He explains that each one of them already had “IT”-  that which they were seeking- IT was already within them!  FURTHERMORE, It had always been there!!!

So I said to my patient that, while this story of the Wizard is not Literally true,  it is TELLING a truth. And if you are able to approach it in the way I just did then this seems evident. He agreed. I told him that unfortunately many people have taken the Bible and stories in it in literal ways and totally missed the power in the metaphor.  We were able to enter into a discussion about some of the things that had troubled him and this proved really helpful to him.

So this brings us to the second part of this morning's talk, again inspired by my visit with this patient along with many before him who have also been troubled by religious beliefs and dogma.
A few years ago I happened upon a movie called the “God Who wasn’t There”. The premise of this film was that Jesus had never really existed and that the story that has been handed down and expanded upon through religion is actually a myth - merely a composite of numerous stories thousands and thousands of years older than the story in the Gospels. It draws parallels to Egyptian mythology and the god Horus whose story is remarkably similar to what has been told about Jesus. My first response to this was resistance.  You see, I like Jesus (even though I have my difficulties with much of the religion that has grown up around him), so the thought that he hadn’t really existed was troubling-it almost felt scary to me.  But as I looked at my own response and then let myself think further, I asked myself what would it mean if the story we’ve been told and have told our selves wasn’t literally true, but instead like so many classic stories, was telling us a Truth. I arrived at the thought that perhaps the story taken in the literal way religion has told it, over and over and over again has created a story of a god who wasn’t there…. thus preventing us from seeing the One who is!

Let me share something Bishop Spong, a Bishop of the Epsicopal church wrote: "God is not a person" "Let me simply observe that almost everyone since the dawn of humanity begins with the concept of God as something like a person. If one remains there, neither God nor prayer will ever make sense. Can we then move to a non-personal language for God? This is not easy but ultimately, I believe we must learn to develop a non-personal concept of God that we as persons can still access.  When I say that, however, my religious language begins to sound like gibberish." 

As Jesus said, we look but we do not see.
He also said that the Kingdom lies within us-heaven is here now! Maybe we’ve been looking but not recognizing that we re in the midst of "It"-and more importantly, I
t is in the midst of us! At our very core –as Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion found out !

We human beings love a good story. And we’ve been creating them ever since we could speak and wonder about our own true nature and our reason for being here. Because the truth is that we too have been plopped down in a very strange land! Haven't we?? We tell stories to know things in deeper ways-our right brain speaks in a very different way than our left. The right sees connections and thinks metaphorically, it is the seat of creativity, music, poetry, intuition-in many ways it is our deeper self-an unknown territory that asks to be known! And invites us to know it in a very different kind of “knowing”.  Unfortunately as human beings became more dependent on left brain thinking, through the use of language, technology and such, we started to loose touch with this other way to know. The left brain is very linear and rational - a great tool in certain instances, but also limited. It is inclined to think in literal terms, and story telling is often all about the metaphor, showing us a deeper truth. Taking something literally when it was never meant to be can change or lose the whole meaning behind the deeper story. And the power in looking at stories metaphorically rather than in a literal way is that the message contained will also deepen over time, and as your life changes it will maintain a relevance that will be applicable to whatever is happening currently. This is what I meant when I said "Universal Truth" a few minutes ago as I referred to the "Wizard of Oz".

When I returned to school to become a chaplain I was required to study numerous Theologies and spiritual practices-East and West, traditional as well as Native American, Aboriginal, Earth based, and what struck me was this thread that seemed to run through them all. Again and again I found in their stories and teachings the notion of unity and connection -of relationship with each other and all our fellow creatures and the Earth, but also with the Divine or Source in whatever name they used or didn't use.  They all seemed to be pointing in a direction. In Buddhism there is a saying: "The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon". Perhaps too many of us have been looking at the finger and missing that it points back at ourself. 
Let me leave you with one more brief “story” from Anthony De Mello before I end:
“Excuse me,” said an ocean fish. “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?” “The ocean,” said the older fish, “is the thing you are in now.” “Oh, this? But this is water. What I’m seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as he swam away to search elsewhere. DeMello, wishing to drive the point home, concludes with yet one more brief story: The man came to the wise teacher and asked,"Master" - for years I have been seeking God. I have sought him everywhere that he is said to be: on mountain peeks, the vastness of the desert, the silence of the cloister, and the dwellings of the poor.” “Have you found him?” the master asked. “No I have not. have you?” What could the master say? The evening sun was sending shafts of golden light into the room. Hundreds of sparrows were twittering on the nearby banyan tree. In the distance one could hear the sound of highway traffic. A mosquito droned a warning that it was going to strike….And yet this man could sit here and say that he had not found God. After a while the man left, disappointed, and went to continue looking. DeMello concludes with this admonition: Stop searching, little fish. There isn’t anything to look FOR. All you have to do is LOOK!
*NOTE: Jesus is still very much a part of my spiritual foundation and his message of love, compassion, and forgiveness is at the center of my own practice-Anthony DeMello is the author of many books, among these, "Awareness, the Perils and Opportunities of Reality" which I have found very helpful in my own journey.