Dr. Arvind Vasavada, my guru and friend, my gentle, generous mentor from my seminary days, used to advise me and his analysands (counseling clients), “Be…
We greet the sun in the morning
We sigh good-bye at night
But the sun is always with us
Though to us, seems dark and bright.
It stands still, ‘tis we go spinning
Whirl our earth-flung way
Counting our days and our seasons
Living our life’s time away.
Our perspectives on time and life are limited. We fool ourselves by the immediate and the apparent, missing the interconnectedness of time and life. But we reorient ourselves to our longer and larger reality by dwelling on the truths of our temporal and special oneness. We are one; our earth is one.
This may sound abstract and remote, and while what I will describe here may be taken as metaphorical, it is rooted in the actual. Our actual situation is far more enduring and interconnected than we tend to realize.
This seems like a new day, and it is. Yesterday has gone and tomorrow has yet to come. This is our one unique Sunday, to be lived and finally left. But in actuality, this day is our one day. Since the beginning of the planet there has been only one ongoing day. The sun glows constantly. The earth spins in that glow and revolves around it. What seems to us a new day is really the one ongoing day through which we daily spin. The dawn seems to come to us and leave, but really, we come to it and pass through it. The sun seems to rise, pass over us, and set. But really we spin under it. The sunset seems to follow the sun down, but really, we spin through it as we turn towards the night. Ah, the night, far more ancient than the day, the night is our window on the vast, the older mother of our recent sun. Out there are her stars, denizens of her slow breath: out and in and out. Our one day may be billions of years old, but even it has its beginning and end, as surely, our beautiful planet earth will eventually spin back into the sun. Don’t worry about it yet, though. From our human perspective, we’ve all the time in the world.
Our days seem numbered, and they are. Our numbers are puny to the life of our earth, but important to us. Absolute time may be sliced as briefly as a multi-billionth of a second or stretched beyond the drift of continents. But relative time matters greatly to the creatures perceiving it. Some insects live their entire life’s cycle in mere days. All the effort and drama of birth, change, breeding, and death opens worlds to them. Our lives are as the psalmist reminds, “three score and ten, or by reason of strength four score.” Life’s time seems long enough to accommodate a full life, yet even a long life ends. I once asked a hundred year old person whether that seemed like a long time. “Not once it’s gone,” he said, snapping his fingers.
So here we are, spinning through our one eternal day, seeing it always as new, having our time from our human perspective. This huge and lovely earth, so regular and reliable, spins its way in the daylight and ancient night. The sunlight heats the oceans and continents. Up goes the evaporated water, all the atoms billions of years old, into the clouds and winds, carried into yet another round of rise and fall. The water in our cells is very old. It is coming through us again, passed on to its eternal refreshment. The weather, dynamically balanced, brings shower and sunlight, seasons to be savored.
We’re lucky, living out here on the west coast. The jet stream and the prevailing winds bring freshened water to us, distilled back to purity. We don’t get much of our human pollutants in it. The gasses and particles cast off of our modern devices mostly travel eastward in the air or downward in the water for others to deal with. Poor easterners, they get all the accumulated sulfur, mercury, and other poisons, and we all gradually but inexorably add carbon to our sky. Slowly to us but quickly to earth’s biosphere, we fill up what seemed an endless volume.
Just recently we learned to use engines to do our work. Suddenly, we grow in numbers and impact. What seemed the endless forests of the New World are suddenly mostly gone. What seemed the limitless bounty of the oceans is quickly depleted. What seemed the endless nourishment of rich soils is soon extracted. What seemed the sure source of fresh air is soon befouled. We spin through our one ongoing day carrying with us the consequences of our doings. In our weather, in our bodies, in our societies, we live with what we are. We want to flush away our waste and forget our follies, but we live in a closed system, bound to keep what we were and are becoming with us.
Some assume our one earth is important only as staging ground in a divine story where we’re expected to learn to live by faith. Doing so will usher in a rewarding afterlife. What happens to earth during this doesn’t much matter. How presumptuous, wasteful, and immoral.
To take the goods of life that Creation provides and sacrifice them with neither appreciation or responsibility on the gamble that an invisible realm is more real and important is the ultimate insult to Creator and created. The interrelated diversity of all life suffers insult and injury. “Not good enough,” “Unimportant,” and “More” comes from their greedy grasping. Never at home in the natural cosmos, embarrassed by evolution and life, puffed up with adamant opinion, they deplete and sicken the one earth day we all share. Faith trumps fact, belief burdens bounty, and sanctimony sacrifices soul. Following such religion is folly.
Fortunately, such leaders look behind themselves with uneasy hesitations. Gradually, other leaders step up to voice and enact a deeper yearning and higher ethic.
Example. When the actor, director, and producer George Clooney, who put out the telling movies “Good Night and Good Luck,” and “Syriana,” received two academy nominations he had to respond to TV’s attack host Bill O’Reilly’s dismissing of his career as “over” because of Clooney’s outspoken stands against crushing censorship and foolish wars.
“We are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood,” Clooney admitted, “we’re the ones talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. I’m proud to be part of this community and proud to be out of touch.”
Being out of touch with the onslaught of media bullies saying what we should and shouldn’t say helped Clooney put out his bold movies (much like Warren Beatty had with “Bullworth”) and to model a new image and ethic in the cars he drives. He dropped the limo for the Prius. He went on to be the first owner of the T600, an electric car just over three feet wide and eight feet long that is faster than a Porsche Turbo. He uses his celebrity to brighten and sweeten our one earth’s day.
