He is right, I believe, especially in that we have forced ourselves to assemble a language of reverence out of ordinary, non-religious words and signs.
I have a shelf of UUA meditation manuals near my desk. I can pick one at random -- here is one -- it's Kaki McTigue's Shine and Shadow. Just leafing through a few pages at random, I come to this stanza:
Instead, consider your life --
who you love, and why,
how blessed you are to be here, resting
under a shower of birdsong,
and what strange bright luck it is to be the owner
for a few years, of this beating heart,
these wondering eyes, the ears
into which the kingfisher spills her small chuckle
as she dips across the water.
Another book, another page: this time Elizabeth Tarbox, Evening Tides. It does not take long to find this paragraph:
We are forged by the unrelenting blows of living that hammer us into pleasing shapes and make us unique. The bellows that startle the fire to new life are blowing behind us to keep us moving, and creation will make us useful so that when our lives have passed into the flame, there will be some part of us that will live on to support the feet of the next generation.OK, there is a little mixing of metaphors there -- where did those "feet"come from? -- but still, it is language that reaches toward the ineffable.
At the conclusion of his sermon, Rev. Forbes sat down next to Liz Lerner to explain what it was that we UU ministers had to offer. And as he spoke, this man, so known for his eloquence and articulation, twisted and contorted his body, as he physically enacted the struggle to speak, to find the right words, to get his point across. Like a young boy trying to declare his affection to his first love.
Or like one of our ministers, like myself, for example, sitting at my desk, writing a sermon and trying to describe that sense of well-being that my classmates at seminary would just call "grace" or the "presence of God" and be done with it.
Because we have had to speak for and to those who are allergic to such Christian-specific language, we have learned to speak of grace as "that strange bright luck it is to be the owner, for a few years, of this beating heart."
There are millions of people out there who are not allergic to the word "grace" but neither do they know what it means. Re-reading Paul again does not get them closer.
We may have been anointed by our experience, much of which many of us bitterly resented at the time, to the appointment of telling them about "grace" and pointing to The bellows that startle the fire to new life.