Monday, September 24, 2012

A Nameless Way of Living



Poem
By Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

'In the day I would be reminded of those men and women … considering a nameless way of living, of unimagined values."

Does what we want have a name?  

Can we imagine a healthy way of living, one of peace, of balance, of spiritual health -- what would it take to get us there, how would we live? 

It is not hard for us to imagine our own personal better world -- perhaps it is a job, or a better job, or a home, or a better home.  Perhaps it is a partner, somebody to share that home with, perhaps it is health.  Perhaps it is to be able to retire.

Somewhere, somehow, there is a better way to live than as we do, as individuals, as communities, as a nation and especially as a world.

I have held this poem in a book of my favorite poems for several years now.   It has been waiting for its turn.

I want to talk about this poem, today.

Now you folks know me and you know my spirituality, and some of you are not even sure that I have one to speak of. 

This poem is it.  

This poem has a lot of it. 
  
Let me explain….

"I lived in the first century of the world wars…"   The poem starts with a placement in time, and in history.   To me this is  essential to all understanding -- what time is it?   

I do not believe that time is endless or circular or that it is endlessly repeating.  I believe in yesterday, and I believe in today, and as a result I can believe in  tomorrow.  And just as I believe that while I cannot change the past, it could have been different, which means that today could have been different, which is not really worth dwelling upon except that it means that tomorrow could be different.  It could be worse, but it could also be better. 

Which means that I believe in Hope. 

And I believe in human agency, and don't you too? 

Don't you believe that it matters what we do, and that a new and different world is possible.  Don't you believe that it is possible for people to choose the good, to do the  work, to somehow make a difference?

I believe in time and I believe in hope and I believe in human choosing and human effort. 

To me, these are spiritual truths: the bedrocks.  

Still, like Muriel Ruykeser, "most mornings I would be more or less insane."  

Why?  Because if we believe in time and history, we need to know about the world that we live in, what's going on out there, the state of our planet, our world, this world of world wars. 

The newspaper would arrive with their careless stories
(do you notice how much of the news is actually wrong?)
the News would pour out of various devices
(she should see it now!)
interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.

I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.

Oh, the insanity!  The incessency!

Even I want to escape. 

Muriel Ruykeser says that she turns to paper and pen and her work of writing poems: for the unseen and the unborn, she says -- that phrase not yet politically loaded -- the unseen and the unborn -- the vastness of humanity that we do not know personally -- we only know that they are out there, even in the future. 

And here is the heart of the poem: 

In the day I would be reminded of those men and women, 
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances, 
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values. 

Here we are on this our day of homecoming, the day when we start our church season again, gathered here under this slender steeple signal tower, brave men and women (and both and neither) sending out a signal  to the unseen and the unborn, at this time, and in this place telling that there is another way to live, we do not have a name for it yet, but there is another way to live, and no, we can not yet fully imagine it, but there is another way to live.

Because there is yesterday, which cannot change, but could have been different, and there is today, which could have been different, there is tomorrow, and because there is tomorrow, there is another way to live, and so there is hope.  And today is the day, we choose. 

Can we choose?  Is today the day when our choosing will make the difference?  Perhaps not.  Maybe not. 

Muriel Ruykeser knows that, too, and must turn, as we do, to the imagination. 

As the lights darkened and the lights of the night brightened, 
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other.

Who?  The brave men and women (and both and neither) signaling across the vast distances, the unseen and the unborn for whom she writes her poem, and because I am reading this poem to you, she is imagining you, here beneath your slender steeple signal tower, here trying to imagine a nameless way of living, the scarcely imagined values we are trying to find and build and uphold, here in Worcester 43 years later.  

To construct peace…..

To make love…. 

Ok, let's talk about that for a minute.  Let's think about that phrase, not in its usual sense, as the preferred polite euphemism for, for  you know what I'm talking about..

Let's take it literally for a minute.  To make love, in the same way that people Make Dinner, or Make a sandwich, or make a chair.  To create something that did not exist before.   To assemble something into its final form.

Ever since the UUA started talking about "Standing on the Side of Love", I have been thinking about Love as a proper noun, than as a verb that expresses a strong emotion of affection.   I have been trying to imagine Love as a collective accomplishment, as a set of social habits, a way of living for the whole body.   I have been trying to imagine Love as an Institution.  We speak of Justice as a general social condition.  We say "that is just society, that community lives under a system of justice."  What would "Institutionalized Love" look like?

Like Muriel Ruykeser says, we are brave souls, seeking each other across vast distances, reaching almost unimagined values

She goes on…"to reconcile waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other, ourselves with ourselves."  

At the core of my spirituality is this:  that our task is to awaken our whole selves to the historical moment in which we live, to answer in the here and now the question asked by prophet:  What does God require of thee? 

Awaken our whole selves, in the sense of knowing who we are, and what we want, our full selves, self-differentiated, possessing a free mind.  "We would try by any means to reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves."  

To awaken our whole selves in a world that is too big to know, too complicated to summon up in a single phrase, a world whose complexity defeats every dogma and ideology, a world we know only from the careless stories and news that pours out of various devices, interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen, a world that makes us more or less insane and our friends more or less mad for similar reasons. 

We wake up in the middle of story, in the midst of such confusion and complexity, and yet we must figure out who we are and where we fit in a vast and unfolding story of which we are a star to ourselves and yet a bit player in the whole. 

What does God require of thee?  What is the next right thing for me to do?  What do I know? How do I fit into this world's story?  What time is it? and Who am I?  

Again and again, that question has come before me in my life. 

Muriel Ruykeser, a mid-century modern, Jewish, atheist, a left-winger would never pray as I do, but these are the words I turn to make my signal across vast distances to all those others, including you, who are considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.

O Great and Gracious God, beyond all our naming, who speaks to us  not only through the still small voice within, but also through the intricate detail of nature, and also through the terrifying scrolls of history, grant that I might see myself as You see me, loved as I am, imperfect, needy and yet wondrous.  Help me see my story as a part of a greater story, of the adventure of the  reconciliation of all humanity to ourselves, the story unfolding all around me.  Awaken me, O God.












No comments: