THE ESSENTIALS
Talk given at Unitarian Church, Pittsfield MA
1/5/18

In the book, The Little Prince, the little Prince says:
"It is only in the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye".
Let me tell you about Angeline:
Angeline was in her 90’s when I met her. She was an extremely kind woman and seemed to me to be quite at peace within herself (you can “feel” this from some people). As I visited her she shared her life’s story with me. She’d come from privilege, born in Austria of well-to-do Jewish parents. She had to flee when the Nazi’s came to power. She was the only survivor of her immediate family and had spent time in France in a relocation camp.

She described it as a bleak and cold place with a great deal of suffering. At the time she was in her late teens and felt scared almost all the time. Because she spoke fluent French she acted as an interpreter and this helped secure her some safety.
One day she was walking through the camp, which was virtually a mud field as a thaw had set in and the snow had begun to melt. The landscape seemed as bleak as the camp itself-devoid of color other than brown and gray. As she walked along, head looking down, she suddenly found herself staring at a puddle, and in the puddle she saw a perfect reflection of the sky and some clouds that the late afternoon sun was painting shades of pink.
She stopped, captivated by this sight. As she looked down at the water and the reflection, she noticed something else. There was movement happening in the puddle as well. She saw there were tiny creatures swimming or skimming in this water. As she relayed this story to me her face lit up as if she were seeing the whole thing again.
She said that was the day everything changed for her.

She smiled and said, “ I knew I wasn’t alone-that life continued and that there was still beauty - I knew I wasn’t just a number or a thing-a Jew-that I was still alive and still “me”. I felt the spirit of
who I was as I looked into that puddle. It’s hard to put into words but I recognized I was a part of those squiqlies swimming in that puddle, just as I was surely part of the clouds reflected and the sky above me.
She paused, smiled again and told me, “ I started to live again. And for the next few months I made a point everyday to open my eyes to the beauty…even in that bleak place. I’ve never stopped opening my eyes, that’s why I say it changed my life. Looking back I know it saved my life..”

Angeline had lost practically all the things we tend to count and measure: home, status, possessions, family, identity (no country), and in this lost place she discovered something that can’t be counted or measured or quantified- she found what it is that makes her “her”, a truly unique occurrence in an incredible Universe.

I have a confession to make- part of the reason I am a hospice chaplain is actually quite self-serving - You see it connects me to a much larger reality- a much
truer reality then the picture of reality that is fed to me daily (by our Culture media), because that reality is one of frenetic activity, of confusion and distraction and fear, and it does not serve me well at all.
I have lived too much of my life that way and I now know time is precious thanks to the people I get to meet.

Like Angeline, In my own life and certainly through my hospice work I’ve found myself in some bleak, drab, scary landscapes –
but then I see the mud puddle- and I’m reminded of the amazing-ness and tenacity of life, of its ability to endure and to transcend, to evolve and become.

And I get a glimpse of something that defies words or names and I know that I am a part of it, as is everyone and everything.
In you I see me, and in your struggles I get to see my struggles too.
And I get reminded that in the places where there appears to be only darkness, light is present as well, even if it starts out only as a reflection.

For me this is an essential.
Someone recently asked me if I believed in God. I returned the questions with a question, “Which one?” They looked a bit shocked and said, “You know, the real one”. Again I asked, “Which one?”
They didn’t answer me.

So I want to say right here and now, yes I do believe in God-just not the one I was taught about in religious class.

I attended a funeral Mass the other day. In the course of this funeral, over and over again there was a God described that I do not know-one who needed to be appealed to for Mercy. One who needed to be coerced and reminded who the deceased person was-and who we all were (baptized), A God who rewarded- and implied in this- one who judged and punished; One who seemed to reside somewhere else, one who seemed to need us to say how unworthy we are. One who decided a sacrifice was needed and sent his own son just so we could get in to this “someplace else” where He is.

I do not believe in this God.
Ironically the very next day I read something written by Richard Rohr, my go-to Catholic priest.
Rohr tells a story about when he was on retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage and he had a chance encounter. He was walking down a little trail when a recluse, what you might call a hermit’s hermit, came toward him. Not wanting to intrude on his deep silence, Rohr bowed his head and moved to the side of the path. But as this man came near he said, “Richard!” Which really surprised Rohr because he was supposed to be silent and he wondered how did this man know who he was? “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. Tell the people one thing.” Pointing to the sky, he said, “
God is not ‘out there’!” Then he said, “God bless you,” and abruptly continued down the path.

Rohr goes on to comment, "The belief that God is “out there” is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart. Our view of God as separate and distant has harmed our relationships with sexuality, food, possessions, money, animals, nature, politics, and our own incarnate selves.

Once I can see the Mystery here—and trust the Mystery even in this human body I occupy, in this moment of time that I am—then I can also see it in you. I am eventually able to see the divine image in all things. Finally, the seeing is one. How you see anything is how you will see everything. This seeing happens in graced, momentary glimpses and through intentional, lifelong practice.”

God is a name for That which cannot be named because it defies names.
I’ll take comfort in mystery.
The heart is very familiar with mystery for it knows in ways the mind can never conceive, for the mind will always attempt to measure what cannot be measured and totally miss what is Present right here and now.
So, to conclude I return to where I began, with the Little Prince:
"It is only in the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye".