Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Infinite Demand

We live by grace. We live in grace.

Amid the buzz and rattle of all that is, there is joy.  The joy is not constant, and there are pains and terrors that almost outweigh it, but joy still persists.

There is a rough grace at work. There is a grace that we can experience in ourselves. It is present in our relationships, in the pleasure that we have in beauty, in the marvel of natural world, in the ingenuity of the environments people have created.

Does it seem far away and inaccessible to you? If you never experience joy and grace, please seek help.  Constant pain and suffering is not the human condition, no matter the circumstances.

But grace hidden behind routine, behind the habit of boredom, or buried beneath our ambitions and objectives?  That we know.

To have more grace and joy in your life, cultivate the habits of reverence and awe.  It is simple: slow down, use your senses, stay in the moment, remember that everything that is does not need to be.  And yet, here it is.  Cultivate the habit of being amazed.

We live in grace. We live by grace.

Grace plays hide and seek through all that is.  If it did not exist, and life was a constant grim struggle for survival, we would not be having this conversation.  On the other hand, if it were constant presence, we would never notice it.

The inconsistency of grace, and our inconsistency in appreciating it, asks each of us: am I living in a way appropriate to the the promise of life?  Am I being dull to life: unmindful of beauty? Careless with people? Closed-minded? Ungrateful and ungenerous? Self-centered, even greedy? Am I unknowingly oppressive, or even indifferent to that possibility? Am I weaving a web of rationalizations and excuses to disguise unhappiness of a shallow and narrow life?

Grace asks questions for which there are no final answers.  We must choose everyday to summon the will to live up to life's promise.

I have spoken of grace, but not of God. I have made no claim that God has called us, or has a plan for us, or judges us.  I have only spoken of what we all have seen: that human happiness and human health seems to require some work of the will on our part, some act of conscious agency.

To try to live a happy and healthy life makes an infinite demand upon us, infinite because it can never be fully or finally satisfied.

I could elaborate either end of this equation.  We could mythologize the source of the demand:  One could say that God makes that demand on us, and that it is the impossible demand that we overcome our inherent depravity, original sin, by assenting to the proposition that God became Man in order to die for our sins.   Great religious traditions of art and story and music and architecture teach us who, why and how we are challenged.

And on the other hand, one could specify the content of that infinite demand: sexual codes, dietary laws, commandments to keep and rituals to observe, simple moral precepts to complex political and social reforms, even revolution.

Unitarian Universalism is a branch of Liberal Religion that does not care about the source of the existential and infinite demands felt by humankind.  The purifying fire of humanism burned away every mythic explanation.  We just know that we, as a species, are not living up to our potential, and the fault is not in our stars, or fate, or destiny, but in us, as a species.

Yes, it's not fair that cows get to live without second-guessing themselves about whether they are living into the fullness of the grace surrounding them, but we can't.

But Unitarian Universalism does care about the content of the existential and infinite demands.  It's what we most talk about. UU's hammer out explicit mission statements, but we also make congregational budgets, and allocate our staff time, and devote our mental attention here or there.

Unfortunately, our discussions of the infinite demand tend to center around what should "we" do -- our institutional priorities.

But what is demanded of each of us?

Each of us need to be more reverent, and allow room in life for awe.  Each of us needs to be more honest, truthful and humble.  We need to be more grateful, and more generous.  Each of us needs to be more open, cultivating an inner hospitality which lets difference in.  We should stand on the side of love, extending solidarity to those who are suffering, or excluded, or oppressed. We need to be more strongly self-possessed, able to enter relationships without fear of subordination or domination.

But each of us must decide that a life shaped by such virtues is how we want to live.  Our religious movement can witness our choice, and encourage us, and help us, and catch us when we fall. But we have to convinced that we want to live no other way.  We have to be convicted and converted.  Repeatedly.

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