His little advantage is based on our collective one. He speaks because we spoke. We do not suffer from an energy shortage; we suffer from a shortage of ethics. Given new leaders, we will find the ways to generate our ingenuity and live up to our responsibility. We find our individual lives are not so separate and inconsequential. We participate in our circle of influence, modeling for others the ways we wish they would also share.
Our little habits are part of our common habitat. Mere scraps of tin foil seem unimportant until we add them all together. The engineer Buckminister Fuller noted what enormous quantities of material were wasted when we thought our scraps and waste meant nothing. He viewed pollution as “wasted resources.” By recycling tin foil, Americans once contributed to our shared resources to a war effort. By starting to compost and recycle, isolated Americans started a movement that results now in a systematic keeping of resources that formerly were burdensome pollution.
Example. On the sink at the Westin Hotel was this sign:
Save our planet. Dear guests: Every day millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have been used only once. You make the choice: A towel on the rack means “I will use it again.” A towel on the floor means “please exchange.” Please decide for yourself. Thank you for helping us conserve The Earth’s Vital Resources.
One could cynically say the hotel just want to save money on water and other energy. That may be, but it also actually saves water and energy. The sign gives reason for the etiquette. So-informed, patrons can decide to help save just that little bit. It adds up.
Having saved the towel for tomorrow’s stay, having eaten only what was really needed, having purchased a more fuel-efficient auto, having paid for a solar powered hot water heater, one actually participates in the little ways that empower the larger movements. Doing what’s right becomes normal.
Little drops of rain, little grains of sand
Make a mighty ocean, and a pleasant land.
Little notes that sing, little words that rhyme
Make for mighty memories, and the dreams of time.
Never let a minute lie there on the shelf
For there may be in it all of life itself.
Little drops of rain, little rays of sun
Make the hopeful rainbow glow for everyone.
In the scriptures the rainbow was said to be the mark of the covenant. After ecological disaster the sun returned above the waters. The spectrum of color showed the hidden mystery in simple light. The ways of creation are ours to honor. When we do, the gods shine on us.
Example. In the New York Times business section (right under the story about Rupert Murdoch trying to buy and control The Wall Street Journal, no doubt to magnify the greedy rich with all savvy and sneakiness he uses on Fox News) was a story about Norway. Little Norway controls the third largest oil and gas deposits in the world, just after Saudi Arabia and Russia. A Socialist nation, it decided to divest those stocks from its collective pension fund that offended their values. Human rights violations, violations of individuals in wars and conflicts, environmental damage, ethical failures, and gross corruption were not to be funded. Because such devices as cluster bombs and nuclear bombs are not right to fund, they dropped support for General Dynamics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Rayathon in the U.S. Other such companies were dropped from other countries. Their three hundred billion pension fund continues to profit from decent ventures. Soon, every man, woman, and child in Norway will be entitled to $180,000 guilt-lessened retirement ease.
While the prevailing assumptions of conservatives about selfish human nature will continue to manifest the Rupert Murdoch’s of our times, so do the overlooked but none-the-less accurate assumptions about our caring human natures continue to show and grow. From Norway to George Clooney, leadership emerges because of the widespread cultural push that spots issues and creates solutions. Misguided leadership may temporarily scuttle appropriate energy, transport, housing, and food solutions. It may temporarily launch illegal, unethical wars on innocent people while seeking to look noble doing it. But humans have within themselves the care and creativity needed to see through it (despite the moneyed media barrage of slick lies) and take control of their collective conscience and well-being.
When you remember to turn off the unused light, or go on to replace the old style with the new efficient types, when you recycle your resources and pare down your overall energy needs, when you operate a business that funds its suppliers in a deliberately just way – all these things add up and help you to be a part of a worldwide growing consciousness. Having participated, we then exercise our right of speech, telling others of our contributions and our elected leaders what we would have them do.
“Our deepest fear,” wrote Nelson Mandela, “is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” We fear taking on the mantle of incarnation. We project our caring and capabilities on to the great others of yesteryear or the magical saviors of tomorrow. But this is our time in earth’s one day. How are we going to live it? Mandela goes on:
“We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world… We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Thinking one’s little actions don’t matter, retreating from the public discourse in false humility, living like tomorrow won’t come out of today – these are the little ways we waste our day in the sun. We don’t need the old humility of humiliation. We need the new humility of actualization. The old way was, “I don’t know,” and “what can I do?” The new way is to live fully and well, ethically and enthusiastically in such a way as to allow others to also do that. Live up to yourself in your way. As we come alive and live well, others will be enabled. As we do this together earth’s one day will improve again.
Earth’s one day will go on far beyond us. We’ll spin through it, inheriting the momentums of the past in our weather, culture, and mind. We’ll put our mark on those momentums in the ways we can. Whether this day becomes worse or better, we’ll ride our shared ground, breathing our common air together. Having seen the limits of the ways of exploitation we can veer our momentums into not just sustainability, but flowering and flourishing. It is conceivable and possible that our earth could be a garden paradise that gets ever more healthy, beautiful, and abundant – for all. The rainbows will glow on not just the chosen few, but the worthy all.
The Reverend Brad Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
©May 20, 2007